In A Bid To End Political Impasse, Thai Army Imposes Martial Law

Thailand's army imposed martial law overnight, as the country's political crisis continues to deepen. Journalist Michael Sullivan reports on the crisis from Bangkok.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

I'm Audie Cornish. Thailand's military declared martial law at 3 o'clock this morning local time. The army moves swiftly to consolidate power in what it says is a bid to end the country's political impasse. It also shut down some broadcasters and warned other media against news that might affect national stability. Michael Sullivan has more from Bangkok.

MICHAEL SULLIVAN, BYLINE: At the main site of the anti-government demonstrators in front of the Bangkok office of the United Nations, the atmosphere this evening was decidedly festive. And why wouldn't it be? For the past six months, the protestors have rallied to remove the democratically elected government of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra.

A little more than a week ago, Thailand's constitutional court seen as sympathetic to the opposition sacked Yingluck from office for abuse of power and today, the protestors got the army intervention they'd been hoping for as well. But the army insists this is not a coup.

THITINAN PONGSUDHIRAK: This could be either a blockade martial law or a really bad (unintelligible) coup.

SULLIVAN: Thitinan Pongsudhirak is director of the Institute of Security and International Studies at Bangkok's Chulalongkorn University.

PONGSUDHIRAK: If this marshal law leads to the return to the electoral system as a way forward, that would be a good thing to break this deadlock and provide a way forward, but if this marshal law leads to more military involvement and to outside appointed government of some kind, we will see more protests from the other side, the red side, and then the army will be forced to put that down and all kinds of bad things will happen in Thailand.

SULLIVAN: The red side refers to supporters of the recently deposed Yingluck. The military deposed her brother Thaksin Shinawatra in 2006 for abuse of power and wrote a new constitution aimed at keeping his kind from power, but it didn't work. Thaksin had harnessed the loyalty of Thailand's rural and urban majority with populous policies that the opposition never saw coming.

The opposition, a loose collection of so-called royalists and a long-time (unintelligible) felt threatened and they see the Shinawatra family as a political cancer corrupt to the core. But will the Thaksin faithful take today's turn of events lying down? Michael Montesano, a Thailand watcher at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore, says probably not.

MICHAEL MONTESANO: The army has not brought anything close to a resolution in the situation. This is not a solution. This is not a fix. This is a short term measure that raises the real possibility of intensifying the crisis.

SULLIVAN: Thitinan Pongsudhirak agrees and says both sides need to give a little.

PONGSUDHIRAK: They both need to see beyond themselves. If each side thinks that it can win completely, it'll keep trying and by trying, we will not find a solution out of this. And if you can find the right link going forward, then I think Thailand will be in good shape. It's just a matter of getting over this hump.

SULLIVAN: All eyes are now on the army leadership to see which way they'll lean in the coming days. For NPR News, I'm Michael Sullivan in Bangkok.

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