20 May 2014

“The invocation of martial law is not a coup d’etat...”

Democracy Monument

The Thai military has declared a state of martial law, effective from 3am this morning. Army chief Prayut Chan-o-cha made a televised statement announcing that the military has taken over control of national security. In a message broadcast by Channel 5, a station owned by the military, he sought to reassure the public: “We urge people not to panic. Please carry on your daily activities as usual. The invocation of martial law is not a coup d’etat.”

The declaration does have some of the hallmarks of a coup, and the military apparently acted without government authorisation. Martial law gives the military wide-ranging powers to suspend civil rights and impose media censorship. Already, ten television stations have been ordered to stop broadcasting, and Prayut has issued warnings against political protest and criticism. (Last week, the People’s Democratic Reform Committee vacated its Lumpini Park base and returned to Democracy Monument. United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship protesters are currently occupying Aksa Road on the outskirts of Bangkok.)

According to the constitution, the military has the power to declare martial law only “in a certain locality as a matter of urgency” (article 188). In other circumstances, “[t]he King has the prerogative to declare and lift the martial law”. Today, the military declared martial law throughout the country, not “in a certain locality”, and a royal decree has not been issued, thus the declaration is unconstitutional.

The imposition of martial law represents a further undermining of the government’s authority, though Prime Minister Niwatthumrong is still nominally in charge. The election, previously scheduled for 20th July, has been postponed indefinitely. As in 2006, it seems that the army does not have the patience to wait for an election, and prefers its own direct intervention.

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