By Surasak Tumcharoen
BANGKOK, July 4 (Xinhua) -- The assumption by Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra of the defense portfolio is good for Thailand since this would strengthen the relationship between the elected government and the military, according to a respected academic.
Chulalongkorn University's political scientist Surachart Bamrungsuk said that as defense minister and concurrent chair of the Defense Council, Yingluck could keep the military attuned to the policies of the ruling Pheu Thai (For Thais) Party, especially on issues ranging from national defense schemes to arms procurement programs and chronic unrests in the country's Deep South, given her being a "soft-spoken and amiable" woman politician.
Yingluck, Thailand's first female prime minister after her party won a decisive victory in the 2011 nationwide polls, has achieved another distinction, as the country's first female defense minister as a result of her latest cabinet shake-up. She is the fourth civilian to assume the post of defense chief, which has been traditionally held by male civilians.
"Yingluck could become a bridge that would link the government with the military and reduce any possible misgivings or tension between the two sides. Her working relationship with the military commanders has remained in the best of terms, given her congeniality and openness to suggestions,'' Surachart said.
The lady premier, who earlier said she decided to assume the defense post because she intended to "learn and understand" the roles of the military and take a direct responsibility for ways and means to resolve the problems in the Deep South of the country, will encounter "challenges" in bid to make the military a democracy-loving, good-governance-run agency, Surachat said.
Nevertheless, in spite of her dual role as premier and defense minister, Yingluck could not possibly stop military leaders from attempting a coup d' etat, according to Surachart.
"Given a woman as head of government and defense minister do not necessarily mean that possibilities of attempted coups could be ruled out entirely," he said.
Previous coups in Thailand that toppled elected governments at the times happened when retired generals were assuming the post of defense minister, he said.
Surachat said that Yingluck is not expected to make major changes in the list of commander-level transfers, speculated to happen between August and September, even if she is defense minister and head of the Defense Council which convenes monthly and is responsible for the annual military reshuffle. "Civilian governments had rarely meddled with a top-level military transfer since past decades. And it would be very unlikely for Yingluck to tamper with it only to ruin the good ties between the government and the military," the academic said.
Army chief Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha, whose working relationship with Yingluck has appeared smooth and cordial so far recently said he would have no problem working under a female defense minister. However, the army chief, scheduled to retire next year, said that the annual military reshuffle could not be whimsically altered by anyone as long as it is endorsed by the Defense Act.
Besides, he said, military transfers were always made in " pecking-order, justice-based" fashion. He said he believed the lady premier will not interfere with any military affairs, particularly those that involve the transfer of commander-level officers.
Gen. Prayuth made his comments to apparently dampen speculation that he might be transferred to either the post of supreme commander to replace Gen. Thanasak Patimaprakorn or to the post of undersecretary of defense to replace Gen, Thanongsak Apirakyothin, who is scheduled to retire later this year.