BANGKOK — The most influential branch of the armed forces is set to be passed on to a new commander on Thursday, when Gen. Narongpan “Big Bee” Jitkaewthae succeeds Gen. Apirat Kongsompong as the Commander-in-Chief of the Royal Thai Army.
Gen. Narongpan has been staying mostly out of the media spotlight until now. Official records say he’s a veteran who commanded an army contingent fighting the separatists in the Deep South and a member of His Majesty the King’s Rachawallop Royal Guard 904 corps.
What’s more, the 57-year-old is regarded as a member of both major factions in the army, the Wongthewan and Burapha Phayak (Eastern Tigers) – making him a rare breed in the force.
“All good!” Gen. Narongpan said, with a thumb up, to reporters after attending a command handover ceremony. It was the only remark he made to the media.
Narongphan also said last week that he will not give out interviews related to politics. In a public speech made to the army officers, the general pledged to protect the monarchy institution and promote unity among the public.
Army spokesman Col. Winthai Suvaree on Tuesday refused to comment about his new commander. He said army-beat reporters can better describe the new army chief.
One such reporter, who asked not to be named, said of Gen. Narongphan: “He’s a quiet man and not on the news often.”
“As he said earlier, he won’t comment about politics as army chief,” the reporter went on. “In a way he was a dark horse and not many thought he would be promoted to the top post.”
Another journalist covering the army who also asked not to be identified said: “He is a royalist soldier and discreet. His career path is similar to that of Apirat’s.”
Gen. Narongphan is a graduate of class 33 of the elite Chulachomklao Royal Military Academy as well as Class 22 of Armed Forces Academy Preparatory School.
He served as a deputy commander of the special task force in the southern border province of Yala alongside Apirat between 2014 to 2015, fighting armed militants who attempted to secede the region.
After the May 2014 coup, Narongphan was appointed a member to the junta rubber stamp parliament, the National Legislative Assembly.
He was made commander of the First Army Division in Oct 2018 and granted a special rank as a royal guard by King Vajiralongkorn in Nov 2018.