Thailand: Army chief bristles over proposals to cut budget

  • Angry with politicians proposing a cut in the defence budget, Army chief General Apirat Kongsompong ordered the ultra-rightist song “Nak Phaendin” to be aired every day on 160 Army radio stations across the country, but later withdrew the order. The Army chief reasoned earlier that the anthem broadcast was aimed at encouraging everyone to be aware of their duties and responsibilities towards the country.
  • The order was issued 18 Feb 19 almost immediately after Army top brass told politicians, including Khunying Sudarat Keyuraphan from Pheu Thai Party, who are proposing a reduction in the defence budget as one of their policy planks, to listen to the song.
  • Several political parties during the electoral campaign have floated policies that affect the military. While the Army may have been strengthened in the past five years under the military-installed government, it also lost popularity with rising negative public sentiment over an increased defence budget and the controversial military conscription.
  • Meanwhile, Junta chief and Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha on 18 Feb 19 warned politicians to be mindful of their language during the electoral campaign, saying that if they did not consider reality and the national interest, they would have to take responsibility for their actions one day.
  • The actions of the army chief worried analysts, who suggested that the invocation of the anthem pointed to a perilous situation.
  • Paul Chambers, an expert on military affairs and a lecturer at Naresuan University, told The Nation on 18 Feb 19 that the Army chief’s allusion to the song is extremely dangerous if he was suggesting that those politicians were an enemy of the state or was threatening to stage another coup.
  • Anusorn Unno, dean of Thammasat University’s Faculty of Sociology and Anthropology, said that mentioning the song turns the Army’s critics into enemies of the state, adding that it is important to be clear that the Army is just a state apparatus to protect sovereignty and not the state itself. He also said that what the Army chief did was dangerous given that the country is already plagued with political division.

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