'Myanmar and Thailand have switched – now they have military and we have democracy,' a Yangon local quipped to me this morning.
The installation of martial law in Bangkok in the early hours of this morning wasn't a great surprise, though it came earlier than expected. Most commentators thought any army intervention would follow expected clashes this coming weekend.
The move has some support, as it brings a semblance of stability back to what has been a highly volatile situation, with both sides announcing large protests next weekend in Bangkok. But the army's intervention through the Martial Law Act has a shaky basis. Article 4 states that there must be war or insurrection for martial law to be enacted. We are still a few steps away from that, so without solid legal authority, the announcement of martial law is worryingly close to a military coup.
The difference is that the constitution remains in force, the interim government remains in office and there is still a right to assembly (though at the military's discretion). What changes is that civil authorities must comply with the military in regard to matters of public order (a rather nebulous term) and military officers can operate with limited legal recourse for their actions. The repealing of martial law will require a royal decree, which is only likely to come after some degree of stability has returned, possibly after the elections planned for 20 July.
The situation remains fluid. Protesters are still assembled in their camps on the streets of Bangkok. TV stations have been shut down so what happens now will be under a cloak of a media blackout. While many will welcome a return to stability, this is far from a perfect solution and does not resolve the deadlock.