BANGKOK – Thailand’s New army chief Gen Apirat Kongsompong has come under fire by key Pheu Thai Party members after his controversial statement that he could not rule out another coup after the promised general election.
He said if the political situation warranted it, with renewed rioting and unrest, he could not rule out another military coup.
Outspoken Pheu Thai member Watna Muangsook branded the army chief an “authoritarian” who sees himself as being above the law by virtue of his position.
A threat to tear down the constitution is subject to criminal charges, he wrote on his Facebook account on Thursday.
Gen Apirat used a press conference at the Royal Thai Army headquarters on Wednesday to make his position clear.
There have been more than 10 military coups in the past, but recent ones were the result of political unrest, “If politics does not result in riots, nothing will happen,” Gen Apirat told the Bangkok Post.
Mr Watana, an ardent campaigner against coups, said the army chief’s remarks were ruining the investment atmosphere. There had been an economic decline after the coup staged by his predecessor, Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha, now the prime minister.
Jaturon Chaisaeng of Pheu Thai said Gen Apirat had caused economic and political damage to the country with his remarks, which eroded international confidence in Thai democracy and the future of Thailand, INN reported.
Mr Jaturon praised the commander-in-chief for keeping the army neutral by fending off political interference, but it remained to be seen whether he could keep that promise when he also sits on the National Council for Peace and Order.
Defence Minister Prawit Wongsuwon came out to defend the army leader, saying Gen Apirat’s stance would not spoil the move toward a general election currently promised for Feb 24 next year.
The army chief did not make political threats, but hoped for stability after the country goes to the polls for the first time since the military coup in 2014, Gen Prawit added.
Thailand has been under military rule since the May 2014 coup, which the army said was necessary to restore order after months of anti-government protests against the Yingluck Shinawatra government.
Gen Apirat, who took up his post early this month, said the army was being closely watched and would strive to remain neutral.