Army regions warn against canvassing
Soldiers shadowing targets, chiefs reveal
Regional army commanders have warned politicians against canvassing for support during the festive period while revealing soldiers have been deployed to shadow certain targets.
In an unusual move, all four have spoken out virtually simultaneously to warn politicians against starting election campaigning too early. This comes as pressure builds on the junta to lift the ban on political activity and amid warnings by the prime minister that unrest could destabilise the next poll.
Lt Gen Wijak Siribansop, commander of the 3rd Army Region, which is in charge of the North, told the Bangkok Post that politicians in the North are behaving, and the military finds it can still talk to political veterans there.
The politicians, for their part, say the military should not worry about them, but rather focus on the roadmap leading to the general election. They are happy to abide by the rules.
However, Lt Gen Wijak said while it is easy to talk to most politicians in the main northern centres, he wanted to remind them that the election campaign has not started yet.
During the New Year celebrations, they could pay respects to senior figures or visit temples in line with tradition, but should not try to seek support. "I asked them not to canvass for support yet. Do not distribute calendars or any other item as this would put you at risk of breaking the law," said Lt Gen Wijak.
He said some young bloods may have behaved in an unruly manner and he had to ask senior figures who take care of them to talk to them and boost their understanding.
Lt Gen Wijak also played down concerns about underground political movements, saying he is more concerned about academics, whom he said cannot be barred from voicing their views. The 33rd Military Circle's commander has been asked to talk to these academics, particularly those in Chiang Mai, he said.
Chiang Mai is a political stronghold of the Pheu Thai Party and native province of former prime ministers Thaksin Shinawatra and his younger sister Yingluck. "They seem like compressed gas tanks which need a discharge channel where they can voice their views. We only ask them to talk in academic terms. Do not try to touch on politics," said Lt Gen Wijak.
For those staging political movements through social media, he said laws will be enforced to deal with them. He insisted there are no armed political groups in the North, saying officials there focus on seeking cooperation through talks.
Kukiat Srinaka, chief of the 1st Army Region, which is in charge of the Central Plains, revealed officials have been sent to secretly shadow targets in the 1st Army Region's jurisdiction. While insisting officers would adhere to the National Council for Peace and Order's (NCPO) roadmap leading to the poll, he also warned against illegal political activities, noting that those involved must be dealt with.
Lt Gen Piyawat Nakwanich, commander of the 4th Army Region, which is in charge of the South, insisted the army will act as a neutral player in the political sphere. He said Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, his deputy, Gen Prawit Wongsuwon, and army chief Chalermchai Sitthisad had made it clear that soldiers must not take sides.
Gen Chalermchai, for his part, denied any knowledge of whether the NCPO is receiving help in setting up a pro-military part, even though he is a member of the NCPO.
"Soldiers have a duty to take care of security. Politics is a matter for politicians. We as soldiers should not be involved," said Lt Gen Piyawat. No one was causing trouble in his jurisdiction, he insisted.
The commander said he had not called in any politicians for attitude-adjustment sessions. "I have not summoned them. I don't want to talk to any of them. If I get to know them, it will be more difficult to apprehend them," said Lt Gen Piyawat.
Lt Gen Tharakorn Thamwinthorn, chief of the 2nd Army Region, in charge of the Northeast, said his officers work with other agencies to monitor prime targets in designated areas, including border areas.
Officers keep tabs on political activities through online channels and monitor those who are involved, he said, noting that most cases involve the release of "fake news". When officers hear about a wrongdoing, they travel to meet these people to boost their understanding, he said.
Gen Chalermchai, who is also the secretary of the NCPO, said the council would focus on ensuring security and supporting the government's policy, reconciliation, and reforms. "I insist there are still no factors which would force us to push back the election date from November," said the army chief.
National Legislative Assembly (NLA) vice president Surachai Liangboonlertchai said he was confident the NLA's tasks will be completed in time, though he was still uncertain the poll would be actually held in accordance with the roadmap.
He brushed aside claims the NLA may reject the organic bills on MP elections or the selection of senators, which would result in the poll being pushed back. The bills are being vetted by the NLA's committees.