FFP bill seeks to end conscription

FFP bill seeks to end conscription

Volunteer recruitment part of military revamp

The Future Forward Party (FFP) plans to table a bill in parliament that seeks to replace military conscription with the recruitment of volunteers.

FFP deputy leader Lt Gen Pongsakorn Rodchomphu said the party has gathered signatures from its MPs to propose an amendment bill to House Speaker Chuan Leekpai for him to include it on the House agenda for deliberation.

Lt Gen Pongsakorn said military conscription has been in existence for about 100 years and now is the time for change.

The bill is aimed at reforming the military conscription system and is part of a revamp of the armed forces, said Lt Gen Pongsakorn, who heads the House committee on state security, border affairs, national strategy and national reform.

Under the bill, the minimum age for recruits would be lowered to 18 from the current age of 21 for draftees, while all men aged 18 to 29 would be eligible to serve as reservists, which a cabinet can call upon through conscription if the country is threatened by war.

Regarding the key element of the bill to scrap the draft for the regular armed force and switch to recruiting volunteers, length of service would be a minimum of five years, which can be extended for another five years.

Volunteers will also have the opportunity to enlist as non-commissioned and commissioned officers and can seek promotion to the highest rank of lieutenant colonel through an examination system. They would retire at the age of 46, Lt Gen Pongsakorn said.

The current law on military conscription only requires draftees to serve up to two years.

With the proposed five-year service period, more time can be spent to make sure those who enlist are well-trained and highly skilled, he said.

He said the bill will also prohibit senior officers exploiting rank-and-file soldiers by using them as personal servants, and prevent any human rights violations and actions that trample on soldiers' human dignity.

Lt Gen Pongsakorn added the bill will also grant an "amnesty" for those who evaded conscription before it takes effect.

He said several parties have voiced support for an end to conscription, adding that he wanted them to come up with similar bills.

While the armed forces have defended conscription, insisting it is necessary for national security, those who oppose it cite the need for competent military personnel and more efficient use of defence budgets.

Critics say conscription forces untrained young men to serve in the armed forces for the short term. Most draftees come from poor and low-income backgrounds.

Young men from richer families can avoid conscription by undergoing military training in high school.

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