What did he say?!
“Soldiers [i.e. the military] cannot be under the control of a civilian government that has been elected by the people because we are soldiers of the King [of Thailand].” This quote was attributed to General Apirach Kojsompong during a special presentation entitled “Our Lucky Country during an Era of Security.”
What we are missing is a date for this comment, his audience (and therefore the context for his argument), and his duties at the time.
Taken at face value, however, the implications are that the General is rejecting any line of authority for the military that derives from an elected government rather than the hereditary monarch. No matter what the Thai Constitution says, the three branches of tahan (Army, Navy, Air Force, and probably the Police, which is also “military” in Thailand but tamruat rather than tahan) will not take orders from Parliament or …. Or even the Ministry of Defense? That would render the action of 1932 meaningless when a revolution led by the military replaced the Absolute Monarchy with a Constitutional Monarchy. It would limit the authority of the courts and the government, it would set the military over-against the people, and make the palace and military accountable to no one.
The General’s comments, however, were abbreviated in the meme that appeared a couple of days ago. It is agreed, in fact, that “according to the constitution, the king is head of the armed forces.” [source: Wikipedia, “Government of Thailand”] The model for this is the Westminster [UK] system. In that system the monarch is the titular head of everything, the authority to run the government rests with elected representatives with an advisory upper house of government and with the Prime Minister and cabinet ministers carrying out the government’s policy decisions.
The late King Bumibol Adulyadej repeatedly asserted that the monarch is “under the law” and “reigns at the will of the people.” His son, the present King, has succeeded in reasserting several royal controls. It appears that General Apirach takes the position that things have changed.
There are lots of possible ways to interpret the General’s statement. What is most obvious is that the General is saying that the military is a force for stability that helps offset the instability that comes to Thailand every time the armed forces back off from being in control.
Historically and presently, no matter what the General intended, the military has clung to power not only to defend the country but also to run the country. No matter who manages to slide into public view as the face of the government, the military is never far away. At this time Thailand has no foreign threats. Even the Islamic ongoing “insurrection” in the three southern provinces is a domestic matter. There is no need for a large standing army equipped with the most advanced and expensive airplanes and submarines. The armed forces are on hand to protect the elite from the people. But these purchases must serve another purpose. Protecting that unmentionable purpose is what the military is concerned about.
Rev. Dr. Kenneth Dobson posts his weekly reflections on this blog.