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Friday, May 20, 2016, 12:23

Voices from Thailand: Reflections on 2-year coup anniversary

By Associated Press

BANGKOK — In the early evening of May 22, 2014, all TV screens in Thailand turned blue and up flashed an army emblem. That was the first sign of change. Suddenly, the country's army commander appeared to say he was now in charge.

Without firing a shot or spilling any blood, the military had staged its second coup in eight years — and its 12th since the end of absolute monarchy in 1932.

A stern-faced Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha said at the time he had acted to restore stability after six months of political deadlock, protests and deadly violence. He said his goal was to heal Thailand's intractable political divide and "quickly bring the situation back to normal."

Two years later, Thailand is still firmly under military control, although Prayuth has changed his title from general to prime minister.

Outwardly, the country has returned to normal. Bangkok is clogged with traffic, protesters have stayed off the streets, resorts and beaches are full of tourists. But under the surface, Thai society, politics and freedoms are in a state of flux. What do Thais think about the coup, and how has Thailand changed in the two years under military control? The AP presents the views of ordinary people and well-known figures in Thai society to answer those questions in their own voice.

Voices from Thailand: Reflections on 2-year coup anniversary
Anti coup protesters show a banner opposing Thai General Prayut Chan-O-Cha during a planned gathering in Bangkok on May 25, 2014. (AFP PHOTO/ Nicolas ASFOURI)

PROFESSOR

Thitinan Pongsudhirak, a leading expert on Thai politics from Bangkok's Chulalongkorn University.

"Thailand has changed, but in a way that goes back to the past rather than into the future."

"A lot of people had some relief when the coup took place after six months of mayhem and protests. On a daily basis, Thailand became unworkable, ungovernable."

"Initially, there was relief that we had some law and order. Safety in the streets, no demonstrations. But at the expense of pent-up frustrations. And also at the expense of popular rule that people have come to expect."

"But two years is a long time in Thai politics. Now people are saying, yes, we had some law and order, to the extreme in fact, too much of it. People have been detained. There has been a lot of coercion, violations of basic civil liberties, at the expense of longer term stability."

"The way ahead is murky. Most worryingly, the coup makers do not have an exit strategy. And it looks the generals aren't taking over for the future of Thailand and the Thai people, but for the generals themselves. So I think more people are seeing that and more people are showing dissatisfaction that is going to mount."

Voices from Thailand: Reflections on 2-year coup anniversary
In this May 10, 2016 photo, Thitinan Pongsudhirak, a Thai politics expert at Bangkok's Chulalongkorn University talks to the Associated Press in Bangkok, Thailand. (AP Photo/Mark Baker)

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