Thai army seizes power, ousts Thaksin

The Thai army seized power on Tuesday without firing a shot, dismissed Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra’s government, revoked the Constitution and promised a swift return to democracy after political reforms.

Army Commander-in-Chief Sonthi Boonyaratglin took the reins of power without a government title after Thaksin telephoned a Thai television station from New York to announce a state of emergency in an apparent attempt to head off the coup.

A government spokesperson with him said the army could not succeed and “we’re in control”, but Thaksin cancelled the speech he was to give to the United Nations General Assembly later in the day and it was not clear when he would return to Thailand.

Tanks and troops took over Government House in Thailand’s first coup in 15 years—its 18th since it became a constitutional monarchy in 1932—and a coup spokesperson said the army and police were in firm control.

Soon afterwards, the heads of the armed forces went to the palace to report to revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej in a motorcade broadcast on television, a move likely to dampen any agitation in the countryside where Thaksin’s support is strong.

Television also showed documentaries of the king in the countryside, promoting his development projects that have added to the reverence in which he is held. That was designed to reinforce the military’s insistence it was acting for the good of the country that he embodies.

Armoured vehicles and soldiers took up position on many street corners, but life in most of Bangkok continued much as usual with traffic moving through rain-drenched streets and the airport operating normally.

‘Temporary regime’

The seizure will be temporary and power “returned to the people” soon, coup spokesperson retired Lieutenant General Prapart Sakuntanak said on all Thai television channels.

The army told all soldiers to report to base and banned unauthorised troop movements, suggesting the military leadership is worried that Thaksin loyalists might attempt a counter-coup.

The armed forces also announced that Wednesday will be a government, bank and market holiday in the interests of maintaining calm. Foreign news channels, including CNN and the BBC, have been taken off the air.

Prapart said the armed forces and police have set up a body to decide on political reforms, ousting billionaire telecoms tycoon Thaksin in the midst of a political crisis stemming from accusations he had subverted democracy.

“Never in Thai history have the people been so divided,” Prapart said.
“The majority of people had become suspicious of this administration, which is running the country through rampant corruption.

“Independent bodies have been interfered with so much they could not perform in line within the spirit of the Constitution.”

Weerasak Kohsurat, a deputy minister in a previous government, said he believes royal adviser Sumate Tantivejakul will steer the political reform process. Elections will be called when it is done and Thaksin, Thailand’s longest-serving elected prime minister, will be allowed to take part, he said.

‘No alternative’

After mass street protests against him in Bangkok, Thaksin, winner of two election landslides, called a snap poll in April, hoping his rural following would counter his metropolitan foes.

However, opposition parties argued he had skewed neutral bodies such as the Election Commission in his favour and boycotted the poll. That rendered the election result invalid.

Thaksin’s Thai Rak Thai (Thais Love Thais) party was expected to win a rerun tentatively scheduled for late November, increasing pressure on his opponents in the military and the old establishment to resort to removing him by force.

“There is no other means to solve the political deadlock,” said a former senior official close to the top military brass. “It’s been almost a year that the country has no democracy, no legitimate government to run the country.

“I’ve told foreign diplomats Thailand may need to take a step backward, if they think a coup will, in order to leap forward.”

The Thai baht, one of Asia’s strongest currencies this year, suffered its biggest fall in three years within hours of the coup and Fitch Ratings put Thailand on a negative ratings watch.

The stock exchange had planned to open normally on Wednesday before the announcement of a holiday, although it clearly expected investors to sell, saying it would halt trading if the main index fell more than 10%.

News of the coup also helped lift the dollar and United States treasuries as some investors ducked into safe havens.

In his television statement, Thaksin ordered troops not to “move illegally” and ordered Armed Forces Supreme Commander Ruangroj Mahasaranond to implement the emergency order. The transmission stopped after 10 minutes while he was still talking.—Reuters

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