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Prem Tinsulanonda (Thai: เปรม ติณสูลานนท์, RTGS: Prem Tinnasulanon, pronounced [prēːm tīn.nā.sǔː.lāː.nōn]; 26 August 1920 – 26 May 2019) was a Thai military officer, politician, and statesman who served as the Prime Minister of Thailand from 3 March 1980 to 4 August 1988, during which time he was credited with ending a communist insurgency and presiding over accelerating economic growth. As president of the Privy Council, he served as Regent of Thailand from the death of King Bhumibol Adulyadej on 13 October 2016, until the 1 December 2016 proclamation of Vajiralongkorn as King. At the age of 98, Prem was the longest-living Thai Prime Minister.
During the Thai political crisis of the mid-2000s, he was accused by deposed prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra and his supporters of masterminding the 2006 coup, as well as in the appointment of the post-coup legislature and interim government of Surayud Chulanont. The military junta that ousted Thaksin denied that Prem had any important political role.
Prem, as the President of the Privy Council, promoted King Bhumibol's ideologies and royal projects, though he sometimes represented himself as being the voice of the king. He urged Thai society to follow the king's advice and himself founded several welfare projects related to education, drug suppression, poverty, and national unity. A southerner, Prem had also dealt personally with trying to resolve the South Thailand insurgency.
Education, military, and political career
Born in Songkhla Province in south Thailand, Prem was the son of Luang Winittantagum (Bueng Tinsulanonda) and 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. 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 Thanin Kraivichien. Under Prime Minister Kriangsak Chomanan, he was Deputy Interior Minister in 1977–78 and Minister of Defence from 1979 to 1986.
General Prem is known 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 the 1980s.
Prime Minister of Thailand (1980–88)
After Kriangsak retired in 1980, Prem was chosen as Prime Minister. Prem led three administrations and often shifted coalition partners.
- 42nd Administration (13 March 1980 – 19 March 1983)
- 1st Cabinet (3 March 1980 – 11 March 1981)
- Coalition partners: Social Action Party, Chart Thai, Democrat, Chart Prachachon and Siam Democrat
- Major opposition: Thai Citizens' Party
- 2nd Prem Cabinet (11 March 1981 – 8 December 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 April 1983)
- Coalition Partners: Social Action, Democrat, Chart Thai and a number of smaller parties
- Major opposition: Prachakorn Thai
- 1st Cabinet (3 March 1980 – 11 March 1981)
- 43rd Administration (30 April 1983 – 5 August 1986)
- 4th Prem Cabinet (30 April 1983 – 11 August 1986)
- Coalition partners: Social Action, Democrat, Prachakorn Thai and National Democrat (replaced by the Progressive party in Sept. 1985)
- Major opposition: Chart Thai
- 4th Prem Cabinet (30 April 1983 – 11 August 1986)
- 44th Administration (5 August 1986 - 28 April 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
- 5th Prem Cabinet (11 August 1986 – 28 April 1988)
Overcoming coup attempts
From 1–3 April 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. On 3 April, 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 9 September 1985. Its leaders had been involved in the previous coup four years earlier. The attempt became violent when rebel soldiers fired at the government's information centres, killing an Australian journalist and his American sound man. The coup attempt was supported by Ekkayuth Anchanbutr, 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.
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 communist insurgents
Communist insurgents in Thailand, mainly led by the Communist Party of Thailand, began their armed struggle in the 1960s. After the crackdown of a students' rally at Thammasat University in October 1976, communist activities in the countryside in the northeast of the country increased as students field 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 supporting the Communist Party of Thailand. China agreed. Prem's new policy offered amnesty to all insurgents, legally called "the communist terrorists". As a result, thousands of former students who had fled to the jungle left the communist strongholds.
Privy councillor and statesman (1988–2019)
Due to political unrest in 1988, Prem dissolved parliament and called for a general election. Following the election, leaders of the winning political parties asked Prem to continue his premiership, but Prem stepped down. Consequently, Chatichai Choonhavan, head of Chart Thai Party, was chosen to be the new prime minister.
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.
March 2006 blast: Prem-Thaksin antagonism
Prem's conflicts with Thaksin's government were apparent from 2005, although he had never mentioned Thaksin. Prem, still influential with the armed forces, became a critic of Thaksin's choice of military commanders, especially when Thaksin named his first cousin, general Chaiyasith Shinawatra, as army chief. Thaksin and his supporters immediately reacted against what they called an "out of constitutional" individual (Prem) "meddling" in Thai politics.
Amid the tensions between Thaksin and an "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 an unoccupied security booth at the entrance to 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.
