Military coup tumbles Thailand's Thaksin |
By Shawn W Crispin
BANGKOK - Caretaker Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra was ousted in a military coup on Tuesday evening, marking what appears to be a dramatic end to a political stalemate that has pitched the embattled politician against an opposition movement backed by conservative elements close to the Thai palace.
Troops loyal to Thai army commander General Sonthi Boonyaratklin, a palace loyalist, led the army-led putsch and surrounded Government House and parliament with tanks and troops. Thaksin, who was traveling in the United States,
> attempted to declare “a severe state of emergency” from New York and ordered Sonthi removed from his command.
As of midnight Thailand time, there was no indication that army officers loyal to Thaksin intended to enforce the caretaker prime minister’s orders to remove Sonthi. A source close to Sonthi said that they were locked in late-night negotiations with military officials loyal to Thaksin, including from the Bangkok-based 4th Cavalry Division, to avoid bloodshed.
A military official, wearing a Western style suit and a royal insignia pin, announced on national television that the army had temporarily suspended the “irresponsible” civilian government and would soon return power to the people. The Thai military used similar justification to overthrow the democratically-elected government led by Chatichai Choonhavan in 1991. All Thai television stations were placed under military control and played continuous footage in honor of King Bhumibol Adulyadej.
A subsequent military announcement broadcast on all Thai television stations formally dismissed the government, revoked the 1997 constitution, and declared the provisional authority's loyalty to the monarch. The official statement also ordered all military personnel based in Bangkok to remain in their appointed positions. Meanwhile, caretaker government spokesman Surapong Suebwonglee said from New York that the coup attempt “cannot succeed”, apparently indicating that Thaksin plans to contest the military’s move
Sources close to Sonthi said that two palace loyalists were being considered to take over the provisional military authority. One candidate was Sumet Tantivejkul, Secretary General of the Chai Pattana Foundation, which is under royal patronage. The other was privy councilor Palakorn Suwannarat, who notably was removed by Thaksin from his post in the interior ministry in 2001.
Earlier on Tuesday, there were widespread coup rumors when Sonthi gave military officials orders to stand by for an important announcement. A well-placed source with senior army connections told Asia Times Online on condition of anonymity that Thaksin had attempted to pre-empt the coup by ordering the arrest of chief privy councilor Prem Tinsulonda, the king’s chief advisor. For undisclosed reasons, that police-led mission failed.
The army also mobilized the heavily armed rapid deployment unit, 9th Infantry Division, in nearby Kanchanaburi province and the Special Warfare Operational forces in central Lopburi province in the event military officials loyal to Thaksin in Bangkok attempted to resist the coup order.
The coup significantly comes against the backdrop of a hotly contested scheduled military reshuffle, in which Thaksin had controversially vied to elevate army officials loyal to him from his pre-Cadet Class 10 to the pivotal First Army Division. That reshuffle list reportedly brought Thaksin into conflict with senior members of the top brass and the Privy Council, and his refusal to back down from the proposed personnel changes appears to have been a major factor behind the coup.
According to sources familiar with the matter, Thaksin had attempted to elevate Major General Prin Suwanthat to commander of the First Army Division, which crucially is charged with overseeing security in Bangkok. Thaksin also reportedly pushed to promote Prin’s ally, Major General Daopong Ratanasuwan, to take over the First Infantry. With assistant army commander Pornchai Kranlert in place, the reshuffle, if accomplished, would have given Thaksin an unbroken chain of command over crack troops responsible for Bangkok’s security.
Thailand was scheduled to hold new general elections in November, which political analysts widely predicted Thaksin’s Thai Rak Thai party would win with an outright majority. However, deep-seated opposition to Thaksin resuming political leadership signaled that the new polls would not have broken the political deadlock. For better or for worse, a military intervention has.
Shawn W Crispin is Asia Times Online’s Southeast Asia Editor
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