Was it a pep talk, a military psy-op, a lecture, or a paranoid rant on an epic scale that we witnessed from army chief Gen. Apirat Kongsompong last Friday?
It depends on whom you ask, but Apirat was apparently concerned about young Thais, and he seems to have failed to convince them.
“Let me ask students if one day a disappointed person incites you and uses propaganda to mess with your brain to come out onto the streets like in Hong Kong. Will you come out?” Apirat said.
The answer from Twitter users, who are mostly the younger generation, was loud and clear. Within hours by Saturday hashtag #redbuffalo was trending to the with over 226,000 tweets. You see, Apirat’s nickname is Daeng, or red in Thai, and to compare someone to a buffalo is akin to calling the person dumb. It’s also dehumanizing.
On conservative Nation TV, however, a poll among the viewers showed 97 percent support for Apirat’s speech which touched on threats of Communism, sabotage against the monarchy, and dangers from political parties supported by the youth like the Future Forward.
If a 97 percent approval rating is not enough, one of Apirat’s friend-cum-sycophants, Chuwit Kamolvisit, a massage-parlor-king-turned-politician-turned-TV-talking-head, gave him a score of 100.
But even a perfect score could not hide his incoherence and confusion.
In his 90-minute speech, Apirat attacks some Thais for holding onto Communist ideology while also attacking Joshua Wong, the young Hong Kong protest leader who took a stand against the Communist regime in mainland China.
Was Apirat aware that the threat of Communism, including anti-Communist laws, has been obsolete and abolished for decades now?
Was Apirat also aware of the cordial relations between Thailand and the biggest and most powerful Communist states on earth – China?
Did he recall that three years ago, it was his boss, Prime Minister Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha, who publicly advised his Cabinet to read Chinese Communist leader Xi Jinping’s book “The Governance of China,” and who went as far as saying that the book is “suitable” for Thailand?
Apirat can’t seem to make up his mind if he is truly for, or against, Communism.
What’s clear, however, is Apirat tried to revive Cold War fear of Thai monarchy being at risk. He needs the royalists to fear, to develop ideological insecurities. This is how he hopes to unite and rally his support base – possibly in the event of another military coup, which he infamously refused to rule out.
Whether you agree or laugh at what Apirat said for an hour and a half last week, it’s clear that the army will not return to the barracks, even though it’s been six months after the general elections that supposedly “restored” civilian rule.
The army chief – whose late father Gen. Sunthorn Kongsompong led a coup in 1991 – doesn’t feel or think he has overstep his duty by attacking political parties and feeding the public with his fear mongering doctrine.
In a democracy, and even in a Communist state like China, the army chief doesn’t have the authority to talk politics. If last Friday’s spectacle took place in those countries, the army commander would have faced disciplinary actions, if not an immediate dismissal.
But Thailand, even after the elections, is still a militarized Thailand. There is no remorse or a sign of self-awareness from Apirat that he conducted himself unprofessionally.
Forget what he said, his arrogance is one of the most serious threats Thai democracy is facing. Apirat’s rant was in essence the army’s show of superiority over civilian affairs, which made the need to send the military back to the barracks and have its influence contained all the more urgent.
And as long as that goal is still not achieved, democracy and civil liberty will continue to be at risk from military men in power like Apirat, even if his mind is so confused and incoherent. That is the real lesson we can learn from the whole debacle.