The bloodless ousting of Thailand's Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra on May 22nd is just the latest in a series of coups which have occurred in the last eight years, to say nothing of the litany of similar actions in past decades. The seeming regularity with which such events occur has (unfortunately) led to putsch joining prostitution in becoming the two most common stories propelling Thailand into the news. The actions of the military have long played an important part in Thai politics, yet the armed forces do not fall into the typical profile of power hungry militarists. It is tempting to lump the actions of the Thai military with those of similar juntas in Burma, Cambodia, and Laos as merely another South-East Asian army demonstrating the region's tendency to fall into authoritarianism.
The reality of the situation is more complicated. Throughout the 20th century the military has intervened in Thai politics (1932 saw a bloodless revolution, the implementation of a constitution and the end of absolute monarchical rule), repeatedly interceding to 'save' the country from messy democratic governments. Successful interventions have often occurred following popular unrest, and always with the consent of the monarchy, for whom stability is paramount. Conversely, during the 1973 democracy movement the King sided with the public, seeking to remove heavy-handed military rulers.
Since the 1970s proto-democracy intermingled with growing modernization and intermittent military directed regimes, with the King at the center of affairs. By the 1990s Thailand's democratic credentials were slowly improving, following successive elections. Then in 1997 Asian Financial Crisis caused the incumbent government to deal with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and its accompanying demands. During the 2001 election, the Chuan government's handling of the crisis caused serious debate, with his challenger Thaksin Shinawatra running on a populist platform. Thaksin won the election and the story of Thai politics for the following thirteen years has been the tensions between the Shinawatra family and urbanites, cosmopolitan elites, and elements of the military-monarchy establishment.
While Thaksin was able to turn the Thai economy around, he remains loathed by many due to allegations of corruption, money laundering, fund siphoning, non-judicial killings and other nefarious acts. In addition to its hold on political power, the Shinawatra family have made billions by controlling Shin Corporation, one of Thailand major telecommunications firms. Thaksin was ousted in coup in 2006, with at least implicit consent of King Bhumibol, and went into self-imposed exile in 2008. Significant anti-Shinwatra sentiment also stems from opponents of the family's populist policies, notably the rice-buying program. This program buys rice from farmers at above market prices, ensuring rural support, but is extremely expensive and riddled with corruption.
Protests against the Yingluck government during 2013-2014 led to dozens of deaths, with the military eventually stepping in to oust Yingluck. The military sided with the urban population and elites who had protested against Yingluck's government, wanting an end to Shinawatra dominance of Thai politics. Following the coup on May 22nd the King appointing General Prayuth as leader on May 26th. Royal assent is crucial to any Thai government and the King's actions provided a stamp of legitimacy to the new military order. While she was briefly seized, Yingluck has since been allowed to leave the country on a personal trip. Despite this Yingluck remains under investigation by an anti-corruption body over the rice-buying program.
On August 1st the junta government, the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) appointed current and ex-military officials to the majority (116 of 200) of seats in the interim legislature. The junta has also purged allies of Yingluck from government. Crucially, the King has approved of these appointments, and has selected army chief Prayuth Chan-O-Cha as interim leader.
Furthermore there is currently an interim constitution in place which gives the NCPO immunity as well as the ability to override the legislature and interim government. A national reform council has been implemented to create a permanent constitution that could take effect by July 2015. This is in line with other statements made by Chan-O-Cha that the junta is ruling out holding out elections until October 2015.