Monday 7 September was supposed to be a peaceful holiday, but a Thai translation of Gene Sharp’s book The Anti-Coup suddenly spread all over social media as a tank was spotted on a street by Thai netizens. The hashtag ‘no coup’ was retweeted more than 100,000 times, but the story turned into an anti-climax when the Royal Thai Army said they were just conducting annual military exercises. However, Thailand’s future remains uncertain as change is in the air.
Monday 7 September was also supposed to be a peaceful holiday before Thais get back to work. The government had announced that Friday 4 and Monday 7 September were holidays to compensate for the cancellation, because of the Covid-19 situation, of the Songkran festival, which ordinarily takes place in April.
But Thais could not sit still as prospects of a military coup loomed large. A day before the long weekend, Thai Rath Online published an analysis of military training for Rapid Deployment Forces (RDF) in large provinces where demonstrations of Free Youth had taken place, including Bangkok, Kanchanaburi, Phitsanulok, Lopburi, Chiang Mai, Ubon Ratchathani, Roi Et and Nakhon Ratchasima.
The analysis said that the RDF training will include the 2nd, 3rd, 6th, 7th, 9th and 11th Infantry Divisions, the 1st Cavalry Division, the Anti-Aircraft Division, and the Special Warfare Command. In the last military coup in 2014, Thai Rath said that 7 divisions, 17 regiments, and 43 battalions were mobilized to seize power.
On Sunday night (6 September), Thais went into an even greater panic as a famous Twitter user ‘Mam Po Dam’ posted a picture of a tank on the streets. “Soldiers from Kanchanaburi, the 9th Division, have entered Bangkok again,” wrote Mam Po Dam. “This must be preparation for the 2021 Children’s Day. #No Coup #No Dictatorship #End Threats against Citizens.”
A famous Twitter user ‘Mam Po Dam’ posted a picture of a tank on the streets.
After the tweet, the hashtag “no coup” was retweeted more than a hundred thousand times. Anti-coup instructions have been shared all over social media along with a Thai translation of The Anti-Coup, written by Gene Sharp and Bruce Jenkins.
A single page of anti-coup instructions available since the 2014 military coup also resurfaced and went viral online. It emphasizes the importance of nonviolent discipline and outlined practical steps required to resist the coup, including obstructing transportation routes of the military, strikes, withdrawing money from banks, symbolic protests, and refusal to pay taxes.
Caption: A single page of anti-coup instructions available since the 2014 military coup also resurfaced and went viral online.
Two decades passed by, two military coups have happened since then, and the original English version of the book has been revised in 2003. So student activist Netiwit Chotiphatphaisal revised the translation, asked opposition politician Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit to write an introduction for the book and republished it in 2019.
He recently sold copies at a demonstration on Ratchadamnoen Avenue which attracted more than 10,000 protesters. But this more recent version has not been made available online.
On 7 September, Nattacha Boonchaiinsawat, a spokesperson of the Move Forward party, said that a coup will be suicidal for the military, because people are no longer in fear.
A leading figure of the student movement also called for Thais to prepare. “If there is an attempt to stage a coup by no matter who, I ask that brothers, sisters, and people come out together to obstruct and immediately make the instigators guilty of treason under Section 113 of the Criminal Code. #No Coup,” said the Secretary General for the Free People Movement, Tattep 'Ford' Ruangprapaikitseree, on Twitter.
Thailand has experienced military coups far too many times: in 1947, 1948, 1951, 1957, 1958, 1971, 1976, 1977, 1991, 2006, and 2014.
It turns out that this time was just a false alarm. “Nonsense” was Prime Minister Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha’s response after being asked by the press to clarify the rumours of a military coup, “What a question.” He told the press to “go home” as he walked away from the podium while the press were still asking questions.
Col Winthai Suvaree, Royal Thai Army spokesperson, held a press conference to say that the rumours were fake news. The transportation of military equipment seen recently was just part of the annual training of army military units. The Royal Thai Army has updated people about these on a regular basis. There were more military exercises than usual during this period because Covid-19 led to earlier training at unit levels in March being postponed.
Gen Natapon Srisawat, special advisor to the Royal Thai Army, told Voice Online that the training on 8-9 September was to increase the capability of the Rapid Deployment Force (RDF). Gen Natapon also said that the rotation of 3,000 troops from Army Region 3 in the north of Thailand to Saraburi Province was part of the RDF training for cavalry units which also took place in other provinces.
Gen Natapon also said this had nothing to do with the ongoing protests because it had been scheduled long ago.
Gen Natapon Srisawat told the press that there will be no coup.
Source: Prachaya Nongnuch
If a military coup happens in Thailand, it will most likely be under the order of the Army Chief, as when Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha seized power in 2014. But the Army Chief Gen Apirat Kongsompong has made it clear. “Don’t worry. [A coup d'état] will never happen again,” he told the Bangkok Post.
Apirat’s term will end soon on September 30. Gen Narongphan Jitkaewthae is expected to be the next Army Chief.
Gen Narongphan is a high-profile soldier. He fought the insurgency in ‘red areas’ in the south of Thailand in 2004-2005 and participated in the Thai peace-keeping mission in East Timor under the UN. He is also a direct descendant of the Wong Thewan faction and was appointed a special soldier of the King’s Own Guard in 2018.
During the transition from Gen Apirat to Gen Narongphan, many doubt that there will be a military coup.
However, change is in the air.
Thailand has seen two waves of large demonstrations this year. The first wave started in February, in response to the dissolution of the Future Forward Party. Its momentum was stalled for a while because of the Covid-19 outbreak and the government’s Emergency Decree. The protesters have returned as grievances have been piling up but the government has remained unresponsive.
Also, for the first time in Thai political history, protesters have openly called for monarchy reform when human rights lawyer Anon Nampa outlined a 10-point proposal to curb the monarchy’s excessive power. He was arrested for violating the sedition law, let out on bail, had his bail revoked last week, but then was released along with political activist Panupong Jadnok after 5 days in jail.
Left: Anon Nampa. Right: Panupong Jadnok. The leading activists were released after 5 days in prison on 3 Sep.
Police claimed that the investigation process had made enough progress for there to be no further need for his detention. But it is also possible that Thai authorities are trying to reduce tension before what may be one of the biggest protests in Thailand.
This protest is scheduled for the 14th anniversary of the 2006 military coup on 19 September. Before the release of Anon and Panupong, Sombat Boongamanong, a political activist renowned for his creative tactics, suggested that the protest organizing team should produce 100,000 masks with Anon and Panupong’s faces on them. This number is 10 times the conservative estimate of numbers in the protest on 18 July since 2014 on Ratchadamnoen Avenue, the largest since 2014.
Whether 100,000 or fewer, the government has enough headaches. The protesters have accomplished several successes: they have drawn wider support, mobilized people onto the streets, put monarchy reform on the agenda, pressured the government into withdrawing the anti-protest clause in the Emergency Decree, and provoked a constitutional amendment process.
At some point, the government may really want to stage a coup, so it is good that Thais are preparing anti-coup instructions.