Wednesday, 28 May 2014

A curfew - but there are few soldiers

The situation in the Thai capital is pretty normal except for the military-imposed curfew. Hotels have slashed room rates, it’s cheaper to shop now and there are still more traffic jams than soldiers in the streets.

THAILAND’s police general Adul Saengsingkaew arrived at the Wat That Thong in Ekamai, Bangkok, on Saturday evening to attend the wake of the 101-year-old mother of the country’s most famous journalist, Suthichai Yoon.

The political, business and media elite of Bangkok had showed up in full force to offer their condolences to the boss of the powerful Nation Media Group. Almost everyone came in dark suits and ties, making the ceremony very formal.

But just after 20 minutes, Adul, looking distressed, asked to be excused as he quietly made his way out of the temple.

We found out, not long later, that he had been sacked by the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), which now runs the country.

The army has taken over the country, imposed martial law, suspended the constitution and the Senate, detained over 200 squabbling politicians from both sides, including former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra, and imposed a curfew between 10pm and 5am.

Events are happening fast and furious in Bangkok.

Just last week, Adul was seen seated with army chief Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha at a press conference to announce the coup but now he has been moved to an inactive post in the Prime Minister’s Office, before he retires soon.

Also axed were Tarit Pengdith, the head of the Department of Special Investigation, and Nipat Thonglek, the Defence Ministry’s permanent secretary. Both men had been seen as loyalists of the ousted government and former premier Thaksin Shinawatra.

Nineteen editors of the country’s top media group were summoned by the military on Sunday for “an advice on national building” and “direction of news reporting in an abnormal situation”.

In short, they were told of their limits.

On Saturday night, The Nation reporter Pravit Rojanaphruk was told to meet the military junta, and when he showed up, he was immediately detained and taken to an undisclosed army base.

The outspoken columnist had posed for photographers with his mouth taped to symbolise he was being silenced. Apparently, that did not amuse the army generals.

At The Nation office, this writer saw two soldiers, looking bored, inside the television monitor room where the visual feeds were sent in.

Still, media rules have begun to be relaxed.

The NCPO has allowed free-to-air television channels, radio and satellite stations and cable operators to broadcast normally after the situation returns to normal. Earlier, even MTV Thailand and cartoon shows from cable TV were banned.

Despite the dramatic coverage by the media on the military and sporadic anti-coup protests, the reality is that it is actually difficult to detect the presence of soldiers.

The Victory Monument in Ratchathewi district is a popular spot for demonstrations while another protest took place outside the stylish Amarin Plaza in Ratchaprasong.

But during the weekend I was there, there was continuous presence of the army outside the famous Mah Boon Krong (MBK) shopping mall, as it is regarded as a strategic location.

The presence of the men in uniform, however, seems to have sparked off more excitement than fear for tourists.

But don’t expect to see soldiers in every street corner, as the media would want you to believe.

It is regrettable that Bangkok has been made to look like a city under siege when the reality is the opposite, especially in the day time, where traffic jams are still a daily affair.

Most hotels have slashed their rates and placed guests on certain floors to cut down on power use. Essentially, this is the best time for bargain hunters to go shopping in Bangkok. Hotel guests have found themselves getting upgraded to better rooms.

While most city folk respect the curfew, with most eateries in shopping malls shutting down at 8pm to enable their workers to return home, the rules are generally pretty relaxed as it is not a “shoot on sight” curfew.

Outside the near-deserted Dusit Thani hotel in Silom, most of the bars were still open, even when the curfew began, and my colleagues still got to watch the Thomas Cup final.

But one thing is for sure – most Thais expect the army to be in control for a while with a new PM to be appointed soon, but it’s the generals who will be calling the shots.



Post a Comment