Army chief Apirat Kongsompong has said he will wash his hands of politics after the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) is dissolved once the new cabinet is sworn in.
The cabinet list has already been submitted to His Majesty the King, Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam said on Friday, and ministers will be sworn in after it is approved.
“From then on, I won’t make political comments nor will I get involved with politics in any way. I’ll perform my duty strictly as a professional soldier,” Gen Apirat, who is now the NCPO secretary-general, said on Saturday.
Asked about his role as a senator, Gen Apirat said he would perform the duty only in Parliament. Since an army chief is constitutionally a senator by position over the next five years, he will no longer serve in that capacity when he retires in September next year.
The general, who has strongly defended Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha and made controversial political comments over the past five years, has apparently toned down his stance over the past few months.
He now maintains the armed forces are a tool of “every government” when asked whether he would continue to support Gen Prayut.
He also declined to comment on reports that Gen Prayut would also be the defence minister in the new cabinet line-up, as Gen Prawit Wongsuwon is tipped to keep only the deputy prime ministerial post in the new cabinet due to health issues.
Discussing the plans he has for the army going forward, Gen Apirat said next year would be the year for training and education.
“We’ve revised the curricula of military students, recruits and cadets. There will be an English programme initially for cadets so they have language proficiency,” he said.
Under the programme, English will be used as the teaching medium for military subjects, as it is at some schools and universities.
He added that the US army had offered support to train military teachers so they could teach in English when they return.
“The Royal Thai Army has always followed the US-style military doctrine," he said. "The Chulachomklao Royal Military Academy has used the West Point curriculum, as well as US training and organisation.”
The US has training programmes for Thai military personnel under several projects. Eight second and first lieutenants are sent to study at Fort Benning in Alabama and Georgia each year.
“They are generally sent to stations in the Deep South when they return so they have field experience before they are put in other positions,” the general explained.
Around 200 Thai infantrymen also joined the US-led Lightning Forge 2019 training exercise in Hawaii this year. “Evaluation is being made in Louisiana,” he added.