THE NEW Army chief will find it difficult to justify any more coups after scholars, politicians and activists loudly rejected his statement that the military might take control again if political upheavals re-emerge.
Army chief General Apirat Kongsompong’s reluctance to safeguard democracy prompted anti-junta sentiment among political activists who were united in insisting that coups were unjustifiable.
Political scientist Piyaphob Mahamad yesterday pointed out that the use of military force is never a sustainable solution in politics.
“Political turmoil is a classic reason the military uses to back its intervention,” he said. “But there’s no way of justifying it. A coup will only destroy democracy in the long run. The best way to deal with political conflict is to simply respect the rules and laws as well as election results.”
Piyaphob said the military should learn from past experiences, such as the popular uprising that erupted in May 1992 as the result of a coup.
Many other politicians and political activists voiced similar opinions, and questioned whether the street rallies and clashes that led to the last coup had been spontaneous or engineered specifically to pave the way for a military takeover.
Pheu Thai politician Watana Muangsook said the military had tried to legitimise its unlawful action, but in reality it only staged a coup to protect its own interests.
“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  coup,” he said.
Red-shirt leader Nattawut Saikua said political unrest should never be used to justify a coup, adding that he also believed street rallies had been designed especially to prompt military intervention.
But when it came to the red-shirt protest, what followed was a massacre not a coup, Nattawut said sarcastically.
Other politicians, including Pheu Thai’s Chaturon Chaisaeng and Democrat Nipit Intrasombat, said the new Army chief’s statement may have stemmed from his lack of knowledge about politics.
Chaturon, however, said Apirat’s statement may have damaged Thailand’s credibility and affected its reputation internationally. It may have also adversely affected trade and investment, he added.
Meanwhile, Nipit said Apirat should take lessons from his predecessor when it comes to holding this powerful position and understand that political disagreement can never be a reason to stage a coup. He added that everybody, including the Army, should do their duty.
Thailand is one of the few countries being ruled by a military-led government. Since the Siamese Revolution brought democracy to the country some 86 years ago, the military has staged 18 successful coups.
Despite strong opposition to the frequent disruption of democracy, the new Army chief insisted on taking a pro-coup stance in his first press conference on Wednesday. He did so with elections set to take place in a few months – four years after a coup-installed government prepares to step down.
However, Deputy Prime Minister General Prawit Wongsuwan, a member of the ruling National Council for Peace and Order, defended Apirat yesterday, saying he was only stating a common truth.
Later he admitted that a coup should not take place in future and that Apirat’s statement should not affect the upcoming election.