After six months of a bitter, widening conflict, Thailand is desperately in need of a compromise. Whether the army chief Gen. Prayuth Chan-Ocha will be able to bring about this compromise is the question the world is asking.
The army declared martial law on Tuesday and banned marches and ordered the shutdown of ten radio and televisions channels. Although the military denied Tuesday’s surprise intervention amounted to a coup, General Prayuth Chan-ocha appeared to be setting the agenda by forcing groups and organisations with a central role in the crisis to talk. The army’s intention will be clear in the coming days. The army has staged at least 11 coups in the past 80 years, a record that has held the country back politically and economically, and this record therefore will raise doubts about the intentions of the military.
The initial signs are that even the declaration of the martial hasn’t persuaded rival factions to reach a deal. At the talks held yesterday between the two sides, they didn’t agree to stop their protests. Issues raised during the meeting included how to reform the political system, a demand made by anti-government protesters, and ending the demonstrations that have sparked violence, disrupted business and scared off tourists.
Thailand has been hit by rivalry between former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and the royalist establishment for nearly 10 years. Thaksin, a billionaire who won the
loyalty of the rural and urban poor, has lived in self-exile since 2008 but still exerts a huge influence, most recently through a government run by his sister, Yingluck Shinawatra. The rivalry is basically between the Thaksin movement based in rural areas and the northeast, and the Bangkok-based traditional establishment. After the Supreme Court, which is considered to be sympathetic to the Bangkok-elite, ousted the government of Yingluck Shinawatra this month, her supporters have been gathering outside the capital even as their opponents continue to occupy government buildings in an attempt to overturn the political system.
The crisis has hit Thailand’s economy badly and threatens to create havoc. Tourism is the mainstay of the economy and tourist arrivals have been falling steadily due to concerns of security. Airlines are cutting back on flights and concern over insurance is adding to travellers’ worries.
Since the enmity between the pro-Thaskin and anti-Thaksin sides is deep-rooted, and with both sides showing little inclination to make the kind of compromises necessary to find a solution, the army chief needs to use his power to find a lasting solution. Thailand’s neighbours and its close allies must exert pressure on all sides to rescue the country from the brink of a civil war.