There was concerned speculation among opposition politicians over the weekend that the passionate army leader may emerge as a successor to General Prayut when his 2nd term of office expires after Deputy PM Prawit Wongsuwan suggested earlier that such an eventuality may be no bad thing.

The Thai army leader staged an abrupt U-turn on Monday morning and headed for parliament to appear before a key committee of the House of Representatives for an ‘exchange of opinion’ concerning his highly charged and controversial speech given at army HQ on Friday, October 11th. The meeting on Monday is reported to have gone well with both sides describing it in constructive terms. 

Thailand’s army leader General Apirat Kongsompong (left) attending the committee on national security, border affairs, national strategies and national reform of the House of Representatives chaired by Future Forwards MP and deputy leader Lieutenant General Pongsakorn Rodchompu (right).

The Thai army leader General Apirat Kongsompong finally appeared before the committee on national security, border affairs, national strategies and national reform on Monday at 10.50 am approximately 50 minutes after the hearing was due to begin despite an earlier written response from army headquarters suggesting that he would not attend.

Earlier written response from the army suggested he would not attend the committee hearing

The army had suggested that General Kongsompong’s deputy, General Sunai Praphuchanay, would address the committee and fend questions in his stead. The committee however wished to interview the army general in relation to his controversial address given at army headquarters on October 11th in which he declared that the war against communists and ‘communistic’ minds was not quite over yet and seemed to focus on the Future Forward Party and its progressive policies.

General Apirat linked the Future Forward Party leader with Hong Kong activist Joshua Wong

At one point in his address on October 11th, the General showed a picture of Hong Kong activist Joshua Wong with an outline of Future Forward leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit who had met and been photographed with the activist at a conference days earlier in Hong Kong organised by The Economist magazine.

Invoked the spirit of the war against communism

The army chief resurrected the spirit of the war against communism in the 1960s and 1970s during his speech and held that the role of Thailand, the military and the institution of the Thai monarchy were inseparable.

General Apirat admitted a change of heart on Monday

The change of heart on Monday was confirmed by the army boss himself who told reporters afterwards that he changed clothes in his vehicle en route to parliament building after receiving a second urgent request from the committee chaired by Future Forwards MP Lieutenant General Pongsakorn Rodchompu.

‘I am ready to answer every question’

The army boss made no secret of the fact that there had been an abrupt change of thinking on his part before his change of direction and flight back to parliament on Monday morning when he addressed reporters.

‘I have learned that the legislature and the executive branch really need to talk. The army attaches great importance to this. So I cut short my trip and flew back to attend the meeting. I changed in my vehicle and I am ready to answer every question,’ he told them before the meeting.

The army chief had been travelling to Kanchanaburi province to meet the Surasee Task Force when his schedule was suddenly altered.

The constructive mood at the meeting reported

After the meeting, there was a constructive mood among the participants. Even before the question session, the house committee had expressed a view that it was simply seeking a dialogue with the army chief on his speech which despite criticism from the opposition and many in the media has also drawn some support.

PM – the army chief’s speech was well-intentioned

The Thai prime minister has refused to reprimand the army leader for the speech suggesting that the senior officer was speaking his views with the interests of the country at heart when he made a presentation to an invited audience on Friday, October 11th.

Both sides at the meeting on Monday reported having maintained their respective positions 

After the hearing on Monday, General Kongsompong said that both sides had a difference of emphasis and had maintained certain positions but that the exchange had been welcome and productive for him in his role as army leader.

Key points were clarified

Meanwhile, the chairman of the committee Lieutenant General Pongsakorn thanked the army boss for attending and said that he thought the meeting between the committee and General Apirat will bear fruit. He indicated that many points had also been clarified.

He explained that much of the discussion was also classified but that national security had taken a step forward because of the cooperation between the executive branch and the legislature provided for under the constitution.  

Speculation on Apirat playing a future political role

There was intense chatter over the weekend that the army chief, approaching retirement, may perhaps be seeking a political role in the future even as a future government leader.

This prompted a reaction from the government’s most senior legal mind.

Thailand’s Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam told reporters that General Apirat is barred from being selected as prime minister or a cabinet member for 2 years after his forthcoming retirement from his current post.

Deputy Prime Minister Wongsuwan comments sparked speculation in media and opposition ranks

The comments followed speculation from both opposition groups and media sources over the weekend after Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwong suggested that it would be a good thing if the fiery and ardent army leader were to be installed as Thailand’s next prime minister.

Military controlled senate still has the power to sway the choice of the next prime minister

This is, in fact, possible since the Senate controlled by the military still has an active role in electing the next prime minister for five years which may well extend until after the second term in office of General Prayuth expires. ‘According to the Constitution, he has to wait for two years after he retires if he wants to take a position in the Cabinet,’ said Mr Wissanu on Monday.

General Kongsompng himself has dismissed the notion saying: ‘ It is impossible, I will not be in politics and just want to be friends of politicians.’

Further reading:

General’s speech’s leaves Thai opposition deflated and facing a question over constitutional change

Army Chief draws a line on opposition moves to alter the 2017 constitution in a passionate speech

Poll: Public shaken by bombings as army boss says government targeted, warns of fake news threat

Maybe time for westerners to listen carefully to Thailand’s army leader and conservative Thai voices