Thailand military general Prayuth Chan-ocha has seized power of the government and declared martial law. The general justified his actions as necessary to abate violence from escalating as citizens converged on the nation’s capital, Bangkok. Earlier this month the Constitutional Court dismissed Yingluck, sister to former Prime Minister Thanksin Shinawatra, now in exile in Dubai. Thanksin Shinawatra was deposed in 2006, in a bloodless coup d’etat. However, these events create a heavy perception on instability in Thailand, and could bring an Islamic insurgency from the south.
The “deep south” of Thailand has seen radical Islamism claim more than two thousand lives since 2004 in the provinces of Patani. Decades ago a strong Islamic resurgence was not only a political factor, but brought Islamic ideas. Islam was largely viewed as a challenge to authority as the government attempted to impose Thai language in schools.
The significant Muslim immigration to Bangkok from the Middle East became known as “mini-Beirut of the East,” as followers integrated in the Buddhist dominant society. Author of Militant Islam in Southeast Asia, Zachary Abuza, stated that militant Islamic leaders have established madrasas as “the base of their operations and recruitment.”
While senior military figures make appearances on Thai television announcing the seizure of power and imposing a curfew, the larger implication of this coup remain largely unaddressed. In Egypt the overthrow of President Hosni Mubarak has led to deep instability as increased terror attacks scare away tourists and foreign investors, crippling the dependent economy. The ensuing struggles and instability in Thailand could leave the country vulnerable to a fundamental Islamic insurgency, especially from the south.
Following the coup, the United States Embassy in Bangkok made a statement which included an emergency message. U.S. citizens were advised to remain cautious, stay current with media coverage and remain vigilant. The White House press secretary asserted that the law, along with U.S. “democratic principles” mandated reconsidering military ties with the wayward government.
This coup is a takeover by power, and the fallout as various political actors are summoned and ordered to surrender themselves to the military, could be very far reaching. In excess of two hundred people have already be officially summoned by way of radio and television. Meanwhile protests continue despite increasingly stern warnings from the military, and clashes have already claimed the lives of more than ninety people and injured well over a thousand.
Thailand is used to military interventions however, with twelve successful coups and seven failed ones since 1932. The difference now is the geopolitical climate, and the recent rise of Islamic fundamentalism across the globe. Like vultures to a carcass, the decay of order and social justice attracts those who do not want to be held accountable for their crimes. The world watches like it did in Egypt, and a resolution that places the democratic framework back in place will hopefully be found soon. The increased instability could attract a fundamentalist Islamic insurgency into the largely rural and unregulated southern region of Thailand, and then the real trouble could begin.
Opinion by John Benjamin Wilson