BANGKOK — A spokesman for the ruling junta said Thursday that the grandmother of a man who despaired at being conscripted into the army would be looked after while he serves for two years.
Col. Winthai Suvaree made the assurance after footage of Sak-rith Srisunthorn, an electrician who earns just 300 baht per day, sobbing inconsolably after he drew a red card Wednesday in the annual draft lottery because it meant he could not care for his grandma.
The incident was filmed by a soldier who uploaded footage to Facebook, where it had been watched more than 3 million times and shared by nearly 30,000 people as of Thursday afternoon.
“Why does it have to be me? Why those without responsibilities get away?” Sak-rith said, according to user Art Tua Por, who posted the video. Sak-rith said he is the only person caring for his grandmother because his mother and father abandoned him when he was very young. Sak-rith, according to the same Facebook poster, added that his grandmother was just released from hospital after taking ill and pleaded with him not to abandon her.
Winthai, who is also an army spokesman, said new conscripts exhibit worries that pass after a period of time upon learning they have to serve. He said each unit cares for each soldier like a member of the same family. He said in such cases, the conscript may be permitted to take leave to look after their relations if necessary.
Attempts to reach both Sak-right and Art Tua Por for more details were unsuccessful as of publication time.
But a student activist whose called for abolition of the draft said the move was a publicity stunt that failed to address the contentious issue of people who really do not want to be forced into the military.
“This is 21st century serf system, or even slavery,” said Netiwit Chotiphatphaisal, who penned a 88-page book released earlier this month titled “I Can Love My Country Without Having To Be Drafted.” The book was released around the time he staged a protest at his own draft center.
Netiwit said there must be many other people who face hardship for having to leave their jobs for two years of military service.
Nearly one in three of the 356,978 eligible recruits could expect to be drafted this year, as the armed forces said they need 104,734 conscripts.
Netiwit said the military should be made to justify why it needs so many conscription each year, when many merely end up being used as servants for high-ranking soldiers.
He said the case of Sak-rith is one example of a broader problem.
“There are many people who are inconvenienced,” he said. “Is it really possible for the NCPO to look after them all?”
The activist, who himself is 21 and describes himself as conscientious objector, said the problem would be solved if the army made enlistment voluntary, citing the United States as an example.
Col. Winthai said Thursday that of the 100,000-plus conscript soldiers this year, nearly half serve willingly.
“We begin with those who want to serve, and that’s nearly 50 percent of over 40,000 plus,” he said, adding that he has no knowledge of what all the conscripts will be assigned to do.
He said more volunteerism would obviate the need for anyone to serve against their will.
“If all willingly serve, there would be not need for the lottery,” he said.