By THE NATION
POLITICIANS yesterday claimed their right to propose policies to the voters, in a strong response to the Army chief’s aggressive reaction on Monday over proposals to cut the defence budget.
Army chief General Apirat Kongsompong had said on Monday that politicians who proposed to cut the defence budget should listen to the ultra-patriotic song, “Nak Paendin” (worthless).
Politicians from key parties hit back yesterday, saying they had the right to present their policies to voters, and also advised the general to remain politically neutral.
Democrat Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva said yesterday that all political parties were entitled to propose any policies, including those that affected the Army, pointing out that proposing policies was normal and should not lead to conflicts.
He added that his party too was approaching voters with proposals, such as making conscription on a voluntary basis, and that the defence budget be reduced.
As for the Army chief’s invocation of the propagandist anthem, which could potentially incite hatred and violence against Army critics, Abhisit said the general, as a state servant, should remain non-partisan.
He also advised Apirat to make his case if he feels his agency is affected by the proposals. Abhisit said everybody should just do their jobs.
Veteran politician Chaturon Chaisang, a key leader of Thai Raksa Chart Party, echoed Abhisit, saying it was not in the ambit of the Army chief’s duty to voice opposition to the policies of political parties.
“He has no right to say that,” Chaturon said, referring to Apirat’s remarks urging politicians to listen to “Nak Paendin”.
“This reaction only shows that he is not non-partisan and such remarks are completely unlawful.”
The servants of the state are obliged to remain politically neutral and this is especially important in the lead-up to the election, he added. Apart from not being neutral, Chaturon said the general’s reaction demonstrated his ignorance of the relationship between politics, the government and state agencies.
“While campaigning for votes, political parties have the right to propose policies about adjusting the budgets of different agencies,” Chaturon said. “However, these agencies cannot oppose these policies. If the party wins, then it has the mandate to carry out these policies. The Army chief has to respect that.”
Other politicians and critics said the general’s response only showed that the Army was in need of an overhaul.
Spokesperson of Future Forward Party Pannika Wanich said the Army had to remain neutral, yet in many cases the reality was otherwise.
“It is clear that they are abusing their power to add pressure or even interfere in politics,” she said. “The worst they can do is launch another coup to seize power. This is exactly why the Army needs to be reformed.”
Lt-General Pongsakorn Rodchom-phoo, Future Forward’s deputy leader, said the party had proposed that the Army should be led by joint chiefs of staff and be reduced in size, which will not only boost cost efficiency, but also prioritise quality over quantity.
Meanwhile, security expert Wanwichit Boonprong told The Nation yesterday that changing the chain of command was a feasible option for Thailand as it would reduce the power of the Army.
Under this system, he said, there will only be one supreme commander, known as the chair of the joint chiefs of staff, who will report directly to the head of the government. The commander will only play a supporting role and will have no right to provide any political inputs, he added.