The armed forces will continue to lead in “protecting the country”, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha said on Saturday when asked about the state of military stability amid rising political tensions.
Thailand is facing rising political tensions as attempts to form a government drag on, nearly three months since the May 14 election. There have been fears that a conflict between pro-democracy and pro-military camps may result in military intervention.
Gen Prayut, the caretaker prime minister and defence minister, is waiting to hand over power to the next government after his party and others allied with it were soundly beaten at the polls.
When asked if he had concerns about the future of the armed forces amid new political turmoil, he said that as long as there are still younger soldiers in the ranks and laws that affirm the importance of the armed forces, there is nothing for him to worry about.
“The armed forces aren’t left to work alone,” he said.
For the rest of his term, Gen Prayut said he would do his best to perform his duty as prime minister and defence minister until the next government takes over.
Asked if he would work behind the scenes and observe political developments from a distance after handing over power, he waved the question away and said: “We’re not there just yet.”
Gen Prayut was speaking after attending a ceremony on Saturday at the Chulachomklao Royal Military Academy in Nakhon Nayok to mark the 136th anniversary of its establishment.
An alumnus of Class 23 at the academy, he was seen talking with some senators who are also alumni.
Army chief Gen Narongpan Jittkaewtae was also seen talking to Gen Prayut for about 30 minutes at the event.
Gen Narongpan declined to comment when asked whether he had discussed with Gen Prayut the army’s reshuffle plan. No meeting has been held to formally discuss the annual reshuffle so far, he said, refusing to elaborate.
The leaders of the three armed forces and the chief of the Thai defence forces will all reach mandatory retirement at the end of September.
This year’s shake-up, however, will not be forwarded to the cabinet for approval.
Instead, the appointments of military top brass will be considered under the 2008 Defence Ministry Administration Act in which a seven-member panel chaired by Gen Prayut, in his capacity as caretaker PM and defence minister, will review the reshuffle list and submit it to the prime minister to be sent for royal approval.
Gen Prayut has reportedly asked the outgoing military leaders to hand in the list by the middle of this month so that it can be finalised the same week.
It is widely speculated that Gen Prayut, who announced in early July his decision to wash his hands of politics nine years after seizing power in a coup, will place his trusted men in top positions in his final act as prime minister before a new government assumes power, tentatively in late August or early September.