DEFENCE Minister Prawit Wongsuwan has pushed for assistant Army chief General Thirachai Nakwanich to succeed the current chief, Udomdej Sitabutr, in the annual military reshuffle, a source said yesterday.
Prawit reportedly asked Udomdej, who is also deputy defence minister, to propose Thirachai as the new Army chief because of his qualifications and suitability. Also Thirachai is a member of the Burapayak clique of Queen’s Guards led by Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha and Prawit himself.
Apart from Thirachai, Prayut’s younger brother, assistant Army chief General Preecha Chan-o-cha, nicknamed Big Tik, has emerged as another front-runner candidate.
Prawit, however, supports Thirachai as the best candidate for the post, saying that if Preecha were picked, the prime minister could be attacked for hand-picking his own brother to inherit his previous role in the Army, the source said.
Prawit is known as having a close bond with Thirachai, nicknamed Big Moo.
The post of Army chief is key in supporting the military regime’s stated goal of restoring peace and order. The PM may cite this reason to push for his own brother for the top Army position.
If Thirachai is appointed as the new Army chief, Preecha is likely to be appointed as Defence Ministry permanent secretary.
Whom Udomdej picks to be the next in line to lead the Army will depend on several factors including knowledge, ability and suitability as well as the candidates’ clout and acceptance by subordinates.
Udomdej has to present a list of candidates for Army chief to a committee headed by the defence minister to make a final decision and then seek the PM’s approval.
To prevent charges of nepotism from the public over the choice of candidates, Prawit will call a meeting of military top brass next month to discuss this year’s annual military reshuffle. Up to 466 military officials are due to retire in September.