Role in political crisis and 2006 coup
Prem found himself a leading player in the Thailand political crisis of 2005-2006. In a number of public lectures, he had criticised 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" 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. 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".
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]."
The issue of 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. Thai police Lieutenant-General Theeradech Rodphot-hong, head of the Special Branch, cautioned that 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.
On 22 July 2007, thousands of protesters, mostly Thaksin supporters, demonstrated in front of Prem's house, calling for him to resign. When the demonstration exploded into violence, 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. Afterwards, junta chief Sonthi Boonyaratklin visited Prem to apologize 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 peace. Surayud accused the protestors of trying to bring down the highest institution of the country. 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.
Prem considered taking legal action against the pro-Thai Rak Thai United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship for defamation. A source close to him said Gen Prem compiled evidence and might file defamation charges against nine key anti-coup figures. Prem continued 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.
In summing up Prem's legacy, a Nation editorial entitled, "Prem was no friend of the people", wrote that, "Prem's legacy will be to inspire military top brass to maintain their strong influence in politics, to the diminishment of democracy in Thailand."
Prem and April 2009 protest of Thaksin's supporters
Before and during the mass protests of Thaksin's supporters, the UDD, Thaksin started mentioning Prem's name publicly. UDD leaders harshly blasted Prem for meddling in politics, calling him an ammatya, or 'royal puppet', or 'aristocrat', and a threat to democracy as he had never been democratically elected but had been appointed by the king. Prem did not respond to these attacks.
Upon the death of King Bhumibol Adulyadej, Prem, at age 96, became regent of Thailand as Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn asked for period of mourning before being proclaimed king. For the duration of Prem's regency the Privy Council appointed Thanin Kraivichien as its interim president.
Prem never married and once declared himself to be "married" to the army.
Prem was 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.
Death and funeral
On 8 December 2019, after the corpse was kept in the Song Tham Thorne Hall, Wat Benchamabophit, for 100 days, it was cremated at Wat Debsirindrawas Ratchaworawiharn. King Vajiralongkorn held a royal funeral procession by the Cavalry Division towards Wat Debsirindrawas. King Vajiralongkorn and Queen Suthida, along with Princess Royal Sirindhorn and Princess Bajrakitiyabha, went to the cremation and presided over the funeral ceremony. On 9 December 2019, King Vajiralongkorn sent the acting President of the Privy Council, Surayud Chulanont, as a royal representative to collect the crematory relics at Wat Debsirindrawas.
Tributes and legacy
Thai government builds the longest concrete bridge in Thailand, Tinsulanonda Bridge, located in Mueang Songkhla District and Singhanakhon District by connecting Koh Yo on both sides between the Ban Nam spread Mueang Songkhla District And Ban Khao Kheow, Singhanakhon District. The length of the bridges is 940 meters and 1,700 meters, respectively, for a total of 2,640 meters. People in Songkhla province favor this bridge as "Pa Prem Bridge" "Tin Bridge" or "Prem Bridge" and is considered as one of the famous tourist attractions of the province.
Prem offer to build Prem Tinsulanonda camp library in front of the 3rd Cavalry Brigade, Prem Tinsulanonda Camp at Nam Phong District, Khon Kaen Province to provide services to people and officers in the 3rd Cavalry Brigade, Prem Tinsulanonda Camp and interested people.
Prem statue located in front of the 2nd Army Military Museum, beside the 2nd Army Headquarters, in Suranaree Camp, Muang District, Nakhon Ratchasima Province. The area beneath the statue has a message that says "Born to repay the land". The signature is written in gold of General Prem Tinsulanonda.
Prem has received the following decorations and awards in the Honours System of Thailand:
- 1975 - Knight Grand Cordon (Special Class) of the Most Noble Order of the Crown of Thailand
- 1978 - Knight Grand Cordon (Special Class) of the Most Exalted Order of the White Elephant
- 1982 - Knight Grand Cross (First Class) of the Most Illustrious Order of Chula Chom Klao
- 1988 - Member of the Order of Symbolic Propitiousness Ramkeerati Boy Scout Citation Medal (Special Class)
- 1988 - Knight of the Ancient and Auspicious Order of the Nine Gems
- 1990 - Knight Grand Commander (First Class) of the Honourable Order of Rama
- 1996 - Knight Grand Cross (First Class) of the Most Admirable Order of the Direkgunabhorn
- Victory Medal - Indochina
- Victory Medal - World War II
- Freemen Safeguarding Medal (First Class)
- Safeguarding the Constitution Medal
- Chakra Mala Medal (15 years military/police service)
- 1982 - King Rama IX Royal Cypher Medal, 1st Class
- Red Cross Medal of Appreciation
- 2019 - King Rama X Royal Cypher Medal, 1st Class
- Malaysia : Honorary Commander of the Order of the Defender of the Realm (P.M.N.) (1979)
- Malaysia : Honorary Grand Commander of the Order of the Defender of the Realm (1984)
- Mishra, Patit Paban (2010). "Notable People in the History of Thailand". The History of Thailand. ABC-CLIO. p. 164. ISBN 978-0313340918.
