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Calm and Political Uncertainty Following Bloodless Military Coup in Thailand

Thailand?s billionaire leader, Thaksin Shinawatra, was ousted in a bloodless military coup d??tat last week while he was attending the United Nations General Assembly in New York. While the country remains calm, uncertainty surrounds the nature and next steps of the junta?s rule. Should the junta not move in a deliberate and open fashion on a course toward transitioning to civilian governance and lifting restrictive emergency powers and laws, socio-political divisions within the country between a camp comprised of the junta and middle and upper class Thaksin opponents, and a camp of Thaksin loyalists, supporters among the rural and poor, and anti-coup activists may be exacerbated and grow into political and civil conflict. Coup leaders seized Bangkok after deploying tanks and armored personnel into the streets of the capital, and to the prime minister?s office and other government offices. The coup leaders declared martial law, suspended the Constitution, and ?terminated? both houses of Parliament, the cabinet, and the Constitutional Court. As reported Sunday by the Washington Post, ?At least four of Thaksin?s top aides have been detained by military authorities, who have also outlawed political meetings of five or more people. TV and radio stations have been warned to prevent criticism of the new military government, with armed soldiers stationed inside or near major domestic networks as a reminder. The military authority on Friday also named an official body to probe allegations of corruption under Thaksin.? Thailand has had a long history of military intervention in national politics, with 18 coups since Thailand became a constitutional monarchy in 1932, the last in 1991. The revered Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej endorsed the coup, appearing on television with the coup leader, Royal Thai Army Chief General Sonthi Boonyaratkalin, and naming him head of the interim council. The King?s endorsement has likely served as a significant legitimizing force for the coup, tempering larger-scale protest or resistance against the junta. The junta has vowed to draft a new temporary constitution, appoint a new prime minister by early next week, and review and pass an overdue government budget. Thaksin had ascended to power as a populist champion of the underclass, implementing various social welfare initiatives aimed at cultivating popular support among the poor?the country?s largest voting block. Critics charge that Thaksin?s party was preparing to buy votes as part of its campaign in the run up to elections scheduled in the coming months. Street protests in April had forced Thaksin to step aside, and further protests were to resume last week, increasing the potential for clashes between supporters and opponents. Coup leaders moved to oust Thaksin following long-standing allegations of corruption and graft, repeated calls and protests for Thaksin to step down, and a political stalemate between Thaksin supporters and opponents. Coup leaders claim that a military intervention was necessary because Thaksin had eroded via cronyism and political maneuvering the constitutional checks and balances mechanisms that would otherwise have been wielded against him by opponents. Speaking on behalf of General Sonthi, General Prapas Sakultanak said that, ?The government?s performance destroyed harmony in society.? Prapas went on to say that ?Everyone tried to win over each other, and the situation continued to worsen. Most people don?t trust the government because there are many signs of corruption.? Some observers dispute the claim that all mechanisms of political opposition were exhausted. The ?quick-trigger? military intervention indicates that Thailand?s constitutional monarchy?a beacon of democratic governance in the region?remains immature, as yet unable to shake its default mechanism of military interventionism during perceived political crisis, in this case during a period of political rancor and instability. Near Term Forecast: Relative

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