Thailand's Military: Trust Us, It’s Not a Coup

The World
How It Works
May 20 2014 4:07 PM

When Is a Coup Not a Coup?

490715115-thai-anti-government-protesters-face-off-with-airforce
Anti-government protesters face off with the military as they storm a meeting between the government and Election Commission at the Air Force auditorium in Bangkok on May 15, 2014.

Photo by Pornchai Kittiwongsakul/AFP/Getty Images

Thailand’s military has imposed martial law on the country, but assures us that what’s happening if definitely not a coup:

The military sought to convince the public that the army was not launching a coup. A message on a military-controlled television station Tuesday morning read: “We urge people not to panic. Please carry on your daily activities as usual. The imposition of martial law is not a coup d'état.”
Advertisement

The situation is somewhat reminiscent of the overthrow of Mohamed Morsy by the Egyptian military last year, when opponents of the Muslim Brotherhood strongly objected to descriptions of the even as a coup d’etat.

Joshua Keating Joshua Keating

Joshua Keating is a staff writer at Slate focusing on international affairs and writes the World blog. 

It’s a political distinction—Thailand knows from coups having experienced at least 11 in the past century—and a legal one: if the U.S. acknowledged that a coup took place, it has to cut off military aid. This is why U.S. officials almost never drop the c-word in these situations.

Human Rights Watch says that the events in Thailand are “effectively a coup.” One of caretaker Prime Minister Niwatthamrong Boonsongpaisan’s top aids calls it “half a coup.”  

There’s no reason to overthink this. A coup is generally defined as “a forceful seizure of executive authority and office by a dissident/opposition faction within the country’s ruling or political elites that results in a substantial change in the executive leadership and the policies of the prior regime.”

Last week, Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra was removed from office by the courts. If the military, which has until now stayed relatively neutral in the ongoing dispute between Yingluck and the country’s “yellow shirt” opposition removes Niwatthamrong from power, it would be hard to call it anything other than a coup.

There is an ongoing debate about whether there are circumstances under which coups can be “democratic.” Political scientist Ozan Varol has argued that they can under certain circumstances, namely when the military overthrows an authoritarian government in response to popular uprising and quickly relinquishes power to a democratically elected government.

That’s not the case here. Yingluck and her brother Thaksin, for all their faults, have won every election they have contested over past decade and their opponents seem intent on reordering the country’s electoral system to prevent them from coming back into power.

It’s now looking increasingly like they’re going to embark on this process with military force behind them. 

TODAY IN SLATE

Technocracy

Forget Oculus Rift

This $25 cardboard box turns your phone into an incredibly fun virtual reality experience.

The Congressional Republican Digging Through Scientists’ Grant Proposals

Renée Zellweger’s New Face Is Too Real

Sleater-Kinney Was Once America’s Best Rock Band

Can it be again?

Whole Foods Is Desperate for Customers to Feel Warm and Fuzzy Again

The XX Factor

I’m 25. I Have $250.03.

My doctors want me to freeze my eggs.

The XX Factor
Oct. 20 2014 6:17 PM I’m 25. I Have $250.03. My doctors want me to freeze my eggs.
Politics

Smash and Grab

Will competitive Senate contests in Kansas and South Dakota lead to more late-breaking races in future elections?

George Tiller’s Murderer Threatens Another Abortion Provider, Claims Free Speech

These Companies in Japan Are More Than 1,000 Years Old

  News & Politics
The World
Oct. 21 2014 3:13 PM Why Countries Make Human Rights Pledges They Have No Intention of Honoring
  Business
Moneybox
Oct. 21 2014 1:12 PM The Global Millionaires Club Is Booming and Losing Its Exclusivity
  Life
The Vault
Oct. 21 2014 2:23 PM A Data-Packed Map of American Immigration in 1903
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 21 2014 3:03 PM Renée Zellweger's New Face Is Too Real
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Oct. 21 2014 1:02 PM Where Are Slate Plus Members From? This Weird Cartogram Explains. A weird-looking cartogram of Slate Plus memberships by state.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Oct. 21 2014 1:47 PM The Best Way to Fry an Egg
  Technology
Technology
Oct. 21 2014 10:43 AM Social Networking Didn’t Start at Harvard It really began at a girls’ reform school.
  Health & Science
Climate Desk
Oct. 21 2014 11:53 AM Taking Research for Granted Texas Republican Lamar Smith continues his crusade against independence in science.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.