situation report

In Thailand, Martial Law Could Stoke Tensions

2 MINS READMay 20, 2014 | 00:23 GMT

The Thai army declared martial law May 20. Details are scarce at the moment, but media reports indicate that soldiers have deployed to strategic locations throughout Bangkok and seized at least one television station. Earlier in the day, Thai army chief Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha had warned troops to be on high alert for continued violence after a series of political intimidation attacks in Bangkok, threats from rival protest groups (which had reportedly moved into closer vicinity to each other and threatened to raise conflict in the streets), rumors of rogue movements by the 2nd Infantry Division in Prachinburi, and even claims that a recent spate of bombings in the restive deep south had occurred to take advantage of the lack of clear authority in Bangkok.

The martial law order follows nearly two weeks of heightened uncertainty after the Constitutional Court ruled to remove former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and several members of her Cabinet from office. Since that time, a series of negotiations have taken place between political and military figures, including top military brass and the heir-apparent Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn, to determine the country's future. With the Thai political establishment having used the courts to bog down the ruling Pheu Thai Party, the pro- and anti-government factions have fought to a standstill. The ruling party faces the unclear legalities of administering the caretaker government and ordering a new round of elections without full authority behind the acting caretaker prime minister or other actors who might play that role.

Thailand has seen 19 coups since 1932, and throughout the current bout of unrest, which began in November 2013, Gen. Prayuth has warned that the military would launch a coup if violence became uncontrollable or if the government ceased to function. While it is clear that the military is the strongest force in the country, it is unclear whether military intervention would bring an immediate cessation to the protests and attacks and impose an interim government. The military denies that it is staging a coup. Indeed, it has been reluctant to do so after seeing its last coup, in 2006, galvanize the rural populist movement represented by the current ruling party. Roughly half the country supports the current caretaker government, and supporters that have rallied in and around Bangkok are capable of turning out in greater numbers if their leaders opt for protesting the military's actions rather than acquiescing to them.

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