BANGKOK — The army on Wednesday retreated from its proposal to buy 50 infantry carrier vehicles from the United States following a huge backlash on social media, army sources said.
According to the source, Gen. Apirat Kongsompong postponed the 4.5-billion baht deal to 2021 fiscal year. The decision was made less than 24 hours after procurement documents for another batch of M-1126 Strykers amid the coronavirus pandemic were leaked to the media on Tuesday, prompting much fury online.
The sources said the procurement cannot be cancelled because it is part of an ongoing sales contract with the U.S., which reportedly promised 30 more vehicles for free.
The army also agreed to divert 30 percent of its budget to help fund the government’s epidemic relief efforts, the sources said, though army top brass have yet to comment on the matter. Army spokesman Winthai Suvaree could not be reached as of publication time.
The proposal was Thailand’s second bid to purchase the Strykers. The army first introduced the plan to buy Strykers last May. The plan called for the purchase of 37 vehicles for the 11th Infantry Division for 80 million baht each, or 2.96 billion baht in total.
The deal, which also came with 23 free Strykers, was later approved by the U.S. Congress and the first batch was delivered to Thailand in August. Gen. Apirat said up to 100 vehicles may be acquired to establish an armored fighting vehicle regiment.
However, the latest bid sparked a torrent of outrage on social media. Many took offense at the army’s attempt to buy more weapons even as the government said it’s having a hard time securing funds for its relief programs for those affected by the pandemic.
The hashtag #ArmoredMyAss dominated Thai Twitter this morning, flooded with complaints over the government’s superfluous spending on arms rather than alleviating hardships of the people during the epidemic.
“While many Thais are starving to death or turning suicidal because they are broke, Thai government uses 4.5 billion baht to buy military equipment, telling us there is no money to fight the COVID-19 crisis and asking for help and money from Thai people,” user @emilyn_quinzel tweeted.
“People eat rice, not metal scraps like you guys,” another user @stone_nayouung tweeted. “When you’re young, didn’t your parents buy toys for you?”