File of key events since Thai coup as referendum approaches

This edit chronicles key events before and after the May 22, 2014 coup in Thailand ahead of a referendum on whether to accept a military-backed constitution.

BANGKOK, THAILAND (FILE – NOVEMBER, 2013) (REUTERS) – File footage shows key events related to Thailand’s military seizing power in a bloodless coup on May 22, 2014, as Thailand gears up for the upcoming August 7 referendum on whether to accept a military-backed constitution.

Thailand has been in the grip of political turmoil since 2006, since the army ousted former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

In 2014, a group of anti-government protesters took to the streets and launched the ‘Bangkok shutdown’ protests which crippled Bangkok for months.

They were calling on Yingluck Shinawatra, sister of Thaksin, to step down after her government tried to push through an amnesty bill which protesters said could lead to the return of Thaksin without him serving a jail term for a 2008 corruption conviction..

The protesters camped out on the streets and stormed several government compounds.

Yingluck called snap elections on February 2, 2014 which the constitutional court later declared invalid because of disruption by the opposition.

The turmoil brought the country to the brink of recession and raised fears of a civil war between the pro-government and anti-government protesters.

The military declared martial law on May 20, 2014 and, after the failure of peace talks between the major parties, the military staged a bloodless coup two days later.

In September 2014, Thailand’s interim cabinet, hand-picked by General Prayuth Chan-ocha, is sworn in before Thailand’s King, signalling the start of a new cabinet expected to administer the country until a general election.

Although the junta has restored some calm and stability, it has been much criticised for restricting freedom of expression and struggling to shore up the sluggish economy.

Human rights activists have expressed concern over the deteriorating rights situation since the coup and the junta’s tightening grip on power.

No group has claimed responsibility for an August 17 bombing at the Erawan Shrine that killed 20 people, an attack police chief Somyot Pumpanmuang ruled out as revenge for Thailand’s forced repatriation in July of 109 Uighurs to China.

Tourism is one of the few thriving sectors of an economy that has floundered since the military seized power.

Yusufu Mieraili and Adem Karadag, the two suspects arrested last year by Thai police, are Uighur Muslims from China’s restive Xinjiang region.

Police have issued arrest warrants for 15 other suspects, many of whom are thought to be Turkish or in Turkey.

King Bhumibol Adulyadej has been treated for various ailments over the past year in hospital in Bangkok. He was last seen on national television in December last year as judges were sworn-in in front of him.

Anxiety over the king’s health and the succession has formed the backdrop to over a decade of political upheaval that has included two coups and sometimes violent street protests.

Most Thais have known no other king. Bhumibol’s succession has prompted worries about instability in a country that has witnessed 19 actual or attempted coups and at least 19 constitutions since a constitutional monarchy replaced an absolute one in 1932.

In the two years since the military overthrew her government, Yingluck has been on trial for corruption over a multi-million-dollar rice subsidy scheme. She denies wrongdoing and faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted.

Thailand is scheduled to hold a referendum on August 7 on a junta-backed draft constitution, its first test of popularity since the May 2014 coup.

The junta has imposed restrictions on even debating the draft constitution, which critics say could enshrine military power for years to come.

The military has overseen the drafting of a constitution to replace one it discarded after seizing power.

The charter would have an appointed upper house Senate, with a portion of the seats reserved for the military and police.

The junta has said this clause is necessary to oversee a five-year “transitional period” before full civilian rule is restored.

In a rare show of unity, parties on both sides of Thailand’s political divide have said the constitution is undemocratic.

Human Rights Watch said in June in a letter to Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha the junta had suppressed views critical of its policies by using trials in military tribunals, which have replaced civilian courts for some offences.

The United States, the European Union and the United Nations have raised concerns about the situation in Thailand after more than a decade of turmoil sparked by confrontation between populist politicians and the military-dominated royalist establishment.

The military has promised to hold an election in 2017, even if the charter is rejected in the referendum.