BANGKOK – Thailand‘s military has detained former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra in a military camp roughly two hours from Bangkok, after she and more than 150 other prominent politicians and activists were apprehended and banned from leaving the country.
The detainment’s come a day after Thailand’s army chief seized power in a coup declared necessary to “restore order and normality”.
Local media reported that Yingluck had been taken to an army camp in Saraburi province, central Thailand, where she is expected to be held for the next three days, according to Naew Na news.
“We have detained Yingluck, her sister and brother-in-law,” a senior military officer told Reuters. The two relatives have also held senior political posts. “We will do so for not more than week, that would be too long. We just need to organise matters in the country first,” said the officer.
General Prayuth Chan-ocha, Thailand’s acting premier, ordered 155 political leaders, including the Shinawatra clan and both pro- and anti-government protesters – to report to him at Thai army headquarters in Bangkok. Among them were the recently deposed premier Niwatthamrong Boonsongpaisan, as well as former labour minister Chalerm Yubamrung.
Some have since been released but the whereabouts of many remains unknown.
Yingluck had arrived at Bangkok base on Friday morning in a bulletproof vehicle surrounded by bodyguards, local media reported, but left after 30 minutes for another army facility, according to the Associated Press.
It is believed that pro-government redshirt leaders who support the deposed Pheu Thai government may have been moved to different bases around the country to minimize the potential for any resistance to Thursday’s military coup.
Friday’s detention of such a large number of politicians and leaders is significant, not least because it involves the Shinawatra clan – a highly polarising family in Thailand. The 64-year-old leader of the group, Thaksin – a telecoms tycoon and former prime minister who was deposed in a 2006 military coup – was hugely popular among rural voters and lauded for his populist policies while in office. But he was equally derided by Bangkok’s urban, pro-royalist elites, who accused him of cronyism and corruption.
Despite being deposed eight years ago, Thaksin is at the forefront of the political turmoil that has seen 28 people killed and 700 injured since November, when protests against the Yingluck-led Pheu Thai party were sparked by a proposed amnesty bill that would have ushered in Thaksin’s return to Thailand.
The government has since been in a political deadlock, with anti-Thaksin forces fighting for the installation of a non-appointed leader, who would oversee vague reforms, and Pro-Thaksin forces calling for elections. Pro-Thaksin parties have won every election since 2001.
Now the army is at the helm and has promised to not only restore order, but to institute the reforms – but just how, and under what circumstances, has not yet been made clear.
Thaksin’s lawyer, Robert Amsterdam, issued a statement Friday warning that the army’s “illegal seizure of power” could result in a dramatic power divide.
“The military coup carried out by the army of Thailand does not have any legitimacy nor does the army of Thailand have a mandate from the people of Thailand to govern the country,” Amsterdam said. “Those who have the mandate of the people of Thailand, secured through free and fair elections, are now considering the formation of a government in exile.”
On Friday evening, hundreds of protesters held a candlelit vigil in downtown Bangkok with banners reading “No coup!”, “Let people vote” and “Military junta – get out!”. A large group of soldiers initially attempted to disperse the crowd, before allowing them to hold the sit-in near the central MBK mall, local media reported. Minor scuffles were reported and some protesters were taken away for questioning, according to reports on Twitter.
Earlier, unverified reports circulated that the military was attempting to detain redshirts in the north and north-east of the country. According to online news portal Khaosod, the army has also closed off a Thailand-Laos border crossing in an attempt to prevent them fleeing the country.
Like Thaksin, army chief Prayuth is no stranger to coups: he was part of the junta that helped depose Thaksin, a takeover that helped cement a massive pro-Thaksin support base known as the United Front for Democracy, and eventually led to massive street battles between royalist yellowshirts and pro-Thaksin supporters in 2010, resulting in the deaths of nearly 100 people.
Prayuth claimed that the takeover would help restore peace to the nation, but the Bangkok Post said in an editorial on Friday: “It’s the very act of a military takeover that is likely to … provoke acts of violence and possibly cause more loss of life. This coup is not the solution.”
Thursday’s coup – the country’s 19th since an absolute monarchy was abolished in 1932 – has been condemned by a number of human rights group and nations, including France, Japan, Australia, Germany, the EU, UN and US. The US secretary of state, John Kerry, said there was no justification for the coup and called for the release of all detained politicians.
Most analysts have said the situation in Thailand is unlikely to improve soon.
“The ‘hardliner’ generals now run the show and we should expect [a] bad outcome,” said a report by the Siam Intelligence Unit thinktank. “The new junta government will run the country for one to two years. The worst possible scenario is a chronic civil war.”
By 6pm on Friday, some television channels had returned to normal broadcasting, after 24 hours of military programming. All television and radio stations in Thailand, including foreign ones such as the BBC and CNN, had been off-air, resulting, in some circumstances, in repeat scenes of Prayuth declaring the military coup played over and over. In a comedic act of defiance, some Thais took to the Facebook page of the government’s new ruling body — the National Peace and Order Maintenance Council (NPOMC) – to request new singles be played over the airwaves, complaining that the nationalist bandstand songs with titles such as The Motherland’s Cancer, had begun to grate. They also requested their favourite television shows be aired again, news website Prachatai reported.
“Please put the soap operas back on!” said one Facebook user. “I’m so bored. 7-Eleven has been closed because of the curfew. Nothing to eat.”
The junta issued an order banning all media from reporting information deemed a threat to national security; a criticism of the NPOMC; or news that could incite confusion, conflict or unrest, according to Prachatai. – Kate Hodal