Thai army chief vows no more coups as fresh doubt cast on 2017 election pledge
They may have successfully seized power 12 times in the last eight decades but Thailand’s army chief has said military coups are officially a thing of the past.
The comments caused much merriment on social media given the military’s long track record of toppling elected governments - the latest a 2014 putsch that brought the current junta to power.
The military have promised to hold elections once a new constitution is in place, although the date for polls keeps slipping.
In an interview with Thai media outlets published on Monday, General Chalermchai Sitthisat was asked whether the military would intervene if civilian politicians disliked by the army brass were voted back in.
“I can confirm that there won’t be a coup. What would be a reason for having to have the coup? There won’t be a coup. We have already learned from what happened (in the past),” he said.
The remarks were soon seized upon in Thai social media, one of the few sites where dissent still flourishes given the junta’s ban on political gatherings and protests.
“If the army says something like that it means they will do the opposite for sure,” joked Eakapong Leesinla on Facebook.
“Why ask such a question,” added Pim Pongchandr on Facebook.
“We all know what he was going to answer, who would say yes?”
Chalermchai, a former head of Thailand’s special forces, was appointed by coup leader and current Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha in September.
In 2014, then army chief Prayutt famously declared there would be no coup days before his military toppled the administration of Yingluck Shinawatra.
His predecessors removed her brother Thaksin in 2006 and have a raft of previous successful putsches to their name including three takeovers each in both the 1950s and 1970s.
Prayuth says he was forced to seize power to curb political corruption and bring much-needed stability to the country after a decade of political turmoil between Shinawatra supporters and their opponents.
But critics say the putsch was an attempt by the military and its allies within Bangkok’s elite to ensure the Shinawatras, who are seen as champions of the downtrodden by large swathes of the rural and urban poor, are never in power again.
The comments by the army chief come as a member of the military government’s national assembly cast doubt on a planned election happening this year.
Somjet Boonthanom, a member of the military-appointed National Legislative Assembly (NLA), told Reuters that elections would likely be delayed until March or April 2018.
“This is not a postponement but because of the intricacies involved in drafting election laws, elections will not happen this year,” he said.
Until now, the junta has said it is sticking to plans for an election in late 2017.
“As far as the government is concerned, we are on track with the roadmap. The NLA’s opinions are their own,” said Major General Sansern Kaewkamnerd, spokesman for the prime minister’s office.
The next step in the transition back to civilian rule is for new King Maha Vajiralongkorn to endorse a constitution which was approved in a referendum last year.
Critics argue that provisions in the constitution will entrench the hold of the military even after elections.
Agence France-Presse, Reuters