Army chief’s attempt to shut down election talk of budget cuts backfires
By Jitraporn Sennawong, Nattaphat Phromkaew
The Army chief’s attempt to scare politicians off discussing the Army budget and reform by indirectly calling them “enemies of the state” has instead backfired, as many Thais have emerged with additional proposals for reforms of the military, and others are protesting the chief’s invocation of the farrightist anthem.
Critics yesterday largely chorused in agreement that the Army, which often intervenes in politics, deserves a budget reduction and reform. Social activist Veera Somkwamkid wrote on his Facebook page that he agreed with the policy proposal to cut the defence budget. It is a source from which highranked officers could unlawfully seek benefits, the critic explained.
“The cut should not affect ordinary military officers because we’re not cutting their salary,” Veera said, adding that the surplus from the cut could be allocated to other areas such as public health and education.
Junta critic and leader of Seree Ruam Thai party Sereepisuth Temeeyaves yesterday said his party also proposed to reduce the size of the Army and would reallocate the funds to improve the quality of people’s life. “The Army is part of the problem facing the country, especially in the past five years since the coup. If I get a chance to run the country, I will abolish conscription and disband the unnecessary units including their headquarters and the court. We’re not in wars. These are not necessary,” he told an election rally in Prachuap Khiri Khan.
Student activist Parit Chiwarak
Seree Ruam Thai party joins Pheu Thai Party, Democrat Party, Future Forward Party in calling for an examination of the military budget. The criticism came after Army chief General Apirat Kongsompong told politicians to listen to the anthem “Nak Paendin” (“worthless”) if they were planning to reduce the defence budget or nullify conscription. “Nak Paendin” was part of the grand propaganda in 1970s against the communist movement.
The lyrics labelled leftists as enemies of the state that needed to be eliminated. A favourite of ultranationalists, it is viewed by many others as hatefilled and divisive. Following heavy public criticism concerning both the need for Army reform and the Army’s chief’s aggressive reaction, a military spokesman yesterday came out to defend its controversial budget.
While the public appears sceptical of the relations between the militarybacked government and the rising defence budget, the spokesman LtGeneral Kongcheep Tantravanich said the allocation was proportionate. The budget rise (from Bt183 billion before the 2014 coup to Bt227 billion this year) was also proportionate to the national budget’s overall increase, he said. In fact, he insisted, it had been reduced by some 5 per cent in relative terms. A budget cut would affect numerous security units and their work, including disaster relief units, he said.
The Army sees its responsibility as not limited only to war. In response to criticism about the military intervention in politics, Kongcheep said it was difficult to explain. However, if the people had not wanted it, the intervention could not have taken place, he said.
In a related development, a couple of the prodemocracy protesters led by student activist Parit Chiwarak also protested in front of the Royal Thai Army Headquarter against Apirat’s invocation of the song.
They called on Apirat to revoke the order to play the controversial song in the military barracks across the country, saying that the anthem only incite hatred and violence. It is said that in the massacre on October 6, 1976, the farright played the song as they launched a crackdown on students at Thammasat University.
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