Thai army chief dismisses coup talk ahead of election

Thai Army chief Apirat Kongsompong (R) dismissed talk of a coup in Thailand, and said he was ‘very close’ to Prime Minister Prayut Chan-O-Cha (L). (AFP pic)

BANGKOK: Thailand’s powerful army chief on Friday dismissed rumours of a coup ahead of next month’s scheduled national elections, insisting he was “very close” to junta leader Prayut Chan-o-Cha.

Speculation over a fresh military takeover coursed through Thailand this month after the failed prime ministerial candidacy of Princess Ubolratana.

She was disqualified by the country’s election commission after a stern rebuke from her brother, King Vajiralongkorn, raising concerns of fresh political instability in a country that has seen a dozen successful military coups since 1932.

But Apirat Kongsompong, who was appointed by the king to head the army last October, waved away suggestions of a fresh putsch ahead of long-delayed polls.

“A coup is not going to happen now in Thailand,” he told AFP. “There will be elections on March 24.”

Apirat said he was “very close” with Prayut and the general now had to “follow his own path leading our country back to democracy”.

He vowed that the army would “step back” for the election.

Princess Ubolratana had sought the candidacy of Thai Raksa Chart party, a political party linked to ousted prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

Prayut — himself a former army chief, who is contesting next month’s election as the lead candidate of a military-aligned party — took power in 2014 after the army toppled the administration of Yingluck Shinawatra, the sister of the former premier.

The Constitutional Court is mulling whether to dissolve the Thai Raksa Chart party after the palace rejected Ubolratana’s candidacy as “highly inappropriate”.

Thailand has some of the harshest lese majeste laws in the world and the king’s orders are considered final.