Thursday, May 22, 2014

Our First Coup!

Today, we're all home because all schools in Thailand are closed due to the army chief declaring a coup as of 4:30 p.m. on yesterday (Thursday) afternoon. It's the Thai version of a snow day. Last night, everyone was rushing to 7-Eleven to stock up on the basics before it closed to comply with the curfew (it usually never closes). Aside from that, though, everything else seems to be carrying on as usual this morning. People are going out shopping, golfing, and running errands.

The coup is a culmination of political unrest that had been taking place the past six months or so. There was an election in February, but it was ruled to be invalid by the Constitutional Court after anti-government protests prevented voting from taking place in 28 constituencies. Then, early this month, the Constitutional Court ordered the Prime Minister and several cabinet members to step down after it ruled that she had acted illegally when she transferred the head of national security and replaced him with a relative.

On Tuesday, we woke up to the army having declared martial law overnight. From what I've heard, this was done to keep order and quiet. One of the political parties supposedly had been planning to shut down the utilities of certain government buildings and marching there, while the other party had been planning on arriving at the same locations armed. That morning was a bit chaotic as roads were closed and blocked, thereby causing half of our school, both students and teachers, to be stuck in traffic for three hours and the start of IB and AP exams to be delayed. Some of the younger elementary students were completely exhausted and in tears by the time they arrived at school.

Under martial law, the army seized control of television and radio stations and controlled the content of broadcasts and newspaper articles. The army insisted that there was no coup and urged people to stay calm. Aside from that, though, life went on as normal. People were even taking selfies with soldiers and posting pictures of "handsome soldiers" on Twitter. After the first day, we completely forgot that the country was under martial law unless we went online to read the news.

Then, yesterday, the army chief declared an official coup, which followed two days of army-mediated meetings between the two parties. Rules of the coup included a 10 p.m. curfew, a ban of gatherings of more than five people, shutdown of all television stations, and blocking of international television networks such as CNN and BBC. Schools have been closed for the next three days (this includes Saturday and Sunday for Thai schools, so only one day for us). IB and AP exams are going on as usual, though! But again, this is the norm here in Thailand. There have been 12 coups here since the 1930s. Some of the teachers at our school were here during the last coup in 2006, and they say it was no big deal at all.

I haven't really kept up with the political goings-on in depth because I find Thai politics to be extremely confusing, and after a while, I lost my patience. Even talking to the locals doesn't clear things up. I do know that Thai politics is entrenched in corruption; there is no escaping it. From the stories I've heard about the royal family and other politicians here, its history is filled with secrets, intrigue, and drama.

Seeing history unfold before my eyes this past week, I admire the way the Thai people have handled this whole thing. Their relaxed attitude and ability to take it all in stride amaze me. I'm positive that if a coup were to occur in the U.S., all hell would break loose and there would be many injuries and deaths, mostly from shootings. Life most certainly would not go on as normal. On the other hand, as disgusted as I am by American politics and politicians, I now have a greater appreciation for the U.S. government and its system of checks and balances and accountability. Living here also has opened my eyes to what happens when laws tend to go unenforced. What interesting times these are in Thailand!

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