By Panarat Thepgumpanat
BANGKOK (Reuters) - Thailand's King Maha Vajiralongkorn has endorsed a new army chief from his own King's Guard faction in an annual reshuffle of defence personnel, the government said in a statement on Friday.
Armed forces reshuffles in Thailand are scrutinised carefully for signs of which military factions are in the ascendancy in a country where there have been 13 successful coups since the end of absolute royal rule in 1932.
According to the official Royal Gazette, General Narongpan Jittkaewtae, an assistant army chief, was appointed Army Chief, succeeding General Apirat Kongsompong, who becomes Deputy of the Lord Chamberlain, a prominent role in the royal household.
Narongpan, 57, was handpicked by Apirat from within the King's Guard faction.
A 2014 coup has strengthened the military's political clout, with junta leader Prayuth Chan-ocha remaining prime minister after an election last year, an outcome that critics say was made possible by amending the constitution. Prayuth insists the process was fair.
Narongpan takes the helm at a critical time for the military, with almost daily rallies since mid-July taking aim at its entrenched political influence, stirring memories of nearly a decade of on-off protests during which two coups took place.
The recent demonstrations have also seen some unprecedented, taboo-breaking calls for reform of the role of the monarchy, an institution that successive military commanders have sworn to protect.
A major anti-government protest is planned this weekend, which organisers expect could draw tens of thousands of people.
The new army chief is a private person not known for commenting on politics, or the ongoing anti-government protests, according to Thai defence reporters who spoke to Reuters.
Other important appointments from Oct. 1 include General Chalermpol Srisawasdi, chief of staff of the armed forces, who becomes supreme commander, Admiral Chatchai Srivorakhan, who was promoted to Navy Chief, and Air Chief Marshal Airbull Suttiwan, an air force specialist, who becomes Air Force Chief.
(Writing by Orathai Sriring; Editing by Martin Petty and Hugh Lawson)