BANGKOK, June 1 (Bloomberg): Thailand will slash the number of army generals by 50% over the next four years, according to the nation’s defence ministry, amid a pledge by a coalition of pro-democracy parties that won the May election to end conscription and reduce military spending.
By 2027, the ministry will halve the number of army generals from about 1,200 now, and reduce the number of soldiers by 12,000, said Jittanat Punnotok, the ministry’s deputy spokesman. The moves can save nearly 3 billion baht ($86 million) in annual defense budget, he said.
The plan to shrink the army’s size has been progressively implemented from 2017 and the targets were firmed up by the Defense Council chaired by Prime Minister Prime Minister Prayut Chan-O-Cha this week, Jittanat said Wednesday.
The practice of mandatory enlisting and the size of the defense budget came into focus after the Move Forward Party that’s now leading a coalition to form the next government made them hot election issues.
"The army is undergoing a reform to modernize itself,” Jittanat told reporters. "The main objective is for the army to have efficiency and an appropriate structure, with sufficient personnel and armament, and more importantly, an agile size that’s in line with the country’s economic performance and budget.”
The revamp plans also include an end to recruitment for two units and downsizing of scouts in the conflict-ridden region of southern Thailand, Jittanat said.
The defense ministry slashed the number of high-ranking officers by 10% in the past year, saving more than 600 million baht, and has been decreasing the number of conscripted soldiers over the years, he said.
The May 14 election saw the defeat of military-backed and pro-establishment parties in a country that has seen at least a dozen successful coups since 1932, when a revolution ended centuries of absolute monarchy. Prayut, who led a coup in 2014, has ruled Thailand for nine years.
Pita Limjaroenrat, the leader of the progressive Move Forward Party that won the most seats in the May 14 election, is the sole prime ministerial nominee of an eight-party coalition that has 312 lawmakers in the 500-member House of Representatives. He is still short of the support of 376 lawmakers needed to become prime minister in a joint voting of the the lower and the Senate that’s stacked with allies of the military establishment.
On Thursday, Move Forward said it welcomed the defense council’s reform plan and called for more transparency in terms of steps to be taken and progress made. The party had pledged to cut the number of generals to 400.
"It’s a good sign that the army means to meet the proposals of the Move Forward-led government,” said Phicharn Chaowapatanawong, a Move Forward deputy leader. "We’re ready to work with all parties to reinstate the honor and the people’s trust in the army.”
Prayut’s cabinet has proposed raising the defence ministry’s budget to 198.6 billion baht in the fiscal year starting Oct. 1, from 194.5 billion baht this year. - Bloomberg