Thailand coup: Pre-planned or provoked by the situation?

Thailand coup: Pre-planned or provoked by the situation?
Thai Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha

As the nation marks the first anniversary of the coup, witnesses are recounting what happened inside the Army Club on that day when then Army chief General Prayut Chan-o-cha announced his decision to seize power, after the conflicting political sides failed to reach an agreement at a two-day meeting brokered by the military.

However, people who witnessed first-hand the coup differ on whether it happened at the spur of the moment or was a well-plotted move.

Veteran politician Suthep Thaugsuban, who led street protests against the pre-coup government, said he was convinced the power seizure resulted from thr Yingluck government's stubborn refusal to help resolve the political deadlock.

Justice Minister General Paiboon Koomchaya, who was then assistant Army commander-in-chief, said that he believed Prayut would not have staged the coup if a solution to the impasse had been reached.

"The government at that time admitted that they could not run the country. That led him to make a decision. He saw the need to seize control of power," Paiboon added.

The previous Pheu Thai-led administration was in a disarray after then-prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra was ousted by a court order for abuse of power, in connection with her government's improper transfer of National Security Council secretary-general Thawil Pliensri. The Pheu Thai government was suffering from a negative image following more than six months of anti-government rallies led by Suthep's People's Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC).

Politicians from the Pheu Thai Party said they believed the coup was well plotted, like the one in September 2006. They pointed to a "similar pattern" that also happened before the previous power seizure almost nine years ago. The ruling party was forced to dissolve the House of Representatives. Then the opposition party boycotted the general elections, and the polls were declared void by court.

A Pheu Thai source said that when martial law was declared, the party's key figures and leaders of the red shirts' United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD) believed there would be |a coup soon. "But we still agreed |to join the meeting in order to |find a peaceful way out," the source said.

Another Pheu Thai politician said the military seemed to have planned well before staging the coup. "They did their homework very well. They determined the targets and carefully planned what needed to be done and with whom, before they announced the coup."

Key representatives from the conflicting sides - including Pheu Thai and Democrat parties, the PDRC, and the UDD - attended the meeting hosted by the Army on May 21 and 22.

Pheu Thai's veteran politician Chaturon Chaisang said that he was not surprised by the coup, as the party's analysts and strategists had expected it.

"The invocation of martial law indicated that they were planning a coup," Chaturon said.

Suthep, who has been ordained a Buddhist monk, recounted what happened on the day of coup, in a recent interview with The Nation. He said that representatives of the caretaker government seemed to be overly confident with their grip on power and refused to step down to provide a way out of the ongoing political deadlock.

Then, before the meeting General Prayut politely announced "So, I would like to seize power," according to Suthep.

"Everyone was shocked. They clearly sank in their seats and almost fell over backwards. I felt much relieved at the time. For me, it was game over," Suthep said.

General Paiboon said he believed it was a difficult decision for General Prayut. He said Prayut would not have staged the coup if the caretaker government could have run the country and both conflicting sides could have reached a solution. "The government's representatives admitted that they could not run the country," he added.

Both Suthep and Paiboon dismissed allegations of collusion between the PDRC and the military.

Chaturon blamed the military for refusing to help the caretaker government solve the political crisis. "They chose to wait until the situation got out of hand and used that as an excuse to stage the coup," he said.

The politician said the root cause of the country's problems had not been solved by the post-coup Prayut government. Also, the rules in new draft constitution were undemocratic, which could lead to increased discontent and more conflict.

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