Royal intervention again floated as a way out of political crisis
Royalist politician Warong Dechgitvigrom has called for the “temporary return” of absolute power to His Majesty the King in order to “design a new system of politics”.
This renewed call for Royal intervention in Thai political crises comes amid growing tension between royalists and anti-establishment protesters calling for monarchy reform.
Parliament’s effort to reconcile the two sides appears to be going nowhere, with protesters opting out and opposition parties undecided.
However, Warong’s proposed solution to the crisis has failed to pick up steam, instead meeting with serious opposition.
Political activist Srisuwan Janya, who heads the Association for the Protection of the Constitution, voiced his opposition to the proposal, saying politicians should never involve the King in their conflicts.
“Political conflicts must be tackled with political means. Do not dare to pull down the sky,” Srisuwan said in a Facebook post on Monday (November 7), using a euphemism for the monarchy.
Warong, leader of the royalist Thai Pakdee group, said on Sunday (December 6) that the Royal powers “robbed” by the People’s Party in the 1932 Siamese Revolution were now in the hands of “political capitalists”.
He alleged that some of these people were even plotting to turn the Kingdom into a republic.
“Isn’t it time for us citizens to temporarily restore Royal powers, so a new political system can be designed free from political capitalists for the benefit of the people and for real democracy?” read Warong’s Facebook post.
His post came just hours after he attended a Father’s Day and National Day celebration at Bangkok’s Sanam Luang on December 5, the birthday anniversary of late King Bhumibol Adulyadej.
Resetting the system
Thailand’s political history is littered by military coups launched to “reset” the system at times of political crisis.
However, calls were sometimes made for Royal intervention to avert severe political crises during the previous reign of King Bhumibol.
In 2006, protest leader Sondhi Limthongkul of the yellow-shirt People’s Alliance for Democracy led calls for King Rama IX to appoint a new prime minister to solve the constitutional crisis – arguing that His Majesty could exercise this power under Article 7 of the 1997 Constitution.
The constitutional crisis came after then-prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra called a snap election in April 2006 in the face of growing protests by yellow shirts.
The rallies were triggered by the sale of the Shinawatra family’s shares in Shin Corp to Singapore’s Temasek Holdings. The deal raised concerns about national security, as Thai-owned satellites were part of the sale, and there was huge criticism over the way the deal was set up, as it allowed the Shinawatras to get away without paying any taxes for the sale.
Key opposition parties boycotted the snap election, saying the time allotted for campaigning was too short. Thaksin’s Thai Rak Thai Party won 16 million votes (56 per cent). However, the election’s legitimacy was questioned, as most constituencies only had one candidate – from the ruling party.
In March 2006, political scientist Pramote Nakornthab led a petition asking King Bhumibol to appoint a new prime minister. This “royal prerogative” could be exercised under Article 7 of the 1997 charter in times of “clear and immediate danger”, he said.
Also cited by Sondhi, Article 7 states that: “Whenever no provision under this Constitution is applicable to any case, it shall be decided in accordance with the constitutional practice in the democratic regime of government with the King as Head of the State.”
King Bhumibol declined to appoint a new PM, saying this action would be “undemocratic” since the constitutional clause did not empower him to do so.
“I have always done everything in line with the Constitution. So, there can be no royally appointed prime minister. When a crisis happens, you cannot shift the responsibility to the King. The King does not have that duty,” the monarch said in April 2006.
The late King was speaking during the swearing-in ceremony of new senior judges. Just over a week later, the Constitutional Court nullified the results of the snap election, and a new election was called.
However, as the worsening conflict turned violent, then-Army chief Sonthi Boonyaratglin staged a coup in September 2006 to overthrow Thaksin’s government.
Another plea for Royal intervention came eight years later as Yingluck Shinawatra’s caretaker government was beset by crisis in April 2014. Chaikasem Nitisiri, the acting justice minister, once again cited Article 7 to call for a royally appointed prime minister.
Anti-government protesters led by the People’s Democratic Reform Committee also made the same appeal.
However, the plea from the rivalling sides was never granted. Instead, their months-long confrontation brought violent clashes that culminated in a military coup in May 2014, led by then-Army chief General Prayut Chan-o-cha.
Those calling for Royal intervention often cite two instances when a new prime minister was appointed by Royal command – after the student-led uprising of October 1973 which led to the resignation of PM Thanom Kittikachorn, and again in 1992 after General Suchinda Kraprayoon stepped down as government head following the deadly Black May crackdown on protesters.
Sanya Dharmasakti was appointed prime minister in the first instance and Anand Panyarachun in the second. However, King Rama IX only made the appointments after nominations by the House speaker and deputy speaker, in line with constitutional rules.
King Bhumibol had stepped in during both crises to mediate a peaceful settlement between the feuding sides, as tensions threatened to ignite widescale violence.
By Thai PBS World’s Political Desk