Gen Apirat poised to grab top army post
Assistant army chief Apirat Kongsompong is poised to take over the army's top post as the annual military reshuffle lists are being prepared in a move that would further cement the regime's power to run the country, according to a military source.
The reshuffle list of senior officers is expected to be presented by the armed forces chiefs at the Defence Council meeting chaired by Defence Minister Prawit Wongsuwon next Wednesday.
After the lists are submitted, a reshuffle committee will convene for a meeting to formalise an announcement toward the end of September.
The source said all eyes are on who will replace the outgoing army chief Chalermchai Sitthisad. As speculated, Gen Apirat looks set to succeed him.
It is reported that although Gen Apirat belongs to the Wongthewan clique and not the powerful Burapa Phayak circles of elite commanders -- of which Gen Prayut and his deputy Gen Prawit are members -- he is one of the regime's most trusted lieutenants.
The source said that despite Gen Apirat -- son of Sunthorn Kongsompong who engineered the coup that seized power from the Chatichai Choonhavan government in 1991 -- being in the Wongthewan clique, his allegiance rests firmly with Gen Prayut.
Gen Apirat was a major player in the 2014 coup in which he supervised the 1st Division, King's Guard, a key unit in the putsch.
Gen Apirat is also believed to play a crucial role in maintaining national security in the lead-up to the next general election, tentatively set for early next year.
In the upcoming reshuffle, 3rd Army Area deputy chief Maj Gen Chalongchai Chaiyakham stands a chance of being promoted as the area army commander. He is noted for his efforts to mobilise soldiers to assist in the recent rescue of 12 young footballers and their coach from Tham Luang cave in Chiang Rai.
The end of September will see the retirement of several top-ranking commanders. They include Gen Chalermchai, defence permanent secretary Gen Theppong Thippayachan, Supreme Commander Gen Thanchaiyan Srisuwan, navy commander Adm Naris Prathumsuwan and air force Commander ACM Johm Rungswang.
The source said their possible replacements are: deputy defence permanent secretary Gen Nat Intharacharoen who will likely take the permanent secretary seat; the Supreme Command's chief-of-staff Gen Pornpipat Benyasri who is thought to be in line to succeed Gen Thanchaiyan; navy deputy commander Adm Ruechai Ruddit who is poised to replace Adm Naris; and air force assistant chief ACM Chaipruek Dissayasarin who is expected to become the new commander.
In the army, chief-of-staff Gen Natthapol Nakpanich is speculated to be promoted to deputy commander.