- "Could Thailand be Getting Ready to Repeat History?". Asia Sentinel. 2 April 2007. Archived from the original on 25 August 2014. Retrieved 5 April 2007.
- "Former Thai PM Prem Tinsulanonda had key role in coup - analysts". Retrieved 15 August 2008.
- "UDD aims to damage monarchy". Bangkok Post. 25 July 2007. Retrieved 15 August 2008.[dead link]
- Warren (1997). Prem Tinsulanonda. p. 26.
- Suchit Bunbongkarn, "The Military in Thai Politics, 1981-1986", published by the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 1987.
- "Thailand Communist Insurgency 1959-Present". Archived from the original on 5 July 2008. Retrieved 20 October 2016.
- McCargo, Duncan; Pathmanand, Ukrist (2005). The Thaksinization of Thailand (PDF) (Hardcopy ed.). Copenhagen: NIAS Press. p. 130. ISBN 87-91114-45-4. Retrieved 31 December 2018.
- "British tourist injured in Bangkok bomb blast". The Telegraph. 10 March 2006. Retrieved 2 January 2007.
- Simon Freeman (9 March 2006). "Thailand tourist alert after Bangkok bomb". Times Online. Retrieved 2 January 2007.
- "Thailand's post-coup cabinet unveiled". The Australian. 9 October 2006. Archived from the original on 12 March 2007. Retrieved 16 October 2006.
- "NLA 'doesn't represent' all of the people". The Nation. 14 October 2006. Archived from the original on 2 November 2006. Retrieved 16 October 2006.
- "Assembly will not play a major role". The Nation. 14 October 2006. Archived from the original on 16 January 2007. Retrieved 16 October 2006.
- Far Eastern Economic Review
- "CNS to take action against Prem's critics". Bangkok Post. April 2007. Retrieved 11 April 2007.[dead link]
- Asia Media Post, Petitioners cautioned that appeal improper Archived 20 May 2011 at the Wayback Machine, April 2007
- "Six protesters held". Bangkok Post. 23 July 2007. Archived from the original on 23 July 2012. Retrieved 26 July 2007.
- "PM says sorry to Prem over mob violence". The Nation. July 2007. Archived from the original on 29 September 2007. Retrieved 26 July 2007.
- "PM: UDD aims to damage monarchy". Bangkok Post. 25 July 2007. Retrieved 27 July 2007.[dead link]
- "Prem may take UDD to court". Bangkok Post. 26 July 2007. Archived from the original on 17 April 2009.
- "Ministers talk to Prem on southern unrest". Bangkok Post. 1 August 2007. Retrieved 1 August 2007.[dead link]
- "Prem was no friend of the people" (Opinion). The Nation. 29 May 2019. Retrieved 30 May 2019.
- "Prem becomes Regent pro tempore". Bangkok Post. 14 October 2016. Retrieved 24 October 2016.
- "Former PM Thanin appointed president of Privy Council". The Nation. 20 October 2016. Retrieved 24 October 2016.
- 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.
- Charuvastra, Teeranai; Reporter, Staff (26 May 2019). "Prem Tinsulanonda, King's Advisor and Statesman, Dies at 98". Khaosod English. Retrieved 26 May 2019.
- King bestows new title upon princess
- "Semakan Penerima Darjah Kebesaran, Bintang dan Pingat".
- "Senarai Penuh Penerima Darjah Kebesaran, Bintang dan Pingat Persekutuan Tahun 1984" (PDF).
- William Warren (1997). Prem Tinsulanonda: Soldier & Statesman. M. L. Tridosyuth Devakul. ISBN 974-89580-8-6.
- McCargo, Duncan (December 2005). "Network monarchy and legitimacy crises in Thailand". The Pacific Review. 18 (4): 499–519. CiteSeerX 10.1.1.732.5946. doi:10.1080/09512740500338937.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Prem Tinsulanonda.|
- General Prem Tinsulanonda Home Page
- Prem Tinsulanonda International School
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