Bangkok, Sep 29 (efe-epa).- Thailand’s new army chief vowed on Tuesday to defend the country’s monarchy amid growing protests calling for democratic reforms.
General Narongpan Jittkaewtae promised to take a hard line against demonstrations demanding a reduction in the monarchy’s power, subjecting it to greater constitutional controls and abolishing the country’s strict lese majeste laws.
“I am ready to lead the army and ensure unity and cooperation and continue and strengthen the role of the army as the guarantor of the nation and the throne,” the 57-year-old said at a transfer of power ceremony at the army headquarters in Bangkok.
Narongpan, who will officially take office on Thursday, said he will continue the policy and style of his predecessor General Apirat Kongsompong, who was ultra monarchical and a harsh critic of those opposing it.
Apirat will go on to serve in the royal household and both he and Narongpan are part of the King’s Guard faction of the army, which includes key military units in Bangkok and Lopburi with a strong loyalty to Thailand’s King Maha Vajiralongkorn.
Previously Narongpan was also part of another elite faction of the army, the Queen’s Guard, which includes battalions in several provinces in the east of the country.
Thailand has experienced 13 military coups since the end of its absolute monarchy in 1932 with the most recent ones in 2006 and 2014 and the head of the army exerts a considerable influence in the country’s political sphere.
The military reshuffle came amid student-led protests calling for democratic reforms in the country to reduce the influence of the military and the monarchy.
There have been almost daily demonstrations since July, mainly organized on social media, including one two weeks ago which drew 10,000s of activists.
Initially, protesters were calling for constitutional reforms and the dissolution of parliament but later they added demands to reform the monarchy and reduce its influence in politics.