Prem Tinsulanonda

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Prem Tinsulanonda
เปรม ติณสูลานนท์
Prem Tinsulanonda (Cropped).jpg
President of the Privy Council of Thailand
Assumed office
September 4, 1998
Monarch Bhumibol Adulyadej
Preceded by Sanya Dharmasakti
16th Prime Minister of Thailand
In office
March 3, 1980 – August 4, 1988
Monarch Bhumibol Adulyadej
Preceded by Kriangsak Chomanan
Succeeded by Chatichai Choonhavan
Thai Minister of Defence
In office
May 24, 1979 – August 5, 1986
Prime Minister Kriangsak Chomanan; himself
Preceded by Kriangsak Chomanan
Succeeded by Phaniang Kantrat
Personal details
Born (1920-08-26) August 26, 1920 (age 95)
Songkhla, Songkhla, Siam
Nationality Thai
Political party non-partisan (Military)
Alma mater Royal Thai Army Academy;
United States Army Armor School, Fort Knox
Religion Theravada Buddhism
Military service
Service/branch Royal Thai Army
Years of service 1941–86
Rank Thai army O9.png General (Phon Ek)
Commands Commander-in-Chief (1978-81)
Battles/wars Franco-Thai War
World War II
Communist insurgency campaigns

General Prem Tinsulanonda (Thai: เปรม ติณสูลานนท์; rtgsPrem Tinnasulanon; IPA[prēːm tīn.ná.sǔː.lāː.nōn]; born August 26, 1920) is a retired Thai military officer who served as Prime Minister of Thailand from March 3, 1980 to August 4, 1988. He now serves as the Head of the Privy Council of the King of Thailand, Bhumibol Adulyadej.

In the Thai political crisis of the 2000s, he was accused by deposed prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra and his supporters of being a mastermind of the 2006 coup[1] as well as in the appointment of the post-coup legislature and Interim Government of Surayud Chulanont.[2] The military junta that ousted the legally occupying Thaksin denied that Prem had any important political role.[3]

Prem, as the Chief of the Privy Council, is a leader in promoting King Bhumibol's ideologies and royal projects though he has sometimes represented himself as being the voice of the king. He has always urged Thai society to follow the king's advice and has himself founded several welfare projects related to education, drug suppression, poverty, and national unity. A southerner, Prem has also dealt personally with trying to resolve the South Thailand insurgency.

Education, military, and political career[edit]

Born in Songkhla Province in the south of Thailand, Prem was the son of Luang Winittantagum (Bueng Tinsulanonda) und Odd Tinsulanonda and had seven siblings. His father was the warden of Songkhla prison, and Prem jokingly claimed to have spent most of his childhood in prison.[4] Prem attended Maha Vajiravudh Secondary School in Songkhla, followed by Suankularb Wittayalai School in Bangkok. He entered the Royal Thai Army Academy (now Chulachomklao Royal Military Academy) in 1941. A distinguished Army officer, he entered politics in 1959, as a member of the Constitution Drafting Committee. From 1968 to 1971 he was a Senator, in 1972–73 was a Member of Parliament, and in 1976 was appointed to the Advisory Council of Prime Minister Tanin Kraivixien. Under Prime Minister Kriangsak Chomanan, he was Deputy Interior Minister in 1977–78 and Minister of Defence from 1979 to 1986.

General Prem is famous for initiating the negotiations with the members of the Communist Party of Thailand. Consequently, an amnesty was declared and many communist members – including former student protesters – returned home. This helped end the fighting between the government and communist guerrillas in 1980s.

Prem is single and has once declared to be "married" to the Army.[5]

Prime minister of Thailand[edit]

Prem Tinsulanoda on a state visit to the U.S. in 1984.

