No quick fix to army image

No quick fix to army image

The Royal Thai Army was quick to dismiss reports which went viral on social media and some mainstream media outlets on Tuesday about six "prohibited postures" for men in uniform; among them sitting with legs crossed, standing with arms folded, and having their hands in their pockets.

While deputy Royal Thai Army spokeswoman, Col Sirichan Ngathong, immediately denied army chief Apirat Kongsompong had issued such a strict order, she admitted "regulations do exist about appropriate postures and behaviour that men in uniform are well aware of."

She then labelled the reports as "fake news".

However, at the same time, there were reports that a poster featuring an officer demonstrating the six prohibited postures was being shared widely among military officers through Line chatrooms.

Another rule is supposedly about wristwatches -- that all officers must not wear luxury or fancy looking ones. It's unfortunate the deputy spokesperson failed to clarify all this, while Gen Apirat has kept his mouth shut on the matter.

It's not wrong for an army chief to want his subordinates to impress people in they way they look and conduct themselves in public as this can reflect how disciplined and well-trained they are.

Yet, it would be wrong for the army chief to deviate from established military traditions and lay down his own set of rules of conduct that seem petty and don't address what many see as really wrong within the ranks.

On the contrary, it would be even better if Gen Apirat and the rest of the top brass start looking beyond physical appearance, and focus more on practical matters that would improve the army's image in the eyes of the public.

The army chief may want to start responding positively to public expectations, which is for him look at ways at developing a downsized modern army that is professional and efficient. He should tell his senior officers that it's not at all acceptable to use conscripts as waiters, car washers, or domestic workers.

Excuses by a senior army officer in response to criticism over misuse of conscripts (that such work is to build their skills) is not received well by society.

Gen Apirat should also not forget that as army chief the public expects him to take accusations regarding abuses of power within the army seriously. These abuses include physical assaults on conscripts, or soldiers of lower ranks, as well as the torture of people detained in military camps.

More importantly, the public expects all investigations into such abuses to be conducted fairly and for those found in the wrong to be brought to justice.

The army chief should know that the families of men who have died while in military detention are waiting eagerly for probe results. But it appears they will have to wait in vain.

The mystery surrounding the death of insurgent suspect Abdulloh Esormusor while in military detention in Pattani last year remains unresolved.

Also, the public wants to see some progress in the case concerning the extra-judicial killing of Lahu activist Chaiyaphum Pasae, shot by a soldier in broad daylight at a checkpoint in Chiang Mai in March 2017.

The army has never come clean about this incident which is one of many that drags the army's image through the mud. Gen Apirat should be aware that improving the army's image is the right thing to do, but his efforts must go well beyond how smart a soldier looks in public.


Bangkok Post editorial column

These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.

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