Nearly 40,000 people have signed an online petition to remove the controversial army chief in the 24 hours since it was launched.
The petition demanding the ouster of Gen. Apirat Kongsompong was posted not long after a Tuesday news conference in which he slammed “leftist” politicians and basically anyone who has studied overseas for stoking civil war with their “pretentious” ideas about democracy.
“I cannot let Thai citizens settle their differences on the streets anymore,” 59-year-old Apirat said.
He also dropped a Muay Thai metaphor to address frustrations with the Election Commission’s handling of the March 24 election, which was frothing before the poll and has been seething since. An impeachment drive began this week.
“You can’t blame the referee for losing,” he added.
Apirat’s comments were widely seen as further assault on the leader of a progressive political party that did well at the ballot box and has since been slapped with a piling-on of legal threats. Just yesterday, Future Forward Party leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit was charged with sedition for allegedly furnishing a vehicle to help several protesters flee an anti-junta rally four years ago.
Thanathorn is especially popular online, where #SaveThanathorn has trended strong as Apirat’s stock falls to new lows.
In Apirat’s Tuesday comments, he implied the army would do whatever was necessary to avoid the mass street demonstrations that Thailand saw prior to seizing power in 2014.
Much of netizen’s fury seemed focused on his criticism of “students and scholars who have studied abroad.” Democracy is not a one-size-fits-all system, he said.
“Don’t bring left-wing ideas you learned abroad and act pretentious,” Apirat said, saying it was a plot to undermine the monarchy.
“This is Siam. This is the Land of Smiles…. This is Thailand’s version of democracy.”
The consensus online was not one of agreement.
“Let’s help uncle take a break. He’s been working for so long be must be tired. I’m also really concerned about uncle’s friends, should we add more names to the petition? I think a lot of them could take a long break, so some of you will finally have time to return that watch,” @Jts2034 tweeted, referring to a scandal last year involving a top junta officials’ taste for multi-million-baht watches.
Clarification: This story has been updated to clarify the specifics of the sedition charge against Future Forward’s Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit.