We knew there was a good chance of this happening when we decided to move to Bangkok for 2014. And sure enough, yesterday the Thai military made quick work of dissolving parliament, taking rival political leaders into custody, suspending the constitution and taking power. When I tried to get into one of my favorite malls to check out a bookstore, I was told they were closed early due to a 10 p.m. curfew.
I hurried back home, stopping by a supermarket that was packed with emergency shoppers trying to beat curfew. I got home just before 10 p.m. to the news that the military had taken over all television, including cable. Every channel was tuned to the same military broadcast playing occasional announcements interspersed with patriotic music.
Jammie and I looked out of our 16th-floor apartment window and saw increasingly deserted streets. Twitter was buzzing with updates. Commuters were stuck on buses trying to get home. All airports were operating as usual. There were rumors that social media would be next on the chopping block. Some even thought Internet access would be completely shut down.
I started reading news analysis. The consensus seemed to be that as concerning as it was to experience a coup, the overthrow had been almost clinically efficient and completely bloodless. The coup meant that there was less risk of a violent clash between rival political groups; tension had been brewing between them since October of last year (short story: Urban elites had been protesting to overthrow a government led by a a democratically-elected prime minister facing corruption charges.)
I slept badly and woke up about an hour before curfew was lifted for the day at 5 a.m. Nothing dramatically new. I waited until sunrise before venturing out into an almost comic reminder that Thailand was very accustomed to coups (this was coup #19 since absolute monarchy ended in 1932). The mood was sleepy; people were more interested in the newspapers than usual, but overall the reaction seemed to be, “Here we go again.”
Markets came to life, traffic roared along the streets and everyone got back to business as usual. The last coup in 2006 led to the military eventually handing power back to the people. That was clearly the expectation for the outcome this time around as well.
As for us, we are taking it one step at a time. Local expats in the know have a cautiously optimistic outlook. Many have seen this before and have a “This too shall pass” attitude. As for us, we’ll give it some time. Our red line is social media/the Internet. If they go, we’ll go.
More updates coming…