[UPDATE: Live-blogging the Thai military’s coup, complete with great photos and on-the-street interviews. Go there.]

I’ll be back in Thailand in three week with my family, so this story certainly caught my eye. We’ve all heard about it by now, and all I can say is that I’m amazed.

In Thailand’s first coup in 15 years, military leaders seized control of Bangkok on Tuesday night, suspended the Constitution and declared martial law in the capital, effective immediately.

There were no reports of violence.

The moves came while Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra was in New York preparing to address the United Nations. He declared a state of emergency on Thai television, but was cut off in mid-speech. Later, he canceled his address to the General Assembly.

The coup, led by the army chief, Gen. Sondhi Boonyaratkalin, also ‘terminated’ both houses of Parliament, the cabinet and the Constitutional Court.

The events on Tuesday returned Thailand to a time that most experts here thought was finally past, raising questions about the future of Thai democracy and the stability of a country that is a prime tourist destination with strong economic links to the West.

The coup came at the height of a drawn-out political crisis. In April, Mr. Thaksin was forced by huge street protests to step aside despite an overwhelming electoral mandate. In fact, though, he continued to lead the government and to wage political battles against his opponents.

I never liked Thaksin, and while I’m not sorry to see him ousted, it’s never a good thing to see a democracy in peril. (Thaksin of course ignored the democracy, continuing to rule after he was voted out.) Where this will lead is anyone’s guess, and I suspect all eyes will soon be on the king, whom the Thai people adore with a religious fervor. Small wonder the first thing the army did was swear its allegiance to him. This will be one to watch closely.

The Discussion: 4 Comments

A popular democratically elected leader is ousted by a wealthy elite whose own party’s support in elections is about 8%. Free media like the Bangkok Post shut down. Will be interesting to see how the “freedom and democracy” suporters in Washington respond to this one.

September 20, 2006 @ 12:04 am | Comment

Just to keep the record straight. He was not voted out. The opposition decided to boycott the last election( some were paid off) as they knew they could not counter Taksin populist policies in the countryside. It is in Bangkok that he is not popular and also with some sections of the army. It is the elite that does not like him. So this is not a so called popular revolt.

September 20, 2006 @ 12:10 am | Comment

Thanks for your points – you are right and I edited the post accordingly. It’s true, Thaksin was popular in the countryside thanks to his populist measures, and much hated in Bangkok. And by me. What this coup means and how the Thais will respond remains to be seen. I’m staying neutral until I understand it better. Bangkok was looking mighty upbeat today, but I have yet to see how they’re reacting out in the countryside.

September 20, 2006 @ 12:39 am | Comment

Well David, Thaksin was not re-elected either.

Enough of Thaksin’s Thai Rak Thai candidates could not gain enough votes to win their uncontested elections. Not very good for a guy and a party who are supposedly so popular with everyone but the elites.

And there is no doubt that Dubya is not gonna like this as Thaksin was cool with trading away Thailand’s rights for his personal business gains in a FTA with Dubya and also hosted some of Dubya’s secret prisons.

September 20, 2006 @ 2:23 am | Comment

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