After Kriangsak retired in 1980, Prem was chosen the Prime Minister. Prem led three administrations and often shifted coalition partners.[6]

  • 42nd Administration (March 12, 1980 - March 19, 1983)
    • 1st Cabinet (3 March 1980 - 11 March 1981)
      • Coalition partners: Social Action Party, Chart Thai, Democrat, Chart Prachachon and Siam Democrat
      • Major opposition: Prachakorn Thai
    • 2nd Prem Cabinet (11 Mar 1981- 8 Dec 1981)
      • Coalition Partners: Democrat, Chart Thai and a number of smaller parties including Siam Democrat, Ruam Thai and Social Democrat
      • Major opposition: Social Action and Prachakorn Thai
    • 3rd Prem Cabinet (9 Dec 1981-30 Apr 1983)
      • Coalition Partners: Social Action, Democrat, Chart Thai and a number of smaller parties
      • Major opposition: Prachakorn Thai
  • 43rd Administration (April 30, 1983 - August 5, 1986)
    • 4th Prem Cabinet (30 Apr 1983-11 Aug 1986)
      • Colatition partners: Social Action, Democrat, Prachakorn Thai and National Democrat (replaced by the Progressive party in Sep 1985)
      • Major opposition: Chart Thai
  • 44th Administration (August 5, 1986 - April 28, 1988)
    • 5th Prem Cabinet (11 August 1986 – 28 April 1988)
      • Coalition partners: Democrat, Chart Thai, Social Action, Rasadorn
      • Major opposition: Prachakorn Thai, United Democratic, Ruam Thai, Community Action, Progressive

Overcoming coup attempts[edit]

During April 1–3, 1981, a group of army colonels known as 'the Young Turks' launched a coup attempt in Bangkok. Prem escorted the King and Queen to Nakhon Ratchasima, and began negotiating with the coup leaders. Finally on April 3, major leaders agreed to end their April Fool's Day coup attempt. Some were allowed to take refuge abroad.

Another coup attempt took place on September 9, 1985. Its leaders had been involved in the previous coup four years earlier. The attempt became violent when rebel soldiers firing at the government's information centers, killing an Australian journalist and his American soundman. The coup attempt was supported by Ekayuth Anchanbutra, a businessman who had fled the country after Prem's government issued new legislation against financial crime. By late afternoon of the same day, the rebels surrendered to the government. Most of its leaders, including Ekayuth, fled abroad.

Assassination attempts[edit]

Prem was the target of at least four assassination attempts in 1982. The investigation implicated military officers who were among the 1981 coup's leaders and former communists who opposed Prem's amnesty policy. This became one of the pretexts claimed by the coup leaders of 1991.

Negotiation with the communist insurgents[edit]

The communist insurgents in Thailand, mainly led by the Communist Party of Thailand, began their armed struggle in 1960s. After the crackdown of a students' rally at Thammasat University in October 1976, the communist activity in the countryside in the northeast of the country became vibrant as students fled to join with the party. In the 1980s, Prem began changing his policy towards the communist insurgents. Previously Prem sent his men to China, persuading it to stop the support of the Communist Party of Thailand. China agreed. Prem's new policy offered the amnesty to all insurgents, legally called 'the communist terrorists'. As a result, thousands of former students who fled to the jungle before, left the communist strongholds.[7]

Privy councilor and Statesman[edit]

After political unrest in 1988, Prem dissolved the parliament and called for a general election. Following the general election, leaders of the winning political parties asked Prem to continue his premiership, but Prem refused. Consequently, Chatichai Choonhavan, head of Chart Thai Party, was chosen to be the new prime minister.

On 4 September 1998, Prem was appointed to head King Bhumibol Adulyadej's Privy Council, becoming the successor to Sanya Dharmasakti.

During the Black May, bloody political crisis in May 1992, Prem was said to have played a crucial role in ending the military suppression of the demonstrations, consulting with King Bhumibol to end the violence and bloodshed.

Educational activities[edit]

Prem is actively involved in many charities, including the Prem Foundation. He established the Prem Tinsulanonda International School, which opened in August 2001 in Chiang Mai Province. The campus covers 90 acres (360,000 m2); the student body numbers over 400, with more than 36 nationalities represented.

