Apirat speech sends chill
It was "a lecture" that should never have been given by any army chief, for its combination of accusations against "the left" and young people, and sensational and biased political messages.
Army chief Apirat Kongsompong delivered his remarks anyway yesterday at an army auditorium. His controversial message seems to imply that, even after the 2014 coup, the military will not put an end to its meddling in politics.
Granted, he has made similar political statements before during interviews with both Thai and foreign media. However, the fact that he deliberately arranged a 1.5-hour presentation, dominated by a string of highly charged political messages, in front of about 500 invited guests, may have sent a chill down many spines about what he actually has in mind.
The accusations the army commander made against academics and politicians, whom he branded as "the left", were embroidered by what appeared to be his own insinuations.
By suggesting that "senior academics" have teamed up with the young "extreme left" to create information warfare with the ultimate goal of toppling the highest institution, the army chief portrayed them as people with implanted "communist chips". This is similar to the dangerous propaganda tactic used by the state in the lead-up to the Oct 6, 1976 massacre of student activists. It should never be revisited.
Gen Apirat did not provide a shred of credible evidence for his allegations. He merely accused the academics of implanting "wrong thoughts" into the minds of young people while generating propaganda and fake news.
He did so without naming any names. But it seemed obvious that he was referring to progressive academics and key figures in the Future Forward Party (FFP).
Specifically, he accused "a person" who recently took a picture with Hong Kong democracy activist Joshua Wong, questioning whether the two have a hidden agenda and are plotting together.
The context he provided made it easily understood that he was referring to FFP leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit. His accusation came on the same day that a similar statement was issued by the Chinese embassy in Bangkok. The embassy accused a Thai politician of acting irresponsibly in contacting a Hong Kong pro-independence group involved in protests pushing for "separation" from mainland China.
Though China has used the term "separatist" to describe the political movement in Hong Kong, the protesters there insist they are only calling for Beijing to keep its "one country, two systems" promise made in the 1997 handover agreement.
As for Mr Thanathorn, he said yesterday that he merely had his picture taken with Mr Wong after his speech at a forum in Hong Kong.
Gen Apirat's other message was his vow to prevent anyone from amending the constitution's Section 1, which prohibits separatism in Thailand. "This is not me interfering in politics -- it is a matter of security", he insisted.
The army chief fails to understand that amending the charter is the job of parliamentarians with input from the public, not his.
Gen Apirat's remarks yesterday failed to assure the public that he will steer clear of politics. Nevertheless, as the army commander, he must remain politically neutral and avoid orchestrating a political messaging strategy targeting particular groups of people. Gen Apirat will have a hard time convincing many people that he is not engaged in information warfare of his own.
Bangkok Post editorial column
These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.
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