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A very Thai Coup

Thailand update – May 2014

Just last week we wrote an update on Chiang Mai for May, which had already been a newsworthy month. First there was the earth quake, then the removal of Thailand’s Prime Minister by the judiciary. Since then, more dramatic news. Firstly we had the imposition of Martial Law by the military to restore peace and deal with the threat of violent confrontations between rival protest groups in Bangkok. Two days later, having failed to secure a political breakthrough to unlock the deadlocked political situation the military took total control of the country.

This is the nineteenth coup in Thailand since the absolute monarchy ended in 1932, the previous coup being in 2006. We have no intention on commenting on or involving ourselves in discussions about Thai politics or supporting any group. Nor do we intend to try and explain the complex nature of Thai politics and its intertwining with Thai culture which can be quite unfathomable to westerners. Even to many who have lived in Thailand a long time. However, a few words of explanation about the effects of the coup in an a-political context may be useful to those who visit Thailand or are planning to do so in the near future.

Thailand's new leader:  General Prayuth Chan-ocha
Thailand’s new leader:
General Prayuth Chan-ocha

In the western psyche the word coup conjures up dramatic images of renegade army officers violently taking control of some Banana republic with an un-pronounceable name that no one has ever heard of. In Thailand, a reasonably well developed country, the reality is much different with coups apparently as much a part of the political landscape as elections.

So far this coup, along with the 2006 coup, have been quite bloodless and free from violence. The military in its entirety steps in to run the country because it has a sense of duty to protect Thai citizens from the perceived threat of political violence and unrest. Whilst there are clearly those who object to such takeovers, it seems many Thais grudgingly accept them or even welcome them as bringing some predictable order back to life in Thailand. Even if that does not comply with western democratic norms, its how things are in Thailand and we should respect that.

Effects of the Coup

The practical effects of the coup on daily life should be negligible once the nationwide curfew imposed for the first few nights is lifted. Government offices and agencies dealing with the public are open and continue to operate normally, as do private businesses. The only obvious effects in Chiang Mai have been a night time curfew which is expected to operate for a couple more days, and the blackout of TV stations for the first day. Most have now been restored, though Thai news channels are being controlled by the military. Only partisan political channels and radio stations are still blocked.

The telephone network, mobile networks, internet and international communications have all continued to operate without problem. Though there have been warnings that political rhetoric may lead to the suspension of some social media, so far this has not happened. Airports, flights and public transport are all operating normally. There have been reports of some protests against the coup in a couple of locations around the moat. These have been swiftly dealt with by large contingents of Army and Police as, under military law, political gatherings of more than five people are banned. Apart from that, the only visible signs of the military taking control in Chiang Mai have been sightings of groups of soldiers at a few strategic places.

Thai Soldiers on street patrol

In summary, if you are planning to visit Chiang Mai, it is still as safe as its ever been to do so. Life will soon be continuing normally and there are only a few overt signs of any problems or protests. The only effect on gay business has been the curfew which starts at 10 p.m. until 5 a.m. and is curtailing the opening hours of bars and clubs. Most bars are operating normally before curfew time and are expected to return to normal hours in another day or two. The curfew has been well respected with the streets quiet although essential journeys are still permitted (e.g. to airports, hospitals and for those who work at night in these or essential services and business like the food distribution industries ) There have been no reports of heavy handed enforcement of the curfew.

Chiang Mai is still safe to visit

If the situation changes, we will of course provide updates on this site. But, right now, Chiang Mai is still a fine place to be and there is no need to defer any plans to visit.

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