March 2006 blast: Prem-Thaksin antagonism[edit]

Amidst the tension between Thaksin and 'unconstitutional figure', on 9 March 2006, a small bomb exploded outside Prem's residence in Bangkok. Two people were slightly injured, including a passing British tourist. Police said the device had been hidden beneath a stone bench near to an unoccupied security booth at the entrance of the residence. The guards were inside the residence at the time. Three cars parked nearby were damaged by the blast. Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra denied being involved in the attack.[8][9] Prem's controversy with Thaksin's government was apparent from 2005, albeit he had never mentioned Thaksin. Prem, still influential with the armed forces, became a critic of Thaksin's interference in the promotion of the commanders. Armed forces officers, as public servants, should be free from political appointment. However, Thaksin named his first cousin, general Chaiyasith Shinawatra, as the chief of the army - a position he probably never would have held otherwise. Thaksin and his supporters immediately reacted against what they called an 'out of constitutional' individual (Prem) "meddling" in Thai politics.

Role in political crisis and 2006 coup[edit]

Prem found himself named as a leading player in the Thailand political crisis of 2005-2006. In a number of public lectures, he had fiercely criticized the attempts of politicians to tighten their grip on the army, urging the public to resist corruption and vested interests. Some commentators inferred that Prem was criticizing Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and his administration.

In June 2006, Thaksin gave a controversial speech to officials claiming 'the intervention of an extra-constitutional power, or figure' who was seeking to damage his government. Thaksin's supporters presumed Prem was that figure, though Thaksin himself mentioned no names.

Following the September 2006 military coup, Thaksin's supporters blamed Prem, whom they decided must have been the mastermind behind the coup against Thaksin.[1] Prem did help secure the appointment of Surayud Chulanont, another member of the King's Privy Council, as Premier, and allegedly had a say in the appointment of Surayud's Cabinet. Critics claimed the cabinet was full of "Prem's boys."[10][11][12]

In an interview published in early 2006, Prem explained his vision of a distinctive Thai-style democracy in which the monarch remains the ultimate defender of the public interest and retains control of the armed forces. Prem used an equestrian metaphor to describe the relative roles of Monarch, Prime Minister and the army: "In horse racing they have the stable and the owner of the stable owns the horse. The jockey comes and rides the horse during the race, but the jockey does not own the horse. It's very easy [to comprehend]".[13]

The issue Prem's responsibility for the coup and the subsequent junta has been hotly contested. A Ruling Military Council spokesman stated that Prem was not behind the coup.[14] Thai police Lieutenant-General Theeradech Rodphot-hong, head of the Special Branch, cautioned that the any legal proceedings would be improper as these could involve the King in a political conflict. He also urged the activists to drop their campaign as it could create conflict within the country.[15]

On July 22, 2007, thousands of protesters, mostly Thaksin's supporters, demonstrated in front of Prem's house, calling for him to resign. When the demonstration exploded into violence, the police cracked down and arrested several protest leaders, including an interim National Human Rights Commissioner and a former judge, both being former members of deposed prime minister Thaksin's political party.[16] Afterwards, junta chief Sonthi Boonyaratklin visited Prem to apologise for the protests on behalf of the government. A day later, Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont, along with 34 members of his Cabinet, went to Prem's house to apologize to Prem for failing to ensure justice. Surayud accused the protestors of trying to bring down the highest institution of the country.[17] Government spokesman Yongyuth Mayalap said Prem categorically denied the protestors' allegations that he was behind the military coup. According to Yongyuth, Prem said that the charges were repetitive, baseless and provocative.[18]

Prem is reportedly considering whether to take legal action against the pro-Thai Rak Thai United front for Democracy against Dictatorship for defamation. A source close to him said Gen Prem was compiling evidence and would soon decide whether to file defamation charges against nine key anti-coup figures.[19] Prem continues to wield considerable influence over the military. Interior Minister Aree Wongarya and his deputy, Banyat Chansena, held talks with Prem at his residence on 1 August 2007. During the meeting, Prem gave advice on resolving the South Thailand insurgency and on providing assistance for family members of the victims in accordance with the government's Sarn Jai Thai Su Jai Tai campaign.[20]

Prem and April 2009 protest of Thaksin's supporters[edit]

Before and during the mass protest of Thaksin's supporters, the UDD, Thaksin started mentioning the name of Prem publicly. The UDD leaders harshly blasted Prem for meddling in politics, calling him by using a term of 'ammatya', 'a royal puppet', or 'aristocrat', as a threat to democracy since he has never been democratically elected but had been appointed by the king. However Prem has never responded to these attacks.

