The military of Thailand, a constitutional monarchy since 1932, carried out its 18th coup d’etat since then Thursday, ostensibly because rival political factions have been unable to bring stability to the government.
The armed forces had warned the competing civilian groups, the so-called red shirts and yellow shirts, that they must stop demonstrating and work out an agreement. There were inconclusive meetings between the groups, but with no outcome that the Thai military considered satisfactory. It took power on Thursday, shutting down some of the media.
The red shirts are supporters of the family of exiled billionaire Thaksin Shinawatra and his sister, Yingluck Shinawatra, who was forced out as prime minister a few days ago. The group’s strength is greater in the rural areas of Thailand and it is, in general, more popular based. It has won all recent elections. The yellow shirts’ strength lies mainly in urban areas and they are considered to be supporters of the ailing king, Bhumibol Adulyadej, 86, although he has stayed out of the fray.
The coup presents a problem for the United States, since it is not, by law, supposed to have military involvement with forces that stage takeovers. The U.S. military has cooperative dealings with Thailand’s forces, spending $13 million a year and holding many joint exercises. The Obama administration has ignored that law regarding Egypt, pretending that its armed forces did not overthrow the nation’s elected president in a coup last July.
The Thailand affair could come out all right, but only if the military keeps power briefly, until civilian leaders broker an arrangement. Until then, Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha remains in charge.