Apirat attacks Pheu Thai's call to cut defence budget
Army chief shoots down Pheu Thai's proposal
Army chief Gen Apirat Kongsompong voiced strong opposition Monday to the Pheu Thai Party's plan to cut the defence budget and use the money saved to promote young entrepreneurs.
The army chief referred to a right-wing, anti-communist Thai song to show his opposition.
"They should listen to this tune -- Nak Phandin," he said before leaving the Internal Security Operations Command office, where he attended its 11th anniversary.
Nak Phandin, loosely translated as "Worthless" or "Useless Weight to the Land", was composed in 1975 to promote patriotic feelings during the fight against the now-defunct Communist Party of Thailand.
Responding to the party's proposed budget cut and scrapping of the military draft, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha said the military is duty-bound to defend Thailand on land, sea and in the air and deal with non-combatant tasks, such as illicit drug and human trafficking, illegal entry as well as the smuggling of contraband.
Troops also have to take care of more than 5,000km of border areas.
Soldiers, he noted, are also deployed to work with other government agencies, including the Department of Disaster Prevention and Mitigation, which has limited personnel and equipment.
According to the premier, the defence budget increase was a necessity. The forces need money to replace old equipment.
"Procurement of heavy armaments is needed, otherwise we won't be able to keep up with other countries," Gen Prayut said.
He said every ministry increases its budget every year.
The premier said defence spending is vital for national security. Slashing the budget could have dire consequences, he warned. More than 50% of military hardware is used for public services including military firetrucks used to supply water to drought-stricken villages.
On Monday, Khunying Sudarat Keyuraphan, a Pheu Thai candidate for prime minister who posted the Facebook statement that triggered Gen Apirat, said Pheu Thai has only proposed a 10% cut in the budget set aside for weapons purchases.
"We do not deem it necessary to buy weapons in such large amounts amid our economic woes," she said.
Another key party member, Watana Muangsook, called to reduce the number of generals.