FINALLY, the military lost patience and martial law was imposed at 3am on Tuesday. This move was surprising to some, but had been anticipated by some.
To keen political observers, the military’s move was no surprise. The situation had been increasingly precarious after more than six months of confrontation and tension between the government and the People’s Democratic Reform Committee. The chances of finding a way out had become extremely slim, both in terms of talk and applying the law.
A surprise was that the martial law came earlier than expected. Earlier, political observers had anticipated the military would come out only after a violent clash between the pro- and anti-government demonstrators – it still had deep wounds from the coup of September 2006.
This time the military opted for a proactive solution rather than coming out to deal with a problem after it had happened. However, the military has also chosen a different path from 2006. It is more careful and more tactful. There was no full-scale military coup. Instead, a 100-year-old martial law was imposed to deal with a modern-day political conflict. The situation is unusual for Thailand. Some actions of the Peace and Order Maintaining Command (POMC) – set up and headed by Army commander-in-chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha – are similar to what often follows a coup: mass media have been controlled, bureaucrats summoned to report to the military, various orders and prohibitions issued.
However, what is different from a coup is that the Constitution has not been abolished and the government has not been overthrown.
The military now has supreme power in politics and the balance of power has shifted. The government no longer holds the highest political power, and neither of the conflicting sides has a better status than the other.
If the military supports any of the conflicting parties, that side will have an advantage. Both sides of the political divide are aware of this, so no one has attacked the military for imposing martial law. Instead both claimed their stance would win support from the military.
It is likely the military will play a mediator’s role by brokering talks between the conflicting sides. The question is – as the mediator, what will the military do to cause both sides to reduce their demands so that an accord can be reached?
There have been hopes for the military to play the mediator’s role in a fair and efficient manner, for the benefit of the country. However, we should not expect the military to act as a referee or mediator every time there is a political conflict.
Politicians and those involved in politics should also learn to settle their disputes by themselves without military intervention.
It is time Thai politicians become mature and attempted to solve their problems by themselves.