In Thailand, military leaders have staged a bloodless coup, suspending the constitution and declaring martial law. We go to the capital Bangkok to get reaction on the ground. [includes rush transcript]
Military leaders in Thailand staged a bloodless coup Tuesday night, then suspended the constitution and declared martial law. Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra was in New York for the UN General Assembly. He cancelled his scheduled speech last night and it is unclear whether he intends to return home.
The leader of the coup, General Sonthi Boonyaratglin, told a news conference today that a new prime minister would be named within two weeks. He said new elections would take place in a year’s time, once a new constitution had been written. He also warned that the ousted prime minister could face charges.
The Thai armed forces seized power without firing a shot. Tanks rolled into the capital, Bangkok, as soldiers seized government offices and took up strategic positions around the city. In a broadcast on all Thai television channels, the leadership of the armed forces said it had taken control, declared nationwide martial law and ordered all troops to return to their bases. A spokesman for the coup leaders said the seizure would be temporary and power would be 'returned to the people' soon.
- Prapart Sakuntanak, spokesperson for coup leaders.
The heads of the armed forces went to the palace to visit the highly revered king and declared loyalty to him. The king has made no comment about whether he backs the takeover. The military said the country’s stock market, banks and schools would remain closed on Wednesday. BBC World, CNN and other international TV news channels have been taken off the air, while Thai stations have broadcast footage of the royal family and patriotic songs. Reuters is reporting that the army has banned gatherings of more than five people.
The coup followed months of growing tension in Thailand, with protests against the Prime Minister and a general election which was annulled due to concerns about its legitimacy.
- Chanida Chanyapate Bamford. Deputy Director of Focus on the Global South. Speaking from Bangkok.
AMY GOODMAN: A spokesman for the coup leaders said the seizure would be temporary and power would be returned to the people soon.
PRAPART SAKUNTANAK: [translated] It is clear that the administration of the interim government has created a conflict that is spreading among Thai people. This has never happened before. And each of the factions is trying to overtake one another. And it is deteriorating without any sign of getting better. The people are starting to doubt the government due to corruption and abuse of power. The independent agencies have been dominated by politicians, and this creates a chaotic political atmosphere and there have been many times when the monarch was nearly insulted.
AMY GOODMAN: The heads of the armed forces went to the palace to visit the highly revered king and declared loyalty to him. The Thai king has made no comment about whether he backs the takeover. The military said the country’s stock market, banks and schools would remain closed on Wednesday. BBC World, CNN and other international TV news channels have been taken off the air, while Thai stations have broadcast footage of the royal family and patriotic songs. Reuters is reporting the Thai army has banned gatherings of more than five people.
The coup followed months of growing tension in Thailand with protests against the prime minister and a general election, which was annulled due to concerns about its legitimacy. Chanida Chanyapate Bamford joins us on the line from Bangkok. She is Deputy Director of Focus on the Global South. Welcome to Democracy Now! Can you describe what has happened in Thailand?
CHANIDA CHANYAPATE BAMFORD: It’s been quiet. And basically, as you said, there has been no bloodshed so far. But we feel the situation is still volatile, because the [inaudible] going to make sure that there will be no opposition or no resistance. Today, [inaudible] they have declared today a holiday. So, there is no further news except for the occasional statement, short statement, put out by the coup leader.
AMY GOODMAN: Your attitude toward the prime minister who was just deposed?
CHANIDA CHANYAPATE BAMFORD: Pardon?
AMY GOODMAN: What is your assessment of the prime minister who was just deposed?
CHANIDA CHANYAPATE BAMFORD: The prime minister who was just deposed, we have heard no news from him, except that he’s probably deciding whether to come back into Thailand, to risk coming back to Thailand, or to do something else. But basically all the cabinet ministers have left Thailand, and all the prime minister’s family, as well.
AMY GOODMAN: And as a grassroots activist in Thailand, can you talk about the military coup? Who are the forces that have deposed the prime minister?
CHANIDA CHANYAPATE BAMFORD: You know the coup leader is the army chief, and then he’s got the support of, as he claims, of the supreme commander of the armed forces and the chief of the police. So that’s all we know so far about five or six people, who have shown themselves. So this was really a surprise, because we, of course, have thought that the days of the coup d’états have been over. And so, I think the Thais are still trying to find — trying to think of what should be our reaction to this type of situation. So there must be a lot of conferences behind closed doors today. But there is not many people in the street. So, we only have to take a wait-and-see position.
AMY GOODMAN: And the attitude of the people toward the prime minister, what is he being accused of?
CHANIDA CHANYAPATE BAMFORD: He is being accused basically [inaudible] and what they call policy corruption. So it’s not really, you know, committing the offense of actual corruption, but in terms of that kind of making unethical deals or shady deals that prompted people to question the transparency and the legitimacy of his rule, his government.
And that has been, of course — this has been the sentiment of quite a large majority of the people that prompted them to boycott the April 2 election, to vote "no vote" in that election. And nine million people voted "no vote" in that election. So that was how people expressed that question against the Thaksin government.
So, the situation has become and remains volatile, because Mr. Thaksin, himself, definitely did not accept those charges and would not budge really from his position as the head of the biggest Thai Rak Thai Party. And a lot of — there were questions about his intentions in the new election, whether he would resume premiership, and he kept evading that. You know, he evaded questions all the time. So that was the uncertainty that was building up. Because the People’s Alliance for Democracy is taking up this issue again, because they basically think that as a responsible leader, he has to face these charges, or actually if he doesn’t want to explain it, he should resign.
AMY GOODMAN: Chanida Chanyapate Bamford, we’re going to have to leave it there, because we’re having a hard time hearing you. I want to thank you very much for joining us from Bangkok.