From coup to crisis?
Thailand is well-known for the multiple military coups that happened for the past hundred years. With its 19 modern military coups and attempted coups, Thailand has developed what experts call a “coup culture”. Since a bloodless military coup in 1932 ended Thailand’s absolute monarchy, Thailand has failed to consolidate a democratic culture and is now a parliamentary democracy. Since then, both civilians and military are able to take control of the country. It resulted in failure for the domestic leaders that attempted to take control, solve national problems and encourages the military to take control of Thai politics. Once a country experienced a military coup, it is more susceptible for them to experience more in the following future.
But how come Thailand has normalized military coups?
Thailand’s tanks support the military coup
A history of coups
1932 military coup d’état
The 1932 military coup or well-known as Revolution of 1932 is the pioneer and a successful military coup in the history of Thailand. The 1932 coup is a bloodless coup, resulting the overthrew of the Thai monarch, ended the absolute monarchy in Thailand and initiated the Constitutional era. The coup was led by a group of men known as the promoters, consist of Thai elite, noted intellectuals, European educated, and disaffected army officers. The promoters include Phibun, who was appointed to be the Prime Minister of Defence after the coup. The coup resulted first in temporary constitution where the king lost his legitimate power and vested them in the small group of promoters named People’s Party. This leads to party dictatorship during the temporary constitution yet covered by the constitutional forms. Following the situation, the temporary constitution then transformed into permanent constitution. The permanent constitution partially restored the prestige and dignity of the monarch. However, the new constitution is only a guise to justify the military coup. Hence, Thailand had a long series of constitutions and governments.
The 2014 Military Coup
The 2014 coup started because of the political crisis that was happening since 2013. A group of anti-government protests took place in 2013, led by a former Democrat Party parliamentary named Suthep Thaugsuban. The primary cause of the protest was because the removal of the past Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, the brother of Yingluck Shinawatra the current Prime Minister, by the military coup in 2006. The removal of Thaksin resulted in instability of Thai politics and the creation of an unelected “people’s council “, responsible for overseeing political system in Thailand. Moreover, protesters believed Thaksin and his party, Pheu Thai Party, as corrupt, damaging the Thai’s democracy and negatively influencing Thai’s politics. The political crisis resulted in military takeover led by General Prayut Chan-Ocha, Commander of Royal Thai Army. The military takeover was resulted as success, includes the removal of Yingluck and the caretaker government. Moreover, General Prayut Chan-Ocha was appointed by the former King Rama IX, to fill in the Prime Minister position and the leader of The National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO). Prayut has been holding the Prime Minister position until today.
Since the last military coup in 2014, the Thai government has been headed by former army chief Prayut Chan-Ocha as head of the National Council for peace and Order. General Prayut said he would run the country until the situation required an interim government. But unlike previous coups, there were no promises of a quick return to civilian rule.
The general election in 2019 served the purpose to restore the country to parliamentary democracy because of the military coup in 2014. However, the reality was not in line with the people’s hope because the leader of the military coup, Prayut Chan-Ocha, was reelected by the parliament that was formed from the military coup. The public believes the result of the general election is rigged and unfair. Why? In 2017, the military wrote a constitution to appoint 250 members to sit in the Senate, giving a head start before voting even began for the 500 members in the House of Representative.
The 4 waves of protests
In the beginning of 2020 the constitution court decided to ban the Future Forward Party (FFP) from politics for 10 years, A Thai Opposition Party That Pushed for Democratic Reform. After this ban, Thailand began to protest against the monarchy, that’s when the first wave began.
First wave (February 2020)
The first wave began early February 2020 when various high school students began to protest against the government of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha. The demonstration later expanded to the unprecedented demands for reform of the Thai monarchy. The first wave of protests was held exclusively and was brought to a stop by the COVIC-19 pandemic. The use of social media, like TikTok and Twitter characterized the protests.
Second wave (July 2020 – December 2020)
On 18 July 2020 Thailand saw the largest street demonstration sins the 2014 coup. The protesters call themselves the “free youth” and announced their 3 demands: The dissolution of the House, ending intimidation of the people and drafting a new constitution. By 23 July the demonstrations had been organized in more than 20 provinces. On 3 august two groups of students publicly raised demands to reform the monarchy, with that breaking a long taboo of publicly criticizing the monarchy. After that the protests only became bigger and bigger with more than hundred thousand people demonstrating in more than 49 provinces. On 17 November the Senate and House of Representatives began a 2 day session to consider changes to the constitution. On the second day the lawmakers rejected 5 of the 7 proposals to amend the constitution. After the rejection of the proposals to change the constitution, 2 months of heavy protesting gone by. In late December before New Year, a new COVID-19 outbreak had started. At this time protest leaders announced that they would take a break.
Third wave (February 2021- April 2021)
The protests became more sporadic in 2021 compared to previous years. Protesters faced charges and the police used more violence. In that same year, the first protester died. A video showed that he was shot by a person inside a police station. On February 10 the protesters held their first street demonstration in months. On 17 march the Thai parliament voted down 2 constitutional amendment bills. After that the riots and demonstrations continued. The demonstration group “Free Youth” had renamed themselves to the “Restart Democracy” group. A lot of the core protesters (mostly students) were imprisoned after the heavy street demonstrations, they only wanted to improve the Thai society and for the monarchy to exist under the law.
Fourth wave (May 2021 – November 2021)
A new wave of protests began in June. Rallies occurred in more than 30 provinces with the police using tear gas and rubber bullets against some of the protesters. Weeks of protesting had gone by. Until October 7 after the dead of the first protester. The government ordered university chancellors to prevent students from demanding reforms to the monarchy and to identify protest leaders. A few weeks later a police officer was also shot. In October 2021 the king returned to the country, which lead to the deployment of the military, riot police and mass arrests. In November 2021 the constitutional court ruled that the demands for reform of the Thai monarchy were unconstitutional and ordered all the movements to end.
By the end of 2021 the leading protest figures were all detained awaiting trial, some were imprisoned for more than 200 days after the Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha declared the use of all laws against the protesters.
By 2022 the street protest had largely died due the government suppression and internal division. Although small groups of people and online activists continued the fight to reform the Thai monarchy.
Thai protesters protest to reform the Thai monarchy
Another coup in 2023?
Seen Thailand’s history in coups, the country has experienced a military coup ever 7 years over the last century. Although there have been protests and riots by the Thai people for reforming the monarchy, the fear of prosecution has certainly been a major factor. Coups are most likely to happen when the main political thing is the breakdown of law and order. That’s not the case for 2023.
Thailand will elect the head of government in the following year accordingly with the current constitution. Thailand’s Election Commission will be deciding the date of the general election in 2023, tentatively on May 7th 2023, based on their recent announcement. This general election will test the Thai coup culture again. The expectation for the elections is that the opposition will win most seats. But this does not mean that the military parties will lose power or premiership, judges and the election commission can overturn some results on technicalities. The unelected Senate has the power to use its votes without accountability if members so decide. If matters proceed, a new government will form next year. If not, than we are back in coup territory.
What do you think? Will there be a new coup in the future?…..
Made by: Audrey Tanudjaja and Tamara Steegstra