BANGKOK, Thailand Thailand will be going to the polls February next year as promised by the government, but the mood leading up to the eagerly anticipated election was somewhat soured by a remark made by the newly appointed Army chief Gen Apirat Kongsompong.
His statement last week refusing to rule out any future coup by the military to silence political turmoil had drawn scathing rebuttal from politicians, who were clearly alarmed by his stance as the election after more than four years of military rule drew closer.
"If politics does not create riots, nothing (coup) will happen," said the Army chief when asked by reporters during his first meet-the-media session since assuming the powerful post early this month from his predecessor, Gen Chalermchai Sittisart.
His frank comments on future coup had clearly spooked anti-military activists and politicians in the country, who placed great hope for Thailand's return to democratic path with the scheduled general election early next year.
Apirat who had been described by the local media as among Prime Minister Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha's most trusted lieutenant, came from a military family background with his father, the late Gen Suntorn Kongsompong being the country's former army chief.
In1991, his late father led the military in a coup to depose Prime Minister Chatichai Choonhavan's government, which sparked worries among politicians whether he would take the same road as his late father when confronted with political upheavals.
The local media also alleged that Apirat played a major role during the 2014 coup while he was the commander of the First Division King's Guard, a vital army unit based in Bangkok.
Outspoken Pheu Thai politician Wattana Muangsook lambasted Apirat's strong statement, saying that the general was placing himself above the law and his stance on military coup had damaged the country's investment and trade climate.
"The Army Chief's statement only undermines the atmosphere for trade and investment. This makes it worse for the economy that is already in recession, which actually also resulted from the 2014 coup," he said in an online posting and picked up by the media.
Meanwhile, Red Shirt leader Nattawut Saikua said political unrest should never be used as a pretext for a coup by the military as he went further by accusing that street rallies had been designed specifically to prompt intervention by the military.
Chaturon Chaiseng, another politician from Pheu Thai party said Apirat's statement could have affected Thailand's credibility and damaged its reputation internationally.
Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister Gen Prawit Wongsuwan had come out in defence of Apirat by saying that his controversial stand would not disrupt the move towards the election slated for Feb 24 next year.
Apirat according to him, did not make any political threat.
Meanwhile the country's Chief of Defence Forces Gen Pornpipat Benyasri also defended the statement made by his Army chief by saying that military coup would only be considered as the final option to deal with political instability.
Thailand has been under military rule since May 2014 after soldiers led by then Army Chief Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha deposed Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra's civilian administration following weeks of street protests by rival politicians.
After the coup, Prayut as head of National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) became the Prime Minister.
Thailand is a not a stranger to military coup, as according to media report, the military had staged 18 successful coups since the Siamese Revolution in 1932 which brought democracy to the country.
Source: NAM News Network