Schools were shut, international television stations were off air and channels broadcast military logos and patriotic music, a day after Thailand’s military seized control following a six-month political stalemate that has sapped economic growth.
Traffic was light in Bangkok as people made their way to work, after the army ordered schools and universities closed until May 25. Army Chief Prayuth Chan-Ocha, who announced the coup on national television yesterday, imposed a nationwide curfew from 10 p.m. until 5 a.m. and banned political protests.
The coup, the nation’s 12th in eight decades, could provide short-term certainty to markets after months of street protests and upheaval that led to the removal on May 7 of caretaker Premier Yingluck Shinawatra by the Constitutional Court. The military’s intervention though may not resolve the deep polarization that has taken hold in Thailand over the past decade between the largely rural-based supporters of Yingluck’s brother Thaksin Shinawatra, ousted in a 2006 coup, and his royalist opponents.
“The military has been looking at what went wrong in 2006 and asking why didn’t the 2006 coup work,” said Michael Connors, an associate professor at the Malaysia campus of the University of Nottingham. “The answer won’t be time, it will be that they were too soft.”
The coup took place after military and political leaders met yesterday to discuss a way out of the governance crisis.
“At the coffee break, Prayuth asked all participants whether they reached any resolution,” said acting Senate speaker Surachai Liengboonlertchai, who attended the meeting and was not detained. “All of them said no. He then asked the government ministers whether they will quit and the answer was no. So Prayuth said he had no choice but to seize power.”
The military used trucks to block the entrance and exits of the complex where the meeting was held. The leader of the anti-government protesters, Suthep Thaugsuban, was escorted into an army compound nearby.
“To restore peace back to the country in a short time and to reform the country’s politics, economy and society, the Thai military, army, navy, air force and police have seized power from May 22 onward,” Prayuth said in his TV address. “All people should remain calm and live their lives as normal.”
The caretaker government was removed and the most recent Prime Minister Niwattumrong Boonsongpaisan and 17 other former cabinet members must report in, said army deputy spokesman Winthai Suvaree. The Senate, independent agencies and courts will remain in place, he said.
The central command -- the National Peace and Order Maintaining Council -- instructed 23 people, including Yingluck and former Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat, Thaksin’s brother-in-law, to report in today. The permanent secretary of each ministry will be the acting minister for now, it said.
Leaders of the pro-government movement known as Red Shirts have been arrested, Sean Boonpracong, an adviser in the prime minister’s office, said by phone. They include Jatuporn Prompan, Weng Tojirakarn, Tida Tawornseth and Korkaew Pikulthong, with Niwattumrongin a safe location, he said.
“The military tried to avoid taking over and it’s quite obvious with their attempts to try to speak with all sides,” Kiat Sittheeamorn, a senior member of the main opposition Democrat party, said by phone. “When the situation as they anticipated worsened, they had to do something.”
The baht weakened 0.1 percent against the U.S. dollar following the announcement, after strengthening as much as 0.4 percent earlier yesterday. The coup came after the close of trading on the Stock Exchange of Thailand, with the benchmark SET Index (SET) rising 0.2 percent to 1,405.21.
The stock market will open as usual today, the exchange said in a statement. Thai airports will operate as normal and there has been no order to prohibit travel, Airports of Thailand said in a statement.
The central command said social media operators should prevent messages that incited violence or broke the law, or they could be charged.
The U.S. denounced the military’s action and said it’s reviewing military and other assistance it provides to Thailand.
“While we value our long friendship with the Thai people, this act will have negative implications for the U.S.-Thai relationship, especially for our relationship with the Thai military,” Secretary of State John Kerry said in a statement.
Singapore’s government said it had “grave concern” about developments in Thailand. “We hope that all parties involved will exercise restraint and work towards a positive outcome, and avoid violence and bloodshed,” the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in an e-mail. Japan’s Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida said in a statement the coup was “regrettable.”
Thailand’s military has now carried out a dozen coups since the end of direct rule by kings in 1932, with three governments overthrown since 2006 by the army or judicial action. The latest putsch may extend almost a decade of unrest that has sapped growth in Southeast Asia’s second-largest economy.
“The most obvious narrative is that Prayuth herded all of these people into a room and decided they were all beyond compromise and decided he needed to seize power, but it’s got to be more complicated than that,” said Michael Montesano, a visiting research fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore. “Now the military has inherited a big mess and how they will manage things in a way that they don’t end up in the trouble they ended up in 2006 and 2007 is what we need to look at.”
Anti-government protesters are demanding an unelected council run the country to wipe out the influence of Thaksin and his sister Yingluck, whose parties have won the last five elections. Government supporters, also protesting in Bangkok, have vowed to fight any such move.
The military’s seizure of power does nothing for Thailand’s reputation among global investors.
Yingluck dissolved parliament and called fresh elections in December in a bid to end the protests, which began in opposition to an amnesty bill that would have allowed Thaksin to return to Thailand. Thaksin fled abroad to avoid a jail term for corruption handed down by a military-appointed court.
“We are approaching the end game to the political crisis,” said Alan Richardson, whose Samsung Asean Equity Fund beat 96 percent of peers tracked by Bloomberg in the past five years. The stock market could fall “on knee-jerk reaction to heightened perceived political risk, but it should be an opportunity to start buying near the point of maximum pessimism,” he said by phone from Hong Kong.
A spillover effect from the coup on other emerging markets is possible, but “I don’t think there will be significant impact,” Indonesia’s Finance Minister Chatib Basri said in a Bloomberg Television interview.
The coup came days after the state planning agency reported gross domestic product shrank 0.6 percent in the three months through March from a year earlier, as production and tourism took a hit during months of unrest. The agency this week also cut its growth forecast for this year to 1.5 percent to 2.5 percent from a range of 3 percent to 4 percent earlier.
“The coup seems unlikely to bring a lasting solution any closer,” Mark Williams, chief Asia economist at Capital Economics in London, wrote in an e-mail. “The military’s seizure of power does nothing for Thailand’s reputation among global investors.”