So will martial law be a political circuit breaker, or turn out to be a poisoned chalice for the military?
Presenter: Sen Lam
Speaker: Dr John Blaxland, Strategic and Defence Studies Centre, Australian National University
BLAXLAND: Well we are yet to see exactly what it does mean, but my understanding is that we are seeing the police cooperate with the military in looking to setup checkpoints and essentially prevent or get ahead of the curve in terms of the prevention of clashes that authorities have now considered to be otherwise unstoppable. That's essentially the bottom line.
LAM: And Dr Blaxland you are of course a former Australian military attaché in Bangkok.
BLAXLAND: That's right.
LAM: How do you see the Thai military working with the executive or civilian interim government during this period of martial law?
BLAXLAND: Well it'll be interesting to see because General Prayuth who's the army chief who's declared martial law, has with the Yingluck government of the last couple of years demonstrated that he has, he's surprised the pundits essentially by his restraint. He's spoken loudly and carried an otherwise until now fairly soft, small stick. And he has demonstrated that he really has been not wanting to go down this path and has sought to avoid it for pretty much the last couple of years that's been the case. But it seems that the tipping point has been reached in his calculus as to what was sustainable, what was acceptable and what wasn't. And my understanding is that the process in parliament, particularly in the Senate, and the attempts to try and appoint a new government was falling apart, and the moves to both the Red Shirts and the Suthep (Thaugsuban) groups potentially clashing has made it something that Prayuth basically felt he needed to step in. Now the bottom line is that Prayuth is seen as being with the establishment, he's been photographed recently in front of a Buddhist monk, prominent Buddhist monk national figure who is associated with Suthep. So the optics are murky to say the least here, and it's now beholden on General Prayuth to act with extraordinary restraint. It's also important to bear in mind in that Thailand although it's parodied as being a country with lots of coups, actually hasn't had relatively speaking that many lately. If you can sustain that line for a moment because they had one in '92, they had one in 2006, but the 2006 one was actually the longest time since they'd had one, about 14 years following '92. And that was one that was arguably conducted reluctantly, but it was also one that didn't seem to work. The 2006 coup didn't get the military very far. Ok they got additional funding, but in terms of resolving the political crisis it didn't go away, it hasn't gone away, it isn't yet going away either, and Prayuth knows that.
LAM: And just very briefly John Blaxland, the military of course insists that it's not a coup and reading between the lines one would think that it is really to give everyone some time to take a deep breath. Do you think that will do the trick, that martial law will improve the political crisis in Thailand?
BLAXLAND: Well it's going to generate some kind of hiatus for a little while. The bottom line is that an emerging political vacuum has been developing in Bangkok and much of that is to do with the courts and the work of Suthep as well. But Prayuth has to his credit, he's actually held off, people have been saying he should have done this a long time ago, he's been pressured to do this for a long time by elements of the conservative establishment. He's restrained himself from doing so, and I'm sure he's doing this conscious that this is a poisoned chalice, this is something that he knows from the experience of 2006 isn't going to necessarily get the results that some people in the establishment might want. But it might just be a circuit breaker, it might just do that. And the thing is also that while Thailand has a history of some bloody coups, the 2006 one was bloodless, and hopefully this one will be bloodless. But of course the experience of only a couple of years ago was a very bloody one in the streets of Bangkok in May 2010. And this perhaps I think in the mind of Prayuth is an attempt to prevent getting to that point. Thailand is in a very difficult predicament where we have strong opposing sides that are completely uncompromising, and the military has tried to act as an impartial holder of the fort if you like in the last couple of years. I know people are happy to cast aspersions on the military for what happened in May 2010. But subsequently the military under Prayuth has actually been remarkably restrained. The question is will they continue to be so?