UPDATE 5/22/2014: This post was originally published on Tuesday, after the Thai military first announced martial law, under the title "Thailand's army says this definitely isn't a coup. Here are 11 times it definitely was." Given the news that on Thursday, the Thai military publicly declared a coup, we have decided to republish it.
On Tuesday, Thailand's military announced that the country was under martial law, and the government was reportedly not informed beforehand. Armed troops entered private television stations in Bangkok and surrounded the national police headquarters.
So, is this a coup? Not at all, a military spokesperson told the Associated Press. "This is definitely not a coup," an army official said.
You can forgive people for some skepticism, though, given Thailand's modern history. Since the Siamese revolution of 1932, which overthrew the absolute monarchy of King Prajadhipok, Thailand has had a truly exceptionally large number of coups. Paul Chambers, a professor at Chiang Mai University’s Institute for South-East Asian Affairs, says there have been almost 30 coup attempts (whether successful or unsuccessful) since 1912.
"What sets this event off from previous coups is an attempt to make it appear much more under the law," Chambers wrote in an e-mail to The Post. "But this is only a superficial bit of semantics."
Thailand's fissure is caused by a standoff over Thaksin Shinawatra, a former prime minister and telecom billionaire now living in exile, whose reforms a decade ago created a serious rift between the largely rural north and urban power-holders. The opposition, led by Suthep Thaugsuban, says Thaksin engineered recent elections to keep his sister, Yingluck Shinawatra, in power, and argues that Yingluck's government has continued the corruption alleged under Thaksin. As our colleague Chico Harlan explained in March, one big issue is that the Thai king is seen as too old to mediate between supporters of Thaksin and those of Suthep.
But military intervention in politics is hardly a new problem for Thailand, as the examples below show. Below are 11 times the military intervened, and they definitely were coups.
The coup of 1932, also known as the Siamese revolution of 1932, was a turning point in Thailand’s history. In a bloodless coup, a small group of military officers, known as the “Four Musketeers,” overthrew King Prajadhipok, ending nearly seven centuries of absolute monarchy and establishing a constitutional monarchy. As a result of the coup, Thailand got its first constitution, paving the way for social and political reforms.
When Phraya Manopakorn Nititada, the first prime minister of Siam after the 1932 coup, dissolved the newly formed National Assembly, leading to infighting among the government and members of his own party, the military stepped in again and removed him from power. Then, one of the military masterminds of the 1932 revolution, Phraya Phahon, became the second prime minister of Siam, a position he served for five years.
After the death of young King Ananda Mahidol in 1946, then-Prime Minister Pridi Banomyong resigned and was replaced by Rear Adm. Thawan Thamrongnawasawat. When Thawan’s government was marred by scandals and corruption, a group of powerful military officers, who would later be known as the “Coup Group,” removed him from power and put Khuang Aphaiwong, a founder of the Democrat Party, as the prime minister. The coup of 1947 was significant because it solidified the role of the army in Thai politics.
The Silent Coup of 1951 once again gave immense powers to the military. The Coup Group hastily decided to dissolve parliament and reinstate the constitution of 1932, aimed at removing civilians from the government, whom the generals considered an annoyance. The coup was carried out while King Bhumibol Adulyadej was in Lausanne, Switzerland. The group then appointed Field Marshal Phibunsongkhram, one of the “Four Musketeers,” as the new prime minister.
When the rigged parliamentary election of 1957 continued to keep Phibunsongkhram in power, mass protests occurred in Bangkok, making King Bhumibol unhappy. That led Field Marshal Sarit Thanarat to stage a coup, and Pote Sarasin was appointed as the head of an interim government.
Sarit, the military leader, undertook a "self-coup" in 1958 to oust rival members of the Thai government. His imposition of martial law heralded the arrival of a new authoritarian era.
Saying that there was a need to suppress the Communists, Field Marshal Thanom Kittikachorn staged the coup of his own government and dissolved parliament.
Less than eight months after an unsuccessful overthrow attempt, the Thai military staged a coup and overthrew Prime Minister Seni Pramoj. In a nationally broadcast address, Adm. Sangad Chaloryu declared himself in charge of the newly formed National Administrative Reform Council, which would oversee martial law in the country. The military abolished the constitution, which had been put in place two years earlier, and banned all political parties.
Thanin Kraivichien was accused of leading a repressive government and was overthrown in a bloodless military coup led by the man who had put him in power, Adm. Sangad Chaloryu.
Prime Minister Chatichai Choonhavan was arrested on his way to meet the king, where he was reportedly planning to ask to appoint a deputy defense minister viewed as a rival to the military elite. Gen. Sunthorn Kongsompong assumed power as leader of a National Peacekeeping Guard.
After a year of political turmoil and allegations of corruption, Thailand's armed forces ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra's caretaker government without firing a single shot while Thaksin and several other ministers were in New York for the opening of the U.N. General Assembly. The military revoked the constitution, dismissed Thaksin and promised political reforms. The coup leaders were reported to be close to King Bhumibol, and many soldiers wore yellow ribbons in reference to the royal family.