BANGKOK — Army commander Apirat Kongsompong on Friday stunned the nation with an 90-minute tirade on anti-government politicians and academics, in which he accused them of attempting to sabotage the country’s constitutional monarchy.
Although it was not the first time Gen. Apirat fired shots at the opposition, his fiery rhetoric and even invocation of Communist threats in today’s news conference took many observers of the armed forces by surprise. He led the charge by branding the opposition’s campaign to amend the current constitution as a stealth attack on the monarchy.
“You can amend any section you like, but I will not let anyone touch Section 1,” Apirat said, referring to the constitutional clause on Thailand as an indivisible kingdom. “What they really want is to touch the monarchy, but they just don’t say it openly.”
Although he did not mention the name, he appeared to be targeting Future Forward leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, whose party is spearheading the ongoing campaign to amend the junta-drafted constitution.
At one point, he showed a picture of Thanathorn and Hong Kong activist Joshua Wong, albeit with Thanathorn blacked out for an unknown reason. Apirat said he suspects that the pair might be colluding in some ways.
“Wong came to Thailand several times,” the army chief. “I don’t know what they were discussing or conspiring about, but they seem to be supporting each other.”
He then lashed out at the opposition and painted them as a selfish group of opportunities who cannot be trusted.
“I ask who would you trust to solve national security problems,” Apirat said. “Do you want those politicians, academics, or businessmen born with a silver spoon in their mouths; who never face any hardships in their lives; who have Little Emperor Syndrome; the pretentious leftists to solve it?”
Apirat spoke in a news conference at the army headquarters styled like a lecture, complete with slideshows and an audience of soldiers, celebrity figures, and students – some of whom were visibly dozing off.
The event itself was titled “Our Homeland from a National Security Viewpoint.” According to a document released by the army, the lecture is part of its public relations operation.
“We want to raise awareness of the changing role of the army in national security dimension and instill patriotism and unity among the people,” the statement said.
In a move that struck some critics as an attempt to resurrect the ghosts of Red Scare from decades ago, Apirat also suggested the communist threat is not yet over, because there are some ex-communist guerrillas who transform themselves into scholars and try to stir up the youths.
With tears showing in his eyes, he recalled a memory of joining the military after witnessing his father, former army chief Gen. Sunthorn Kongsompon, wounded by Communist fighters.
“I want to be a soldier because I saw my dad shot by the communists while he was piloting a helicopter and protecting his nation,” Apirat said. “When the war was over, most of them turned themselves in, but some of them still have this ideology implanted in their heads.”
Though the event was billed as a lecture, no Q&A session was offered at the end.
Additional writing Teeranai Charuvastra