Thai army chief summoned by parliament over controversial speech

Apirat Kongsompong delivering his speech Friday. Photo: @Patpichatan / Facebook
Apirat Kongsompong delivering his speech Friday. Photo: @Patpichatan / Facebook

Update Oct. 21: Army chief Apirat Kongsompong said in a Monday morning statement that he would not appear before parliament as requested and would instead send a subordinate, according to military reporter Wassana Nanuam. After the parliamentary committee sent a second request urging him to appear, he canceled his plans and appeared for a closed-door session.

When Thailand’s outspoken, ultraroyalist army chief Apirat Kongsompong opens his mouth, frustrated and angry reactions often follow. This time, after he delivered a politically charged “lecture” smearing the opposition, he may have crossed a line with more than his usual critics. 

Gen. Apirat, or “Big Dang” as he’s called in Thai-language media, has been summoned for questioning by a parliamentary national security committee following his controversial speech condemning “some Thai politicians” and “extreme leftist” academics for spreading propaganda and waging a “war” to destabilize society.

The committee yesterday issued a formal summons for the general to appear Monday to discuss his radical views expressed during an emotional, convention-shattering speech at the Royal Thai Army Headquarters. No specific topics it wants to discuss with Apirat were mentioned.   

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The committee reportedly wants to discuss topics Apirat raised in his 90-minute “our land through the lens of security” speech, which has been criticized for inappropriately injecting the military into political affairs with Cold War-era communist hysteria.

Apirat on Friday said a war was being waged by ill-intentioned politicians and communists to rile up the youth. He called out Hong Kong pro-democracy leader Joshua Wong’s youth-led movement as an example. His own underlying logic was deeply flawed. As many pointed out, Wong is fighting the very same Communist rule Apirat claimed poses an existential threat to Thailand. 

He went on to condemn the opposition for attempting to secretly destroy the monarchy, an institution the military has presented as under threat and in need of defense. He also said those unwilling “to pick up a weapon and defend your country” should not criticize the military.

Since he was elevated last year to command the army, a position from which many of Thailand’s coups have been launched, Apirat has seized attention with a number of controversial statements.

Earlier this year, just before the first election in five years, he issued a thinly veiled warning by saying the army would only back a government loyal to the king. A month before that, in February, he said a red-baiting anti-communist anthem from the 1970s would be played on army radio stations after a candidate suggested the defense budget should be reduced. His order was later revoked under pressure.


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