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Soldiers banned from canvassing

                                        November 2, 1998 

                  MILITARY REFORM

 Soldiers banned
 from canvassing

 Surayud moves to get army out of politics

 Post reporters

 Soldiers will no longer be allowed to act as canvassers for political
 parties at the next general election and if any are found doing so they
 and their unit commanders will be held responsible, Army
 Commander-in-Chief Surayud Chulanont said in an exclusive interview
 with the Bangkok Post.

 Gen Surayud said that this was part of his policy to disengage the
 army, once the dominant political force, from Thai politics and forge a
 truly professional military force.

 He admitted there are a lot of soldiers of all ranks who act as
 canvassers or use their influence and power to ensure a favourable
 election outcome for political parties, especially in the Northeast where
 he had commanded the Second Army Region.

 "I know who these officers are and which parties they canvass for.
 They are of all ranks - generals, colonels, lieutenant-colonels, majors,
 lieutenants and even sergeants. They will be called in for a talk. Their
 unit commanders will be told to take care of the matter, and if they
 can't the unit commanders will be held responsible," he said.

 He added: "I don't want soldiers to act as canvassers or to use force
 to threaten anyone. I have ordered all army region commanders to
 watch over their subordinates. If they can't enforce it they will have to
 take responsibility."

 During the last general election the Democrat Party had complained
 that senior military officers were using their power to threaten
 Democrat canvassers to switch their allegiance to the New Aspiration
 Party of former army chief Chavalit Yongchaiyudh.

 Gen Surayud said that he has no interest in running for office and will
 not enter politics after retirement. However, this does not mean that
 soldiers should take no interest in politics.

 "Soldiers must support the democratic system of government. They
 have to cast their ballots and take part in politics. The military will
 allow all political parties to campaign in military areas. But soldiers
 cannot get involved in politics, they cannot become canvassers," he

 He said that he did not resign from the Senate to make the point that
 he will not get involved in politics, but because he needed to put all his
 efforts into running the army and could no longer spare time to attend
 senate meetings.

 The new army chief said that his main concern is to streamline the
 army, restructure manpower, cut military spending in this time of
 economic crisis, cease arms purchases and in the long run try to
 produce its own armaments.

 "We admit that we have too much personnel, especially generals. We
 have to lay out a new manpower structure in the form of a pyramid.
 There should be fewer people at the top administrative level and a
 proportionate base of manpower. However, it will take time, about 10
 years, and we will be able to cut our forces by 25%," he said.

 He joked: "We can't just sack a whole lot of people, otherwise my
 subordinates will shoot me!"

 On the contentious issue of the restructuring of the command line of
 the three armed forces, Gen Surayud said that personally he wanted
 the defence minister to issue orders through the National Security
 Council in which all the commanders are represented.

 "That way when the defence minister issues an order, each of us can
 just go ahead and carry it out. At present the minister has to give his
 orders one at a time, wasting half an hour on each of us," he said. But
 he stressed that he has not put forward this idea to anyone yet.

 On the alleged irregularities in the renewing of the contract of army
 television Channel 7 which has been extended another 25 years though
 there is still eight years left in the old contract, Gen Surayud admitted
 that this may be illegal and could breach the new constitution which
 stated that an independent agency will have to be created to run state
 media and ensure transparency.

 However, a law will have to be legislated to put this into effect and the
 army is ready to amend the new contract so that it is in keeping with
 the charter and other relevant new laws.

 Gen Surayud said that he has asked his predecessor Gen Chettha
 Thanajaro about the extension and was told that this was done to
 enable Channel 7 to enter the stock market where there is a regulation
 that requires the concession for the station to remain effective for at
 least 20 years.

 The running of all army radio and television stations will be made
 transparent and accountable and both internal and external checks will
 be made. However, the army still wants to keep some radio stations
 as well as TV Channel 5 for security reasons.

 "The army needs its own media in time of emergency and we have to
 think about psychological and security work, especially Channel 5,
 where we have a global network linking the rest of the country and the
 whole world," he said.

 Gen Surayud, who was not even a contender for the army chief post
 initially, said that he was very surprised by the appointment which he
 only knew of a few days before it was announced.

 "I expected to become only army chief-of-staff and that would have
 made me quite happy," he said.

 He said that Gen Sampao Chusri, assistant army chief, who was a
 strong contender and a former classmate at Chulachomklao Royal
 Military Academy, has no problems with him.

 "I and Gen Sampao are friends. There may have been news of conflict
 between us since people were cheering each of us on but when the
 royal appointment came everything ended there. We can work
 together, no problems," he said.

 Asked about the possibility that a new government may elect to
 change the army chief, Gen Surayud replied: "I will do my duty. I am
 not attached to the post. The new defence minister will be my new
 commander and he can put me anywhere. Whether I stay or how long
 I stay would be up to him."



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