Thailand Army Declares Martial Law

Adam Taggart
By Adam Taggart on Tue, May 20, 2014 - 12:55am

From Reuters:

'This is not a coup' says Thai army, as martial law declared

(Reuters) - Thailand's army declared martial law nationwide on Tuesday to restore order after six months of street protests that have left the country without a proper functioning government, but denied that it was staging a military coup.

While troops patrolled the streets of Bangkok, the caretaker government led by supporters of self-exiled former premier Thaksin Shinawatra was still in office, military and government officials said. Ministers were not informed of the army's plans before the surprise announcement on television at 3 a.m. (4 p.m. EDT on Monday).

Army chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha said the military was taking charge of public security because of violent protests that had claimed lives and caused damage. Nearly 30 people have been killed since the protests began in November last year.

"We are concerned this violence could harm the country's security in general. Then, in order to restore law and order to the country, we have declared martial law," Prayuth said.

Another week, another country experiences a surge of unrest. Ukraine, Turkey, Argentina, Venezuela, Vietnam, now Thailand...

It's increasingly looking like the unsustainable practices and policies of the past several years are reaching their end, and the relative calm the world has enjoyed is over. As we have often written on this site, the weaker periphery players will fold first; and that seems to be happening now. 

Consider it a preview of what's likely soon coming to a developed economy near you.

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5 Comments

sand_puppy's picture
sand_puppy
Status: Diamond Member (Offline)
Joined: Apr 13 2011
Posts: 1926
Dave's Recent Thailand Analysis would go well here

Is it possible to move his very perceptive observations about how forces have variously aligned and shaken out over to this thread?

jgritter's picture
jgritter
Status: Gold Member (Offline)
Joined: Dec 13 2011
Posts: 273
Noisy Signal

Is there a metric that may be used as the dominos wobble and fall that allows for plotting points on a graph to allow for developing a function to predict...  Never mind, 40% of income for food, right?

John G

cmartenson's picture
cmartenson
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Posts: 5752
Dave Fairtex (hope he's ok!) on Monkeys and Grapes

This comment left by DF on his experience in Thailand (originally found here) is worth posting here, per Sand_puppy's suggestion:

Picking just one of the grapes out of the bunch - Thailand - I don't believe that Thailand is at the 40% of income to food costs countries.  And as such, I don't think the recent set of upheavals in Thailand are due to food.

That said, the bit about monkeys and our classic monkey nature does almost completely covers what is going on there today.

My assessment:

Back in 2000, a clever Thai political operator figured out he could take money from one chunk of society, and hand it to to another - and get elected thereby.  Jefferson said something about this once, as I recall.  And so once our clever Thai politician had established this, he had himself a sure thing bet.

So after he had established this paradigm, you had an enthusiastic populace who would vote for this clever politician every single time.  Votes were bought quite effectively using public money, all the while a massive skim was taken by the clever (billionaire, at this point) politician, and he basically became President for Life.  Not in any de jure way, but simply because of Robin Hood math.  There are more poor people than rich people.  Who knew?

So after a time, the people in Bankok (the Tax Donkeys for this project) figured this out and they become less than amused.  Given they control the Army, things become more complicated.  And given the government must operate from Bangkok - even the government engaged in this wholesale money/corrupt transfer whose power base is maybe 500 miles away - its even MORE complicated.  A coup eventually happens when President for Life is off traveling.  Then he's put on trial (in absentia) for corruption.  He's found guilty.  Many years pass, lots of events occur while he remains outside the country, and finally his sister is elected Prime Minister - her first political office is leader of the Nation.  Gravy starts flowing again.  Rice is bought by the government for 50% over market value.  Lots of money is made by all right people.  The Tax Donkeys in Bangkok get upset.  The elites in Bangkok see their opportunity.  And here we are today.

So from what I can tell, the unrest seems to be mostly anger at corruption of the clever politician and his family and his hangers-on getting obscenely wealthy because of all this.  One group of monkeys are getting a trickle of grapes they didn't get before.  They are delighted so they cheer the clever politician monkey every chance they get.  Another (smaller) group are having to provide the grapes to make all this work.  They are not happy at all.  A third very small group of politician-monkeys gets to skim a large number of grapes off the "flow" because they control the grape-redistribution mechanism.

To make matters even more complicated, for a very long time the poor people in the countryside were almost completely ignored by the powers in Bangkok.  Bangkok was rich, the countryside was poor, and that's just how things worked.  So in some sense, this is a kind of payback.

