Military prefers to broker power rather than seize it

Military prefers to broker power rather than seize it
Ms Yingluck talking to army chief Prayuth Chan-ocha (second from left) in Bangkok on Tuesday. A dialogue on Sunday between her and protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban was brokered by the military.

When Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban met on Sunday for half an hour, the dialogue was brokered by the military. Present at the table were Thailand's army, navy and air force chiefs.

Significantly, no top police brass were invited. The police may be a powerful force and aligned with Ms Yingluck, but the armed forces have the real power to decide if a government stays or goes. Thailand's military has led 19 coups or attempted coups since 1932, the year the country adopted democracy.

Sunday's message was clear - the military remains possibly the most significant power broker in Thailand, but it would rather avoid a situation in which it is forced to seize power again.

Colonel Artcha Boongrapu, a military-civil relations specialist at the armed forces' Supreme Command, told The Straits Times in an interview: "The army doesn't want to keep going back to square one. Everyone wants to move the country forward. The army is best as a defensive force; they are not supposed to run the economy, or be politicians."

The last coup in 2006 led to an inept one-year administration, spawned the massive pro-Thaksin Shinawatra, anti-coup "red shirt" movement, and drew international disapproval.

The army also led the crackdown on the red shirts in 2010, when almost 100 died in clashes in Bangkok between troops and civilians. That bloody summer showed that if the army were to seize power again, many would resist. Not a shot was fired in the 2006 coup; the next one might be different.

On Tuesday, tension in Bangkok abated when protesters were allowed to occupy the Government House and police headquarters in a temporary, face-saving truce just ahead of the King's birthday.

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