Discontent fires up Apirat
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Discontent fires up Apirat

Disquiet over army's role in politics could escalate, writes Wassana Nanuam

Army chief Gen Apirat Kongsompong
Army chief Gen Apirat Kongsompong

The army has ordered soldiers to stay alert to possible violent incidents as dissatisfaction with its alleged role in politics will likely continue unabated this year.

While declining to get into details, commander Apirat Kongsompong said only that he has told all military units attached to the army to take care of their weaponry. "Officers have to be more careful from now on," Gen Apirat told the Bangkok Post.

All weapons must be kept under good care and ready for use, he said, stressing the army will never let ill-minded people steal them.

Gen Apirat, who is no stranger himself to making political remarks attacking parties for their supposed stance on the monarchy and loyalty to the nation, expressed a worry late last month over a "proxy political crisis". The army chief referred to a mastermind who dislikes the government but cannot confront it directly, so the mastermind creates proxies. Gen Apirat declined to name him, letting people figure it out for themselves.

Earlier, Gen Apirat said some politicians and academics still resemble communists in their thinking, but the monarchy, the military and the people remain inseparable. "In the past, kings were on elephants surrounded by soldiers. Those soldiers were the people who sacrificed themselves in battles beside kings," the army chief said.

His remarks came as critics have begun to worry that anti-government sentiment whipped up by the Future Forward Party -- one of Gen Apirat's targets -- will escalate to a point that it turns to street demonstrations which will eventually prompt action from the military. One protest rally occurred on the skywalk at Pathumwan Intersection on Dec 14 last year. Future Forward leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit called the one-hour gathering after the Election Commission (EC) asked the Constitutional Court to consider its request to dissolve the FFP for allegedly accepting an illegal 191-million-baht loan. FFP executives argue the loan was extended in a transparent manner and suspect their party is being treated unfairly.

A group of activists who dislikes the military-backed government is also preparing another anti-government activity on Jan 12, organising the so-called "Wing Lai Loong," or Run to Oust Uncle, a reference to Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha. Security officers believe the run, which will be held in Vachirabenjatas Park (Rot Fai Park), even if accompanied by new anti-government flash mobs, will only be "symbolic" rather than a precursor to fiercer street protests like those in the past. They argued there is no sufficient cause to urge a large number of people to form a mass rally.

However, critics warned the lawsuits against the FFP may spark a new round of severe conflict. Besides the loan controversy, the Constitutional Court has set Jan 21 to hand down a ruling on whether to disband the FFP over allegations that key party executives tried to overthrow the monarchy.

FFP speeches and party regulations violate Section 49 of the constitution which prohibits actions that undermine the monarchy, critics say. However, discontent over the court's moves could fuel anti-government sentiments among FFP supporters and hardcore pro-democracy groups and finally urge them to express their anger on streets more forcefully, observers say.

Summarising the government's record in 2019, FFP secretary-general Piyabutr Saengkanokkul posted on his Facebook page on Wednesday that "its righteousness has all gone." Not only has the military-backed government wrongfully prolonged its power, but it also uses laws to get rid of its rivals, a phenomenon coined by Mr Piyabutr as "lawfare". People should not ignore these irregularities, the law scholar-turned politician said, urging them to take 2020 as a year to fight for real democracy. Gen Apirat is alert to the threat. "I'll never let anyone burn the country," Gen Apirat stressed, referring to violence that stemmed from past political turbulence.

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