By Todd Ruiz and Pravit Rojanaphruk
PHICHIT — Riot police were ordered to mobilize and prepare to defend important facilities Saturday in the central province of Phichit, according to a leaked order from the provincial governor marked urgent.
There was no further information on why the order was issued or whether it went out in other provinces. It gave no further details other than to say it was “due to urgent government matters.”
Provincial police chief Maj. Gen. Thawatchai Muannara confirmed the order was genuine Sunday, but said it was just a normal peacekeeping order, particularly in the period leading up to elections slated for March 24.
Earlier Sunday, a column of armored personnel carriers was spotted heading north of Bangkok toward Lopburi province, which the army said was in preparation of the annual Cobra Gold joint military exercises with the United States and other military allies.
As it prepares for its first election after five years of military rule, Thailand entered a new phase of political uncertainty Friday following the surprise entry of a former princess into politics.
The unprecedented candidacy of Ubolratana Mahidol for the job of prime minister proved short-lived; His Majesty the King effectively ended it hours later with a royal command asserting it was unconstitutional and inappropriate.
By Sunday night, rumors were spreading on social media of a possible military coup. The last coup in May 2014 was led by current junta leader Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha, who is also prime minister.
“Strange,” wrote Thammasat academic Virot Ali, referencing the current mood of anxiety.
#Coup was a top trending hashtag late Sunday night.
The timing of any such action would be awkward, with the military set to begin joint exercises with the US armed forces and partner nations this week as part of an annual event known as Cobra Gold.
“Stop the vicious cycle! Stop coups! Enough! We want elections!” wrote Facebook user Waaddao Chumaporn shortly before 10pm Sunday.
“I hope the rumor about a coup isn’t true. I believe the electoral process can solve all problems. Only if we believe in the people,” Future Forward Party candidate Rangsiman Rome wrote on Facebook at 10:20pm on Sunday night.