Royal decorations[edit]

Prem has received the following decorations and awards in the Honours System of Thailand:


  • Victory Medal - Indochina (Thailand).png Victory Medal - Indochina
  • Victory Medal - World War 2 (Thailand).png Victory Medal - World War II
  • Freeman Safeguarding Medal - Class 1 (Thailand).png Freemen Safeguarding Medal (First Class)
  • Safeguarding the Constitution Medal (Thailand) ribbon.png Safeguarding the Constitution Medal
  • Chakra Mala Medal (Thailand) ribbon.png Chakra Mala Medal (15 years military/police service)
  • King Rama IX Royal Cypher Medal (Thailand) ribbon.png 1982 - King Rama IX Royal Cypher Medal, 1st Class
  • Red Cross Medal of Appreciation (Thailand) ribbon.png Red Cross Medal of Appreciation

Further reading[edit]

  • William Warren (1997). Prem Tinsulanonda: Soldier & Statesman. M. L. Tridosyuth Devakul. ISBN 974-89580-8-6. 


  1. ^ a b "Could Thailand be Getting Ready to Repeat History?". Asia Sentinel. April 2, 2007. Archived from the original on August 25, 2014. Retrieved April 5, 2007. 
  2. ^ "Former Thai PM Prem Tinsulanonda had key role in coup - analysts". Retrieved August 15, 2008. 
  3. ^ "UDD aims to damage monarchy". Bangkok Post. July 25, 2007. Retrieved August 15, 2008. [dead link]
  4. ^ Warren (1997). Prem Tinsulanonda. p. 26. 
  5. ^ Frederick A. Moritz (4 March 1980). "Thailand’s new strong man is also nation’s Mr. Clean". The Christian Science Monitor. Retrieved 4 March 2015. 
  6. ^ Suchit Bunbongkarn, "The Military in Thai Politics, 1981-1986", published by the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 1987.
  7. ^
  8. ^ "British tourist injured in Bangkok bomb blast". The Telegraph. March 10, 2006. Retrieved January 2, 2007. 
  9. ^ Simon Freeman (March 9, 2006). "Thailand tourist alert after Bangkok bomb". Times Online. Retrieved January 2, 2007. 
  10. ^ "Thailand's post-coup cabinet unveiled". The Australian. October 9, 2006. Retrieved October 16, 2006. 
  11. ^ "NLA 'doesn' t represent' all of the people". The Nation. October 14, 2006. Archived from the original on November 2, 2006. Retrieved October 16, 2006. 
  12. ^ "Assembly will not play a major role". The Nation. October 14, 2006. Archived from the original on January 16, 2007. Retrieved October 16, 2006. 
  13. ^ Far Eastern Economic Review
  14. ^ "CNS to take action against Prem's critics". Bangkok Post. April 2007. Retrieved April 11, 2007. [dead link]
  15. ^ Asia Media Post, Petitioners cautioned that appeal improper, April 2007
  16. ^ "Six protesters held". Bangkok Post. July 23, 2007. Retrieved July 26, 2007. [dead link]
  17. ^ "PM says sorry to Prem over mob violence". The Nation. July 2007. Archived from the original on September 29, 2007. Retrieved July 26, 2007. 
  18. ^ "PM: UDD aims to damage monarchy". Bangkok Post. July 25, 2007. Retrieved July 27, 2007. [dead link]
  19. ^ "Prem may take UDD to court". Bangkok Post. July 26, 2007. [dead link]
  20. ^ "Ministers talk to Prem on southern unrest". Bangkok Post. August 1, 2007. Retrieved August 1, 2007. [dead link]

External links[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by
Kriangsak Chamanan
Prime Minister of Thailand
Succeeded by
Chatichai Choonhavan
Preceded by
Sanya Dharmasakti
President of the Privy Council of Thailand
Succeeded by