World, Asia - Pacific

Proposed defence cuts rub salt into Thai army

Political parties wooing voters with defense cuts to promote entrepreneurship, raise in pensions for elders

19.02.2019
Proposed defence cuts rub salt into Thai army

By Riyaz ul Khaliq

ANKARA

Almost one month to general elections, Thai army is miffed at electoral manifestos of political parties promising considerable cuts in defense budgets, media reports said on Tuesday.

Under military rule since 2014, Buddhist-majority Thailand is set for general elections on March 24 after delay of five years.

According to the daily Bangkok Post, Thai army chief Apirat Kongsompong is strongly opposed to proposals of political parties over the cut in defense budget.

After 2014 military coup, Thai defense budget rose to 227 billion Thai Baht ($ 7.2 billion) from 183 billion Thai Bhat ($5.8 billion), The Nation, a local daily, reported.

Pheu Thai Party is promising a 20-percent cut in the defense budget and “use the money to instead promote young entrepreneurs”, the reports added.

However, Apirat in a short statement referred to a song to convey his opposition to the policy. “They [political parties seeking defense cuts] should listen to this tune -- Nak Phandin [Burden on the Land],” the Thai army chief said before leaving the Internal Security Operations Command office.

The ultra-rightist song is said to have been used for stirring nationalism by the armed forces -- including when Apirat-led Thai army toppled the then civilian government in 2014.

Apirat directed 160 Army radio stations across the country to play the song, however, the order was later withdrawn after drawing criticism, The Nation said.

Future Forward Party (FFP) also proposed military reforms so as to bring the Thai army under a “joint chiefs of staff system which would work under civilian control”.

“Although the military says it is impartial, there are times when this is clearly not the case,” FFP spokeswoman Pannika Wanich said.

Wanich said that Thai army had asked its soldiers to support Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, who is a former army general and is running for prime ministerial post in March elections, so that “what he had done was not wasted”.

“[…] The military continues to pressure political parties, criticizes and possibly intervenes in politics, eventually leading to a military coup in the worst case. No one is a burden on the land. Everyone weighs equally in this land,” she added.

The country has been a constitutional-monarchy since 1932 where the executive is elected by people, however, the king yields much influence. Thai army has traditionally remained loyal to the monarch and his family.

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