BANGKOK — At an unprecedented oath-swearing ceremony held Thursday, army commander-in-chief Apirat Kongsompong vowed to only support a government loyal to the monarchy.
Kneeling before the statue of King Rama V – revered by the military as its founding father – Gen. Apirat and hundreds of his officers pledged to uphold the late king’s legacy and defend a government committed to protecting the royal family.
Designated a “special appointment” in the military’s daily bulletin, the first-of-its-kind ritual struck observers as an all-out offensive against junta opponents. It comes as pro-junta politicians have attacked a party running on a progressive platform of plotting to overthrow the monarchy.
“I shall uphold your legacy as if it were my own life!” the army commander said thrice before leading over 700 officers present to swear an oath at army headquarters.
“I shall uphold the royal majesty of the monarch, and the pride and dignity of the armed forces. I, as officials of the state, shall support a government committed to a democratic regime under His Majesty the King as head of state,” part of the pledge read.
After the peculiar ceremony – the first such event held by an army chief – Gen. Apirat handed a certificate of appreciation to a soldier scolded by an anti-military politician in a viral video earlier this week.
The soldier, Lt. Col. Pakit Pholfak of the Prachinburi garrison, filed a defamation complaint against Seri Ruam Thai Party leader Seripisut Temiyavet on Tuesday for posting a video of the confrontation online.
The army chief then commended Col. Pakit for remaining “calm” and controlling his emotions in the face of verbal attacks from Seripisut, who accused Pakit of stalking his campaign rallies. Gen. Apirat himself filed a criminal charge against the politician for “insulting” the military.
“Even before political parties started their campaign, I have said many times where the military stands,” Gen. Apirat said. “We all follow orders from our commanders to keep peace and order.”
He added, “We were all trained to be united and shaped in the same mold. From now on, we must be vigilant and, what’s also important, defend our dignity as professional soldiers.”
Reactions on social media were somewhat negative, even among supporters of the regime. A news thread about the event by Manager, a reliably pro-junta news organization, were skeptical of Apirat’s conduct.
“I watched the clip, but I don’t see any strong language used. Just because of that, they’re mobilizing the force to show off? It’s unfitting for the No. 1 of the army.” Yutthasan Sukkasem wrote.
“So it’s become a drama? Frankly, I don’t think people hate police and soldiers. I think they only hate bad people who hide behind the noble uniforms,” Tat Kewngaam wrote.
“The country is more restive every because of these soldiers. They have lost their way. Instead of serving as a country’s fence, they only care about power and money to buy weapons,” Tanayoch Thungthong wrote.
The army also handed out pamphlets to reporters at the scene this morning effectively campaigning against pledges by Seri Ruam Thai and other anti-junta parties to slash the size of the armed forces and abolish conscription.
The Thai military, the pamphlets say, is funded by only 1.29 percent of the GDP. The document also argues that the draft supplies the army with manpower it requires for various missions, from border security to disaster relief.
Since taking the top army job in October, Gen. Apirat has used his position to lash out at critics of the ruling junta on a near daily basis, outdoing all of his predecessors in recent years in open expressions of hostility and virulence.
Last month, he suggested that those calling for a decrease in military spending listen to “Scum of the Earth,” a song closely associated with anti-Communist vigilantes in the 1970s.
An army spokesman on Tuesday also confirmed Gen. Apirat had filed criminal complaint against Seripisut for showing disrespect to Col. Pakit, who was in uniform.
“Police Gen. Seripisut deliberately insults and disrespects the uniform, which is greatly important to all soldiers and the armed forces,” Col. Winthai Suvaree told the media. “The uniform also features decorations handed down by His Majesty the King.”