The 5-step guide to a Thai military coup

 

Following months of political instability and days of leadership limbo, Thailand's military officially announced Thursday evening that it had taken over the government, turning the non-coup into an official coup.

Military coups are nothing unusual in Thailand of course: By our count, there have been at least 11 successful ones since 1932. But how does a military coup happen in Thailand? We break down the steps behind this year's military takeover.

1. Declare martial law, deny a coup


A Thai soldier mans his machine gun atop a military vehicle outside the Centre for the Administration of Peace and Order (CAPO) after soldiers were sent in to seized the center May 20  in Bangkok, Thailand. (Wason Wanichakorn/AP)

Before dawn Tuesday morning, the Thai military declared martial law. Acting Prime Minister Niwattumrong Boonsongpaisan was reportedly not informed, but the military was insistent that it was not a coup.

"The imposition of martial law is not a coup d’état,” a message released from the military said. "This is definitely not a coup," an army official told the Associated Press.

Many people were not convinced. "What sets this event off from previous coups is an attempt to make it appear much more under the law," Paul Chambers, a professor at Chiang Mai University’s Institute for South-East Asian Affairs, wrote in an e-mail to The Post. "But this is only a superficial bit of semantics."

2. Put troops on the streets


In this May 20 photo, passersby have their photograph taken with a Thai soldier guarding a pedestrian overfly near the site where pro-government demonstrators stage a rally on the outskirts of Bangkok. (Wason Wanichakorn/AP)

While daily life wasn't too disrupted for most people, the Thai army stationed troops in a number of key locations on Tuesday, including outside the national police headquarters and on a major road outside the luxury shopping mall Central World. Other checkpoints were set up on a number of key roads.

While political protests continued, other citizens seemed happy to see the soldiers, and many posed for photographs with them.

3. Begin a media crackdown

Of the 12 edicts the Thai military released Tuesday, at least five referred to some kind of censorship, according to the Associated Press. Over a dozen politically charged television stations were shut down in the hours after martial law was implemented, as well as many more community radio stations.

The army also took to social media to order a stop to messages that could provoke violence.

And there were reports of political books being removed from stores:

4. Call peace talks


Anti-government protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban, right, speaks with a soldier  at the Government House in Bangkok May 20. (Chaiwat Subprasom/Reuters)

On Tuesday, the military called for peace talks between the two rival factions in Thai politics: The "Red Shirts" who support Thaksin Shinawatra, a former prime minister and telecom billionaire now living in exile, and his sister, Yingluck Shinawatra, who was ousted from the prime minister's office two weeks ago; and the "Yellow Shirts," who are in opposition to Thaksin and led by Suthep Thaugsuban.

Describing it as a "Peace and Order Maintaining Command," the army called political leaders in for talks Wednesday. The leaders were then sent home at the end of the day with what was described as "homework" by the military. Photos from inside the peace talks looked orderly, with rival factions calmly seated next to each other.

5. Declare coup, impose curfew, arrest political leaders


Thai Army Chief Gen. Prayuth Chan-Ocha, center, and other high-ranking Thai officers are shown on television announcing the military takeover in Bangkok on May 22. (Apichart Weerawong/AP)

On Thursday evening, the Thai military proclaimed a military takeover in a nationally televised announcement. The constitution was suspended, the caretaker government dismissed and cabinet ministers ordered to turn themselves in. Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha, commander in chief of the Royal Thai Army, was declared temporary leader of Thailand.

A curfew was imposed between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m, and all major broadcasters appeared to have been shut down amid unconfirmed rumors of an impending Internet shutdown. Soldiers went to the sites of both pro- and anti-government protesters, and some were reportedly detained. Many of the political leaders had headed to the second day of peace talks earlier in the day. Local media are reporting that at least some have been allowed to leave.

Adam Taylor writes about foreign affairs for The Washington Post. Originally from London, he studied at the University of Manchester and Columbia University.
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