General Narongphan Jitkaewtae, the newly installed army boss, asked on what basis do students presume to demand reforms when they have contributed nothing and should look to reforming themselves first. The army leader said that the possibility of a coup during his tenure to 2023 was ‘zero’ but explained that this still depended on maintaining peace and stability within the kingdom which was his priority.
Thailand’s newly installed army leader, on Tuesday, used his first press conference at Army HQ to rebuff calls by student leaders for reform of the monarchy. He warned that he would do whatever is needed to preserve security in the kingdom while discounting the prospect of a coup. It comes as police in Bangkok have revealed that student protest leaders, calling for a rally on October 14th next to oust the government and rewrite the Constitution, have not even applied for a permit.
Political tensions in Thailand are rising again ahead of a rally on October 14th by protestors at Democracy Monument in Bangkok.
One key protest leader, Arnon Nampa, said on Tuesday that this next protest could escalate into a push to remove the government of Prime Minister Prayut Chan ocha and trigger a rewriting of the 2017 Constitution.
Mr Arnon said that all would depend on the numbers who turn up on Wednesday 14th next to join the protest.
The news comes as Thailand’s new Army Chief, General Narongphan Jitkaewtae, gave an ambiguous response to reporters when asked about the possibility of the armed forces staging a coup d’etat during his tenure which expires at the end of 2023.
A Thai opinion poll, in recent weeks, showed that 58% of the public would not rule out the possibility of a coup, at this time, thinking it was likely with the government facing a growing economic crisis brought on by the virus emergency and an ongoing political standoff with radical student demands.
Denied the possibility of a coup but reserved his position in the case of political unrest
General Narongphan Jitkaewtae, the new army chief, ostensibly denied any possibility of a coup but reserved his position if the political environment descended into unrest.
‘Every army chief has been asked this question and he invariably says the chance was zero ‘on condition that no one causes a conflict that leads to violence and unrest’,’ General Narongphan said while also pointing out that he was simply another government official answerable to government policy, the Minister of Defence and the Chief of the Defence Forces.
Stressed the imperative of preserving order
At the same time, the top army officer’s response clearly signalled the imperative of preserving order in the kingdom.
General Narongphan made his remarks at his first press conference at Army Headquarters in Bangkok where he met other armed forces chiefs and the new National Police Commissioner, Police General Suwat Jangyodsuk.
Freedoms come with responsibility
The army chief took the opportunity to take a swipe at the student protest leaders, who even this week, are insisting that the protest on October 14th will again call for reform of the monarchy, a risky political line that has alienated many more traditional Thais from their cause and led to criminal investigations stemming from last month’s large demonstration held at Sanam Luang in central Bangkok near the Grand Palace.
General Narongphan explained that freedom of expression does not give those who express themselves the right to offend and violate the rights of others.
‘The use of freedom must not violate others’ rights and you must take responsibility for your actions if you break the law.’
The army boss observed that the students should look at reforming themselves before ‘telling others what to do.’
He also asked what the students had done or contributed to the good of Thailand in order to be able to make such demands.
Army leader guided by army’s ideology and thoughts of the Nation, Religion, the King and Thai People
The army leader, who is reportedly steadfast in his loyalty to the monarchy, told reporters that his response to the security situation will be guided by the thinking and ideology of the army.
In this, he said that he had four things which occupied his mind. These were the Nation, Religion, the King and the Thai people.
‘I will do whatever it takes to ensure security,’ he promised.
Police concerned that no permission has been applied for or granted for the planned October 14th protest
Meanwhile, police in Bangkok have revealed that the leadership of the October 14th event has not even sought permission from authorities, at this point, to stage the protest.
The date is significant in Thai history.
On the same day in 1972, another student-led revolt and mass street protests ejected the military government of Field Marshal Thanom Kittikachorn.
On Tuesday, Police Major General Somprasong Yenthuam of the Bangkok Metropolitan Police said that police had no idea as to the schedule of events and plans by the protestors for October 14th other than that the protest has been called for at Democracy Monument.
The senior police officer said that he had been trying to make contact with the student leaders who have not yet even applied for a permit.
Protest leader Arnon Nampa warns of an escalation after their voices had ‘fallen on deaf ears’
On Tuesday, human rights lawyer and campaigner, Arnon Nampa of the United Front of Thammasat and Demonstration (UFTD) and the Free People group appeared to indicate that the October 14th protest would represent an escalation in the student-led protest activity.
He made it clear that, as well as the calls by students for reform of the monarchy, the protest is intended to drive out the government of General Prayut Chan ocha and bring about a new constitution.
‘We have tried to make our voice heard, but it has fallen on deaf ears. But on October 14th, the protest will escalate. Demonstrators from the Free Student group and the UFTD will also attend the rally,’ he said. ‘If a million people show up, things will end in one day. But if there are hundreds of thousands of them, we may have to wait for those from the provinces to join. Whether it will drag on depends on the situation on that day.’
A decisive moment may be approaching
In recent weeks, efforts within parliament to push for reform of the constitution have been stalled by the ruling party as many pro-government lawmakers have begun to question the extent of the public’s support for the students and their protest movement.
It is becoming clear that the call for an escalation by student leaders on October 14th could be decisive and fraught with all the danger that entails.