BANGKOK – Thai Soldiers burst into a journalists’ club in Bangkok on Tuesday and detained a former minister in the government deposed by the army last week after he had denounced the coup as a disaster.
Former Education Minister Chaturon Chaisang had been on the run after refusing to turn himself in to the military after being summoned in the wake of the May 22 coup.
Shortly before the soldiers appeared, Chaturon had told a packed Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand that he expected to be arrested.
“They’re just doing their duty,” a smiling Chaturon said as he was led away.
Other former ministers were detained by the military after the coup although most, including former premier Yingluck Shinawatra, have now been freed, even if their movements are being monitored.
Chaturon had told reporters the coup would only exacerbate conflict.
“I believe that from now on there will be more and more arrests, society will be in a worse situation. The economy will be in a bad situation if we let these coup-makers do what they like. It will be a disaster,” he said.
“They have a big weakness. They have no knowledge or experience to run a country. They don’t have the support of the international community or the Thai people.”
He said he had not been in touch with Yingluck, the sister of deposed former premier Thaksin Shinawatra.
Thailand’s political upheaval is the latest spasm in a nearly decade-long struggle between former telecoms mogul turned populist politician Thaksin and the royalist establishment which sees him as a threat.
Thaksin, dogged by accusations of corruption, nepotism and disrespecting the monarchy, was deposed in a 2006 coup and has lived abroad since 2008 to avoid a graft conviction.
But he remains Thailand’s most influential politician. He or his allies have won every election since 2001 with the support of poor, rural voters.
Asked about Thaksin, Chaturon said he did not know what his role would be.
“In my now opinion, Thaksin has contributed to democracy but it might be different if he lessened his role,” he said. He did not elaborate.
READY TO FIGHT
Chaturon also said he believed the coup had been a conspiracy between Suthep Thaugsuban, a former deputy premier who led six months of protest against Yingluck, the royalist establishment and the judiciary.
“A coup was what Suthep and his followers always wanted,” he said. “This is the work of those who fear their own people. They don’t believe in elections. They created a system where they can remove any government they want.”
The coup leader, General Prayuth Chan-ocha, said on Monday he hoped to hold elections soon though he gave no time frame. He has said broad political reforms were needed first.
Chaturon said he believed the military had used violence on the streets as an excuse for the coup. The military said it had to intervene to prevent more serious bloodshed.
“A coup d’etat doesn’t solve the problems. It will make conflict worse,” he said.
He said he was ready to face the consequences of his defiance: “If I’m prosecuted, I’m ready to fight.”
On Sunday, Chaturon told Reuters from an undisclosed location that he had tried to warn colleagues against attending crisis talks on May 22 at which Prayuth seized power.
Chaturon said those in detention were not being treated badly. “The problem is, we don’t know how long they’ll be detained. What I worry about most is those who will fight for democracy,” he said.
“It seems General Prayuth may want to hold power for some time,” he said. “He has assigned a lot of soldiers to administer this country, but these are tasks they know the least.”