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BUTTING IN

Although Thailandís military took the decision to impose martial law on the country deep in the night on Monday, nothing changes overnight in Thailand. The military has stepped in 11 times in Thailandís history, sometimes affecting a bloodbath, so the midnight call on the nation is not extraordinary. Many, in fact, would have expected it given the political stalemate in the country. Thailandís anti-government protest had been turning increasingly violent and the recent dismissal of the caretaker prime minister, Yingluck Shinawatra, on charges of corruption had pushed the nation into another crisis. The Pheu Thai Partyís swift change of guard did nothing to quell the protesters, who are gunning for a purge. The steadfast refusal of the new caretaker prime minister, Niwattumrong Boonsongpaisan, to resign under pressure served as a cue to the military. In the months-long political crisis, there have been several such moments that would have served as a cue. However, the Thai military, unlike before, has shown greater restraint. Even now, technically, the caretaker government can function as before, although it can no longer take decisions on national security issues. The media also remain muzzled under the martial law. Together, they mean Thailand has a severely impaired government and a truncated democracy. The only solace would be the minimizing of the chances of violence. The martial law is no hindrance to the holding of elections, but given the Democratic Partyís reluctance to participate in the polls and the lack of credibility of the government, these are unlikely to end the political impasse. That could only mean an extended period of instability and greater chances of the military deepening its intervention.

The Thai royalty has maintained a stoic silence on its political preferences, although the militaryís closeness to it leaves no room for doubt that the royals do not mind the military stepping in if politicians in the country fail to resolve the crisis. For that to happen, however, the Pheu Thai Party has to dump the Shinawatras completely ó an aspect difficult to imagine. It is more likely that the military would push for a neutral but unelected caretaker government to make the elections more acceptable to the Opposition. But if it does that, it will be belittling the constitution and creating more room for the military in politics. The contending political parties should wake up to this reality and try their best to come to a compromise.