Rumours of a coup were so strong on the weekend that the army was forced to put signs saying armoured personnel carriers were 'just training' when panicked motorists spotted them on a highway. (Post Today photo)
The coup scare of recent days is baseless, given the brotherly bond between Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha and army chief Apirat Kongsompong, according to a highly placed source in the army.
Coup rumours followed an eventful Friday when Princess Ubolratana's name was submitted as a prime ministerial candidate by the Thai Raksa Chart (TRC) Party.
The nomination, however, was thrown into doubt hours later when His Majesty the King issued a royal command stating that it was "highly inappropriate" for royal family members to be involved in politics.
The Election Commission has since rejected the TRC's prime ministerial nomination.
These events came as tanks rolled onto the streets in Sa Kaeo, Prachin Buri and Chon Buri heading for a drill in Lop Buri, and led many to fear a coup was in the offing.
The government tried to ease public anxiety that grew despite large "for training' banners adorning the sides of the tanks.
These jitters had been aggravated by a slew of fake news shared on social media, including stories of a bogus Section 44 order from the premier transferring armed forces chiefs, including Gen Apirat, to inactive posts.
While these stories gripped the country, Gen Apirat was overseas attending an audience with His Majesty the King. As commander of the 904 royal guard force, the army chief is duty-bound to seek an audience with the King to present reports and brief His Majesty on the army's training programmes, according to the source.
Gen Apirat is accused by his opponents of being likely to follow in his father's footsteps. The son of the late strongman Gen Sunthorn Kongsompong, who engineered the coup that seized power from the Chatichai Choonhavan government in 1991, Gen Apirat was one of the prime movers in the May 22, 2014, coup when he commanded the 1st Division, King’s Guard, which was a key unit in the putsch.
To quell the latest coup rumours, Gen Prayut denied having signed any Section 44 order and insisted the commanders-in-chief had done nothing to warrant being sidelined.
"We've been close for many years. There have been no rough patches in our relations.
"But if they don't like me, I can accept that," Gen Prayut said.
The coup rumour was also quickly dismissed by Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister Prawit Wongsuwon.
A National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) source said anti-regime elements were trying to driving a wedge between the military and the government.
However, the source explained, Gen Prayut and Gen Apirat are united. Gen Prayut also serves as head of the NCPO with Gen Apirat as its secretary-general.
Gen Prayut has backed Gen Apirat's rapid rise through the ranks and eventually inked his promotion as army chief.
"Should a situation arise where Gen Apirat must take sides, he would choose to be with Gen Prayut," a source close to Gen Apirat said.
The army source said it would not be easy to topple a government now since troops stationed in Bangkok and surrounding provinces come under the King's 904 royal guard force.
Although Gen Apirat commands the force, he is unable to authorise these troops to be mobilised to carry out a coup.
"There's no precondition or circumstance whatsoever to engineer a coup. We're moving towards an election, preparing for the coronation and chairing Asean," Gen Apirat said.
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