By Saksith Saiyasombut
On Thursday, the Commander-in-Chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha broke his silence since the elections on July 3 (but also broke his promise not to comment on anything until a new government has formed, as earlier reported here) and announced his wish for one certain, important cabinet post:
Prayuth said the search for the new defence minister was not a topic for public discussion, hinting about closed-door talks between the military and the incoming government.
The new minister should be known for high ethical standards and be held in high esteem by the armed forces, he said, arguing that the office holder should be in a position to bring about an amicable atmosphere between the military and the government.
“I think it is too soon to comment on who would be fit for the job but I prefer a military officer because he could understand the feelings of fellow soldiers,” he said.
“Prayuth prefers military officer for defence minister“, The Nation, July 14, 2011
And almost as if this was planned deliberately, a recent Suan Dusit survey has revealed this:
Suan Dusit Poll reported that 70.96 per cent of the respondents said the next defence minister should be a senior military officer because he understands well about discipline of military, has years of experiences and is respected by soldiers. A total of 27.83 per cent of them said the new defense chief should be a capable person acceptable to soldiers.
Some 23.82 per cent of the respondents expected the next defence minister to be a good person who protects the military’s dignity and wants to create a good image of the armed forces and to protect the country’s sovereignty, according to Suan Dusit Poll.
“Poll: Defence Minister should be soldier“, Bangkok Post, July 16
These results are both astonishing, but yet unsurprising. It shows how deep the military is entrenched in Thai society and how present they still are in everyday life. Nevertheless, ever since the re-politicization thanks to the 2006 coup, the armed forces are reclaiming it’s space, not only evident in the rising military budget. Having another military officer (with the outgoing General Prawit Wongsuwan) further solidifies the state within a state. In normal democracies, the armed forces are under civilian control – but this is Thailand…!
There have been suggestions that designated prime minister, Yingluck Shinawatra, might take over the position of defense minister as well, something that past prime minister have done, most notably Chuan Leekpai and the late Samak Sundaravej. But she quickly came out to deny these rumors. With the new government still taking shape, the position of the defense minister is one to watch out for and see if the next few years will be stable or not.