Thai Opposition Party Rejects Army Chief’s Warning about Fake News

Nontarat Phaicharoen
190812-TH-army-chief-1000.jpg Thailand's Royal Army Chief Gen. Apirat Kongsompong speaks during an interview with Reuters news agency in Bangkok, Aug, 9, 2019.

A Thai opposition leader said Monday that the army should stay out of politics as he hit back against its chief for accusing new political parties of using “fake news” to incite youths against the monarchy and military.

Piyabutr Saengkanokkul, secretary-general of the Future Forward Party (FFP), rejected comments from Gen. Apirat Kongsompong, who said in an interview Friday that the nation’s security forces had to fend off “cyber warfare” waged by enemies of the government.

“We don’t promote fake news, but it is us who are victims of fake news,” Piyabutr told a news conference. “The Thai people will finally see and can judge which is true, false or fake news.”

Emphasizing that his party “never looked at the army as an enemy,” Piyabutr said the military should not worry about how the younger generation thinks.

“[We] only want the army to be reformed, stay under elected civilian government, as a professional modern army … not get involved in politics,” he said, alluding to the military’s long shadow on the country’s politics and its history of seizing power through coups.

Apirat made the comments in an interview with Reuters a week after a series of small bombs exploded in different parts of Bangkok on Aug. 2, as top diplomats from more than 30 countries gathered for a regional security meeting hosted by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

Officials had earlier described the blasts as an attempt to disrupt the ASEAN Regional Forum.

“The threat now is fake news,” Apirat said. “It’s like cyber warfare. And when it combines with the [bombing] incident that happened last week ... it’s like hybrid warfare.”

Apirat declined to name which group was behind the bomb attacks. But he referred to “some political parties” that he said were “just born a couple of years ago” and which had “the platform of their propaganda directed to [people] when they were 16 and 17 [years old].”

It was not immediately clear if Apirat was referring to the Future Forward Party, whose leader is Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, a 40-year-old former business tycoon popular with millennial voters.

But Apirat’s remarks indicated that the army and the government “intend to be a controller of, rather than a servant of, the people,” said Titipol Phakdeewanich, dean of the political science faculty at Ubon Ratchathani University.

“The government and the army are not ready to be questioned,” Titipol told BenarNews. “The government doesn’t promote democracy and tries to eclipse people’s thoughts with the authoritarian power.”

FFP, which campaigned with a promise to end junta rule, won 80 seats in parliament in the March election, surprising everyone by taking the third-largest number of representatives overall, despite the junta’s efforts to push the outcome in favor of pro-military candidates.

A day before parliament was set to reopen in May, Thailand’s constitutional court suspended Thanathorn’s status as a member of the legislative body, after he was accused of breaking an electoral law by holding shares in a media company when he registered to run in the March 24 general election.

Thanathorn rejected the allegations and said he had divested his interests at V-Luck Media, transferring his stocks to his mother in January.

Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha, meanwhile, has faced criticism for allegedly failing to properly take his oath of office during the inauguration of his Cabinet on July 16.

Piyabutr, the FFP secretary-general, pointed out during a parliamentary session on July 25 that Prayuth had failed to recite the oath in full when he omitted a phrase in the oath of office, in which he was supposed to pledge to uphold every aspect of the constitution.

The 65-year-old Prayuth, a former army general, led a military coup that toppled the elected government of Yingluck Shinawatra in 2014.

Prayuth then installed himself as prime minister and head of the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), the official name for the junta, which introduced elections laws that critics said were engineered to ensure his return as prime minister.


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