Thailand's army chief has transferred most of the middle-ranking officers under generals deemed loyal to Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra in what observers described Thursday as a "counter punch" to the embattled premier.
Army Commander-in-Chief General Sonthi Boonyaatglin has signed an order transferring 129 middle-ranking officers, nearly half of whom had been under the command of a clique of generals known to be close to the prime minister, the army's Web site has revealed.
The order, which has caught many by surprise as such transfers usually occur after the top-level military reshuffle on Oct. 1, was seen by political observers as intended to send a message to Thaksin not to interfere in the military's affairs.
"I see it as a counter punch," said Thitinan Pongsudhivak, a political science professor at Chulalongkorn University. "This a message to Thaksin that they [the military] have some muscle that they can flex too."
"And second it's an outflanking maneuver to try to remove some to the key commanders on Thaksin's side who could be in place to stage a coup," Thitinan added.
Battalion leaders, especially those stationed in Bangkok, have played crucial roles in many of the past 19 military coups d'etat or coup attempts in Thailand over the past seven decades.
Former Thai prime minister, General Prem Tinsulanonda, in a speech delivered last week at a military academy, likened the military to a horse and the government to a jockey, explaining that governments come and go but the military's true loyalty must always be to the nation and the king.
Prem's remarks were made amid rumors that Thaksin was planning to interfere in the annual military reshuffle of top generals, replacing Army Commander-in Chief Sonthi, deemed a Prem loyalist, by his deputy General Pornchai Kranlert, deemed a Thaksin loyalist.
Thaksin yesterday declined to comment on the mid-level military reshuffle, saying it was an internal affair of the military and the responsibility of the army chief.
"The government is only responsible for the reshuffle of top generals, because the list needs to be submitted to the king for approval," Thaksin told reporters.