BANGKOK: They may have successfully seized power twelve times in the last eight decades but Thailand’s army chief has said military coups are officially a thing of the past.
The comments caused much merriment on social media given the military’s long track record of toppling elected governments — the latest a 2014 putsch that brought the current junta to power.
The military have promised to hold elections once a new constitution is in place, although the date for polls keeps slipping.
In an interview with Thai media outlets published on Monday, General Chalermchai Sitthisat was asked whether the military would intervene if civilian politicians disliked by the army brass were voted back in.
“I can confirm that there won’t be a coup. What would be a reason for having to have the coup? There won’t be a coup. We have already learned from what happened (in the past),” he said.
The remarks were soon seized upon in Thai social media, one of the few sites where dissent still flourishes given the junta’s ban on political gatherings and protests.
“If the army says something like that it means they will do the opposite for sure,” joked Eakapong Leesinla on Facebook.
“Why ask such a question,” added Pim Pongchandr on Facebook. “We all know what he was going to answer, who would say yes?”
Chalermchai, a former head of Thailand’s special forces, was appointed by coup leader and current Prime Minister Prayut Chan-O-Cha in September.
In 2014, then army chief Prayut famously declared there would be no coup days before his military toppled the administration of Yingluck Shinawatra.
His predecessors removed her brother Thaksin in 2006 and have a raft of previous successful putsches to their name including three takeovers each in both the 1950s and 1970s.
Prayut says he was forced to seize power to curb political corruption and bring much-needed stability to the country after a decade of political turmoil between Shinawatra supporters and their opponents.
But critics say the putsch was an attempt by the military and its allies within Bangkok’s elite to ensure the Shinawatras, who are seen as champions of the downtrodden by large swathes of the rural and urban poor, are never in power again.