One week ago the Thai military declared a coup d’état. Thai politics are complex, convoluted, and complete with drama that dates back almost a decade. Dissecting Thai politics is migraine inducing, with arguments so conflicting and rumors so preposterous that getting to the bottom of everything while maintaining a neutral position is a task as daunting as summarizing Game of Thrones.
To understand why the coup ensued, one must understand at least the basics of Thailand’s tense political situation. There were two opposing groups protesting in Bangkok: the anti-government group (People’s Democratic Reform Committee) and the pro-government group (United Front For Democracy Against Dictatorship).
The UDD, or the “red shirts,” have recently come out to oppose the anti-government PDRC. The PDRC, or the “yellow shirts” have been protesting in Bangkok for over six months, rallying for the ousting of the prime minister whose brother is the ex-prime minister overthrown in 2006 by another coup d’état. The New York Times has dubbed him, “Thailand’s most famous fugitive.”
These two parties have been quarreling for quite some time, leaving trails of political unrest around the country like Hansel and Gretel. As a result of news that the UDD were harboring weapons the military declared martial law. The army chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha summoned leaders of both groups for a negotiation, which was unsuccessful. The military seized power May 22.
Thailand’s had its fair share of coups. We’ve had 18 coups. It’s almost like there’s a coup every decade. So while people weren’t ecstatic (unless they were PDRC supporters and thrilled that the government was overthrown), people weren’t panic-stricken either. With the tireless protesting that Bangkok had witnessed, it was almost as if a coup was expected.
Many Thais had a unique response to seeing soldiers deployed throughout the city in train stations, large intersections or government offices. It’s not unusual to see civilians handing soldiers cans of cold drinks, iced coffees, munchies, or even roses. A trend began including selfies: a quick snap with some camo in the background complete with #coupdetat and #thaimilitary hashtags to proliferate through social media.
Obviously, the coup wasn’t to be treated lightly, what with people being detained in military bases, an anti-coup protest emerging, TV channels being shut down, etc. When the military seized power, TV and radio broadcast were suspended. All channels displayed a blue screen with the words “National Peace and Order Maintaining Council” projected across the screen. The radio blasted a patriotic song that sounded like it was recorded before World War II on a loop. Flipping through dozens of blue screens was eerie and the radio was exasperating, so the Internet was where most people ended up; social media sites exploded with heated arguments over the coup. It also led to a string of rumors more baffling than the String Theory. A rumor circulated that malls were being burned down, another that the acting prime minister was hiding out at the US Embassy. Both were false.
Broadcast media returned the next day, and the most concerning thing about the coup was no longer that the radio was blaring archaic songs – now there was a curfew. The curfew was nationwide and lasted from 10pm to 5am. We couldn’t leave our premises, though there were exceptions for hospitals, airports, employees with night shifts, and so on. Public transportation stopped at 9pm. This was annoying, because without its sky train and subway system along with its buses and motorcycle-taxis, Bangkok was paralyzed. Bangkok is also a tourist city, and a lot of the tourism revolves around nightlife so bars, clubs, and night markets came to a halt.
To me, curfew meant no late night movies, no parties, no food delivery, no staying out past 9pm, no midnight snack runs, nothing. Parents were delighted, teenagers much less so – it was like everyone was grounded, and sneaking out became actually illegal. It also meant a whole bunch of other amusing things like my high school’s senior prom starting at four instead of at nine. The usually bustling streets outside my apartment were hushed by nine-thirty. An annual house music dance festival moved to six. 24-hour stores closed. Taylor Swift canceled her concert.
Apart from being more diurnal, Bangkok is pretty much the same. People go about their lives like normal. A few anti-coup protests have broken out here and there and scorching arguments still thrive online, but most of the time you forget your country’s undergoing a coup d’état. Because between soldiers-sightings on subways and being on house arrest after 10pm, life in coup-Bangkok isn’t as arduous as it seems.