Wednesday, May 21, 2014

What's In a Name?

Thai soldiers relax in the back of a truck in central Bangkok shortly after martial law was declared

Thailand's political drama took a sharp turn into the unknown Tuesday when General Prayuth Chan-ocha, commander of the Royal Thai Army, declared martial law and put soldiers on the streets of Bangkok. 

The General was quick to point out that it's not a coup and that martial law is authorized under a constitution promulgated about 100 years ago. He said the current constitution (passed in 2007) was still in effect and that the military would ensure peace and stability in Thailand.  
Soldiers at a checkpoint in Ratchaprasong Intersection

Thailand has a long and checkered history with coups. A coup in 1932 abolished the absolute monarchy and set the country on its unsteady path to democracy. It's generally reported that there have been 11 coups since then. Some have been bloody, some not. Some replaced elected governments, others replaced unelected military governments. 

Early Tuesday, General Prayuth made an announcement on television that he was invoking martial law and we woke to soldiers in the streets and new guidelines on what could be reported and what couldn't be. He also ordered TV stations affiliated with the political parties to go off the air and ordered other broadcast outlets to carry army approved news as the army sees fit.
Gen. Prayuth walks into a meeting with military officers and members of Thai society

The General says it's not a coup but a lot of people disagree with him. Time magazine said if it looks like a coup and smells like a coup, it's a coup, while an aide to the interim caretaker Prime Minister (who replaced Yingluck Shinawatra, ousted by the courts in a "judicial coup" two weeks ago) called it "half a coup.

I went out early Tuesday morning to photograph soldiers on the street and public reaction to "martial law." What I found was startling normality. There were a few soldiers out in key intersections but by and large the beat of the city went on as if nothing had happened. 

I spent the afternoon at the "Army Club," a sprawling recreational complex for Thai army officers. Gen. Prayuth selected the club as the venue for his meetings with members of Thai civil society. We (me and several hundred other journalists) photographed Thai movers and shakers as they arrived for their meeting with Prayuth. Many of them looked like they were being summoned to the principal's office in school. When the meeting started we rushed into the hall for about five minutes of photography (no questions) allowed before being asked to leave. 
A pro-democracy protestor at the vigil Tuesday night.

I left the Army Club to come home and edit. I start editing and got word of a pro-democracy vigil in central Bangkok, so I rushed down to the vigil. There were about 100 people there, many with their mouths taped shut (to symbolize the loss of free speech). As it got dark people lit their candles. 
Holding up candles.

It was a long day. At least for now, the declaration of marial law hasn't changed much. The Red Shirts are still protesting (in support of the government) at Aksa Road, on the edge of Bangkok, and the Yellow Shirts PDRC are still protesting (against the government) all along Ratchdamnoen Ave from Government House down to Democracy Monument. 

Gen Prayuth has issued sweeping orders curtailing political speech and granting the army broad powers of arrest. But so far he hasn't announced a new Prime Minister and, at least officially, the Pheu Thai still governs on the civilian side and the constitution is still in effect. So we continue to wait. 

Finally, most of the photos in my archive are available for editorial use or self fulfillment as prints. If you see something you'd like to use or just hang on the wall, click on the "Add to Cart" button and follow the onscreen prompts.