Thailand Under Martial Law: What’s Next?

20 May 2014

Prayuth Chan-oha

Suthep Thaugsuban, the leader of PDRC, announced last weekend that this weekend will be the ‘final showdown’ of his 6-month protest. While Thais keep watching what the end will be, last night at 3pm the military made its move with the declaration of martial law.

What’s happened so far

The martial law prohibits any political gathering in the country and allow the military to ‘cease and investigate’ anything they consider important.

At 12pm of 20th May 2014, local time, Thai Royal Army led by Commander-in-Chief General Prayuth Chan-oha has announced several things:

  • Thailand is now under martial law, nationwide.
  • The foundation of Peace Keeping Command Center (PKCC), the new internal security command center under the martial law. Gen. Prayuth also hold the commander title of PKCC.
  • The dissolution of Centre for the Administration of Peace and Order (CAPO), the internal security command center of the Phue Thai government under the Internal Security Act. All the forces under CAPO will transfer to PKCC.
  • TV and radio stations need to live broadcast PKCC announcements on army request. They are also prohibited to spread ‘controversial news’.
  • Political satellite TV and radio stations from both political sides are suspended. 10 satellite TV stations are suspended.
  • Heads of government agencies and independent agencies need to report to the military command throughout the country.
  • Seize the government house from PCRC’s occupation.

At the moment, PDRC announced that they will stay in place (Ratchadamnoen Avenue in central Bangkok) to ‘wait and see’ what PKCC will do for today. The Red Shirt protesters will keep staying at Utthayan Avenue outside Bangkok as well.

Analysis

In theory, the declaration of martial law is lawful. The army insisted that it is not the coup detat and the current acting government still remains legally.

In practice, while it is not the ‘official coup’, it is clearly a ‘military intervention’. The acting Phue Thai government is still in force but their power on security matters is now transferred to the army. Some might say it is ‘phantom coup’ or ‘disguised coup’

The impact of martial law can be analyzed in short-middle-long term period:

  • Short term (this week): the martial law will suppress the movement from both protester sites. We should see a temporary peace in Bangkok (with soldiers everywhere) for a few days.
  • Middle term (this month and next month): the ‘vacuum of power’ problem remains. Thailand has no official government and the lower house since last December. We will have the acting Prime Minister (Niwatthamrong Boonsongpaisan, Deputy PM) for normal day-to-day duty but he needs to ask Gen. Prayuth for anything related to politics and security.
  • Long term: the big problem remains. Thailand has been in a big transition toward modernity. The country needs to define the new political architecture in the next era.

We believe Gen. Prayuth himself act by his own, independently from PDRC (He seems to dislike PDRC as well) but his move is definitely what PDRC has long asked for six months (a ‘military intervention’). The army has been closely tied to the conservative forces for long time. Gen. Prayuth is considered as a hardliner and served in the ‘queen bodyguard’ infantry. He was also a high-level commander in 2006 coup against Thaksin government.

It is very likely for PDRC to cease its activities in the next few days and announce ‘the victory’. PDRC is very fatigued from the ongoing 6-month protest and the martial law is a good cause for the exit.

The martial law causes a big negative impact to the red shirts, which is against the army and any military intervention from the start. The clash between the red shirts and the army is possible but the possibility depends on PKCC’s movement in the next few days.

Possible Scenarios

As stated above, the martial law is just a short-term intervention. Thailand needs to find the solution for the political vacuum. Now the duty to decide belongs to only Gen. Prayuth himself.

Please note that the martial law is a 100-year old law this year (it became a royal act in 1914, just before the WWI, Thailand was an absolute monarchy state at that time). According the law, the army can declare the martial law but the only way to stop it is to the royal command from the king.

This means Prayuth need to find the way to solve Thailand’s political crisis and then submit a request to King Bhumibol to lift the martial law condition.

We believe there are two main possible scenarios:

The better one: Prayuth will consult the acting government, political leaders, the Senate, the Election Commission of Thailand (ETC) to set the new general election. Political protests will be prohibited at all. The Shinawatra family might skip the election to avoid further conflict and let other Phue Thai leaders compete instead. The opposing Democrat Party returns to the election. The new government (very likely for Phue Thai) will lead the reformation process and constitution amendment.

In this scenario, the red shirts will be ok if the election will happen. PDRC supporters might feel better if the election will happen under martial law. Prayuth will be considered as ‘an external judge’ to bring peace back to the country (though not in the full democratic way).

The worse one: Prayuth will let the Senate (only remaining political institution, also closed to PCRC) act as the full parliament. The Senate will choose the acting Prime Minister and cabinet, which might be unconstitutional. The new cabinet will face a big opposition from the red shirts. Since the martial law prohibits any political activities, the red shirts will go underground. Thailand might face the insurgency nationwide.

Thailand’s future in the next few decades is now under Prayuth’s hand. We should know soon what he will choose.