I have learned that corruption is not always an easy thing to assess.  Neither is democracy.  Neither is local context.  Not without serious study anyways.

http://m.bangkokpost.com/opinion/390300

... as with any developing country steeped in feudalistic tradition, corruption here is an accepted norm. But again there's a boundary one does not cross. Thaksin's crime wasn't that he took a bite out of the mango - everyone does, even if but a nibble - but that he's perceived as wanting to swallow the whole tree.

One nice thing about Thailand is that the corruption is right there out in the open.  Thaksin became a billionaire during his time in office.  At least in the US, people only get $10 million bonuses from their bank for becoming trade representatives to do the bidding of the banking establishment.  Perhaps we just get bought more cheaply.  Which is "better" - its hard to say.

But at some point, monkey nature being what it is, the monkeys that aren't getting grapes will become fractious and irritable.  That's just how we work.  And at some point it will boil over and things will become unpleasant.

At the end of the day, I think what Chris says is right.  If there is a strong undercurrent of either corruption or unfairness in the society, that's just latent trouble waiting to erupt.  "I would never consider moving to a country that has entrenched corruption and deep social unfairness at its root..."

Honestly though, I think the US has this in spades.  It is just more cleverly hidden.  At least in Thailand if you want to start a small business, you just bribe the local police for a spot on the street, buy a $500 food cart, and start cooking.  Good luck doing that in the US...the big fast food cartels have that particular racket all sewn up, using "food safety regulations."  To protect us, you see.  Because the food they provide is so good.

Here in the US, it is all papered over with SNAP/EBT cards, and a political-corporate/cartel control over virtually every aspect of daily life (via deliberately anti-competitive regulation) which becomes much more visible once you travel abroad and see how differently other cultures live.

As a regular person would you rather be able to start a small business and be forced to deal with the associated "little" corruption, or would you prefer being more or less trapped on food stamps?

[Note: its a different matter entirely for a foreigner being dropped into the same circumstances; foreigners are seen as invariably rich, and so the "corruption bill" will be substantially higher than for the locals]

davefairtex's picture
davefairtex
Status: Diamond Member (Offline)
Joined: Sep 3 2008
Posts: 5463
martial law

I'm going to chalk up Thailand's latest coup - I mean, not-coup - to "local factors" rather than a part of some larger tapestry of Peak Prosperity issues - resource scarcity, etc.

Until the latest round of unrest, Thailand has actually been growing relatively well.  Debt isn't overwhelming, either for people or for the government.  This is not a case of two hungry dogs fighting over the last few scraps of food, with massive unemployment of the youth, etc.  Thailand is not Greece.

Just reading between the lines about this particular coup, I do not think it came as a surprise to either side.  My gut tells me it was a negotiated outcome.  The Army had been telegraphing this punch for months now - back in December, the head of the army was saying they weren't currently contemplating a coup, so "don't worry about something that hasn't happened yet."  Focus on the "yet" rather than the words "don't worry."

And in this case, the current (previous?) PM and her cabinet had already been removed from power by the Thai Supreme Court.  In a sense, this particular coup had already taken place through the legal system, and even before that, there had been a serious power vacuum for the past several months.  The military just stepped into the vacuum after it became clear that the politicians couldn't work it out amongst themselves (Suthep, the leader of the anti-government movement being particularly unwilling to compromise), and there was an increasing chance that the two groups might try to "solve it themselves" and engage on the streets of Bangkok.  Also important to know - the Thai supreme court resides in Bangkok.  Lastly, its quite likely that this is the outcome Suthep wanted to happen, and much of the last six months has been maneuvering to get the situation to this place.

In some sense, its an issue of minority rights.  Do the corrupt politicians voted in by the poor people in the countryside get to redistribute the wealth of Bangkok while taking a large chunk for themselves without the people of Bangkok having any say in the matter?  Democracy is great when you're the one getting the milk - its less great when you are the one being milked!  And its even worse when the guy elected to do the milking is keeping a big chunk of the cream for himself!

Best outcome: a constitutional rewrite ("reform") process shepherded by the military, agreed to by both sides, providing some sort of legal framework for a compromise between Bangkok and the countryside.  Where Bangkok gets some kind of veto over the more numerous Red Shirts, ideally requiring them both to agree on just how much corrupt populism will happen rather than one side imposing it on the other and taking all the goodies for themselves.

Worst outcome: intransigence in negotiations leads to a bloody revolt by the Red Shirts against the military government, ending up in a real, shooting civil war.

Wildlife Tracker's picture
Wildlife Tracker
Status: Gold Member (Offline)
Joined: Jan 14 2012
Posts: 403
Stay safe Dave. Hopefully

Stay safe Dave. Hopefully this will not escalate any further.

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