What Martial Law in Thailand Really Means

What Martial Law in Thailand Really Means
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If you have been following international headlines, you may have noticed that the army recently declared martial law in Thailand. And if you dig a bit deeper, you might find out that the army has launched a total of 18 coups in the country’s modern history, not counting the current action which has yet to be declared a coup.

From the perspective of an outsider, this might make Thailand seem like a highly unstable country. Given that Thailand depends on foreign investment and tourism, this reputation might even damage the country’s economy.

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The government system in Thailand is more complex than is often portrayed, however, and while Thailand’s elected government is frequently pushed by power by the army, the country’s supreme leader, the King of Thailand, Bhumibol Adulyadej, has not been challenged.

King Rules Thailand

Thailand’s supreme leaders are its royal family and in particular the King. The King is highly revered in Thailand and insulting him, or even stepping on a coin with his face on it, can result in jail time. In practice, however, the King leaves the running of the country to an elected government. This government runs the day-to-day activities of the country, but is effectively below the King.

The King vests much of his powers in the elected government, but has historically proven to be more powerful than these elected governments. In a sense, Thailand’s elected governments rule at the pleasure of the King.

Most of the King’s powers are enshrined in Thailand’s Constitution, but his real power rests in the fact that the King is the head of the country’s armed forces. Traditionally, Thailand’s military has proven to have unwavering loyalty to the King.

Would a Coup Really be a Coup?

When you mention the word Coup, this tends to refer to a situation when one party, say the military, throws the ruling power out of power. Usually, this refers to a lower ranking power throwing a higher ranking power out of office. A young officer might stage a coup within the ranks of the army and dispose of a general, or a Vice President might seize power from a President.

As mentioned, the King of Thailand has not been challenged in the recent declaration of martial law, nor has the King ever been challenged by his army officials. In this case, the army is instead taking power from another institution of about the same power as itself, and is doing so with the permission of the King.

So instead of being a coup, the recent declaration of martial law appears to be a move by the King and his military officials to assert a more direct control over society. With the stability in Thailand continuing even after the removal of Prime Minister Yingluck, long the target of protestors, it became apparent that the King would need to intervene directly.

Army Officials to Meet with Government Officials

Thailand is now effectively under the control of the military, and in turn the King. The Chief of the Army, General Prayuth Chan-Ocha, has been meeting with key political players in Thailand to resolve the issue. So far, he has met with leaders of the now eviscerated ruling government, and leaders of Thailand’s two biggest political factions.

As of yet, it appears that no agreement has been reached. Previously, Thai officials were looking to hold an election, potentially as soon as this July, but said election now appears to be on hold indefinitely.

How far the Army will go in seizing complete power remains to be seen. For now, it looks like the army is just trying to maintain peace and order, but if an agreement between the opposing factions cannot be reached, the Army may expand its control over Thailand in the name of the King.

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