BANGKOK — Conscription is still necessary for national security, a defense ministry spokesman said Friday in response to the opposition’s plan to submit a bill that would scrap mandatory military service.
Maj. Gen. Kongcheep Tantravanich said the armed forces will review the draft law for its effects on the current manpower and budget, but he also warned that downsizing the force means the military will have to acquire more weapons and technology.
“The bill affects many laws and regulations, so we have to review it first,” Kongcheep said. “It’s too early to say whether the bill will benefit the armed forces, but the system we are using is already effective.”
The draft bill was proposed by the Future Forward Party, whose key election pledges include abolishing conscription.
The current law on military conscription requires Thai men over the age of 21 to report for conscription lottery, which takes place annually in April. However, people who received military training in high school, those with medical conditions, transgenders who can produce medical certificates, and priests are exempted from the draft.
Under the proposal, the mandatory military service will be replaced by recruiting volunteers. A deputy party leader said the new system would improve the force by introducing highly-trained professional soldiers willing to serve.
“The century-old conscription should be changed,” Lt. Gen. Pongsakorn Rodchomphu, a former army officer, said at a news conference.
The minimum age for recruits will be lowered from the current age of 21 for draftees to 18, while the length of service will be extended from two years to a minimum of five years, according to Pongsakorn.
He said volunteers will also have the opportunity to enlist and seek promotion to lieutenant colonel until they would retire at the age of 46.
But Kongcheep the defense spokesman said extending the length of service to five years will become a major strain on the military’s budget, since the bill also requires the armed forces to pay salaries and grant scholarships to the recruits once they left the service.
“We always welcome what is good for our force,” Maj. Gen. Kongcheep said. “We already have plans in place to trim our armies, but if we cut down the number of men, we will have to invest more on weapons, which in turn get us more criticisms.”
He added that Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, who also serves as the defense ministry, is open to proposals.
Kongcheep also said the ministry has not been consulted in the drafting of the bill. He encouraged the party to discuss the matter in the parliament rather than to the media, which he said it may end up confusing the public.