Thailand’s Military Coup

General Prayuth Chan-ocha addresses Thailand to announce the military seizure of power.

General Prayuth Chan-ocha addresses Thailand to announce the military seizure of power. Watch the subtitled video

After months of political unrest, the Thai military yesterday seized control of the country in a military coup and imposed martial law across the country. Prime Minister Yingluck Sinawatra has been detained by the military,  and six senior military officials have been appointed to run the government. Unlike the 2006 military coup against Yingluck’s brother (and Prime Minister of Thailand from 2001-2006), Thaksin Shinawatra, the Thai military is not promising a quick return to civilian rule. Instead, statements by General Prayuth Chan-ocha suggest that the military may seek to retain power for a considerable amount of time.

Thailand has been rocked by political instability since Prime Minister Yingluck Sinawatra assumed office in 2011. The simple version is that Thai politics have been sharply divided between rural peasants, who constitute a majority of the Thai population and support the populist Sinawatra political regime, often referred to as “Red Shirts,” and the smaller but influential urban middle and upper classes, often dubbed “Yellow Shirts.” While the Yellow Shirts have been well organized and vocal in their opposition to Yingluck’s caretaker government, they lacked the votes to affect political change through the ballot box.

But on Tuesday, the Thai Constitutional Court ruled that Prime Minister Yingluck had acted illegally when she transferred her national security head, and ordered her and several key ministers to step down. This sparked the military’s decision to move into the political vacuum.

So what’s next for Thailand? With a per capital GDP of about $5,400, Thailand boasts Southeast Asia’s second largest economy, and the country was recognized for its successful economic development. But the 1997 Thai baht crisis (and sharp declines in the value of the baht again in 2013) undermined much of the progress, and inequality in Thailand remains very high. The coup will no doubt undermine tourism in the country, which accounts for more than 10 percent of all economic activity in the country. Political unrest—whether the result of the military coup or of a protracted political standoff between Red Shirts and Yellow Shirts that results in violence—will certainly not benefit the Thai economy.

What do you think? How will the political standoff in Thailand be resolved? Will the military hand power back to a civilian regime? When? And how will the regime—military or civilian—be able to bridge the ongoing political and economic divisions at the heart of Thailand’s current crisis?

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