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10 Things You Need to Know About the Coup and Crisis in Thailand

1. Since 1932, there have been 19 or 20 coups in Thailand. The current coup led by General Prayuth Chan-ocha is the 12th successful coup; the last one was staged in 2006. The army initially established the National Peace and Order Maintaining Council to run the government; and later renamed as the National Council for Peace and Order.

Armed soldiers stand on guard during an operation to control anti-coup protesters in Bangkok. Photo by Matthew Richards, Copyright @Demotix (5/25/2014)

Armed soldiers stand on guard during an operation to control anti-coup protesters in Bangkok. Photo by Matthew Richards, Copyright @Demotix (5/25/2014)

2. Martial law was declared by the army on May 20, 2014 or two days before the coup. The army suspended the 2007 Constitution except some provisions on the monarchy. Interestingly, it was the army which drafted the 2007 Constitution.

3. The decision to retain the Constitutional provisions on the monarchy reflected the importance and popularity of the royal institution. Actually, King Bhumibol Adulyadej is the world’s longest-reigning monarch and Thailand’s most beloved political figure. No politician in Thailand will dare to undermine the image of the King. Thailand also implements a strict Lese Majeste (anti-royal insult) law and in recent years, many citizens have been jailed for insulting the King through mobile texting or commenting on a website.

Anti-coup protesters begin to fill in the road in front of Victory Monument on Sunday. Photo by David Luekens, Copyright @Demotix (5/25/2014)

Anti-coup protesters begin to fill in the road in front of Victory Monument on Sunday. Photo by David Luekens, Copyright @Demotix (5/25/2014)

4. The army has ordered the detention of more than 150 political figures. One of them is Yingluck Shinawatra, Thailand’s former Prime Minister and younger sister of controversial leader Thaksin Shinawatra. Thaksin, one of Thailand’s richest individuals, was ousted as prime minister during the 2006 coup. He has been living in exile since 2008 to avoid imprisonment over a corruption case. Nevertheless, he remains popular among the rural voters and his party has always won the elections. Last year, a proposed Amnesty Bill would have allowed Thaksin to return home but it sparked a nationwide uproar and opposition forces rallied thousands to call for the removal of the Yingluck government.

5. There are demands to end the coup and to immediately conduct elections. This is easier said than done. Thailand went to the polls only last February but it was boycotted by the opposition and it failed to end the political crisis. Before the coup, there are proposals to hold another election in July or August. The opposition believes that the electoral process is corrupted by Thaksin’s money. They are willing to participate again in the elections if political reforms are first instituted and only after Thaksin’s influence is weakened.

Anti-coup protesters hold a large banner that reads 'We want an Election' as they gather at Bangkok's Victory Monument. Photo by Matthew Richards, Copyright @Demotix (5/24/2014)

Anti-coup protesters hold a large banner that reads ‘We want an Election’ as they gather at Bangkok's Victory Monument. Photo by Matthew Richards, Copyright @Demotix (5/24/2014)

6. The opposition Democrat Party, which has never won the elections for two decades, has organized and supported street protests since November of last year to force the ouster of the Yingluck government.

The main group behind the provocative protests is the People's Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC) led by Suthep Thaugsuban, a former Deputy Prime Minister. The protesters, mainly from the nation’s capital in Bangkok, were demanding the appointment of an unelected People’s Council to replace the Yingluck government. Many of the PDRC members are Yellow Shirt protesters who occupied Thailand’s airport in 2008.

Another group of protesters is known as the Red Shirts, the same group which led street protests in 2010 when the Democrat Party was in power. They are not Left-leaning; they just want to differentiate themselves from the Yellow Shirts. Many of them are loyal supporters of Thaksin.

When the army declared a coup, it ordered protesters belonging to both the PDRC and Red Shirts to go home.

7. Yingluck was already removed from power even before the martial law declaration. A Constitutional Court ordered her removal after she was found guilty of committing an unconstitutional act when she replaced the National Security chief in 2011. A caretaker prime minister was in charge of the government when the army intervened.

8. There were reports that many Thais are supportive of the coup. We also saw Thai netizens posting selfie photos with soldiers deployed in the streets of Bangkok. Naturally, there are Thais who already got tired with the protests and were happy about the peaceful dispersal of the street protests. But many are also wary of the military coup. Some even dared to post selfie photos holding placards opposing the coup.

9. Free speech was the early casualty of the coup. The army shut down TV stations, radio stations, and deployed soldiers inside the offices and newsroom of newspapers. The army instructed mainstream media not to interview academics and former leaders who might give ‘confusing’ and dangerous opinions about the political situation. It warned netizens not to spread Internet content that would create ‘misunderstanding.’ It asked Internet providers to block ‘inappropriate’ websites.

10. Despite the martial law directive banning the gathering of five or more people, hundreds of Thais across the country have defied this ruling by holding several protests denouncing the coup. Some were arrested and the army warned that they would no longer tolerate protests. This could lead to a bigger and broader democracy movement inside Thailand.

Anti-coup demonstrators gather around the Victory Monument, Bangkok demanding the junta to step down. Photo by Amnat Ketchuen, Copyright @Demotix (5/24/2014)

Anti-coup demonstrators gather around the Victory Monument, Bangkok demanding the junta to step down. Photo by Amnat Ketchuen, Copyright @Demotix (5/24/2014)

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