Day two of life under martial law is underway, with Thai businesses and schools returning to operation after a day off yesterday. The overwhelming feeling in Bangkok this morning is that the potential threat of civil disorder and conflict has been averted, with no meaningful protests against the coup leaders so far.  Those coup leaders — who represent the old guard establishment of the country — were quick to establish their legitimacy yesterday. At 9am they summoned all government department, university and civic leaders to a meeting to explain the coup.  Then in the early afternoon, they did the same with the city’s legion of foreign diplomats and political reporters. Their openness, transparency and good humour served to reassure everybody that this would be an interim arrangement, with the military promising to hand over to a civilian government within two weeks and submit to a proper election within a year. Then last night, the monarch gave his effective seal of approval to the coup. This was probably the final nail in the coffin for any hopes that now-London located former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra might have entertained for a comeback.  The military censors, nevertheless, are keeping a tight lid on the media. To be fair, television, radio and print media have been allowed to give extensive coverage to the coup, albeit with lots of flattering images — elderly women giving flowers to soldiers and so on. But on BBC World this morning, the censor’s hand was evident. As BBC highlighted the arrival of Thaksin by plane in London in each 30 minute newsbreak, his image was replaced with a montage of scantily clad Hollywood actresses such as Uma Thurman and Angelina Jolie! Censorship can be fun! 

 Probably the key new revelation to come out of Tuesday night’s takeover was what the army was up to as they locked down various government departments and facilities.  It was about more than establishing physical control. They were under orders to secure evidence that can be used against Thaksin and other former ministers — presumably in some type of corruption trial or inquiry. Those senior government ministers still in the country have been detained, while not only Thaksin, but also the deputy prime minister and foreign minister were overseas at the New York UN assembly. One wonders what smoking guns may have been found.  So, amazingly, Bangkok is back to normal. Attempts by food markets to double prices and hoard stocks met with a quick response from the new military government yesterday, with threats of fines and gaol. It was the kind of quick response to a grassroots issue that would have done a democratic government proud.

Peter Fray

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