Academic urges charter amendments concerning royal power on appointment of Privy Councillors and succession

Somsak Jeamtheerasakul, a Thammasat University lecturer in history, told a public forum that in order to get rid of the so-called ‘Amat’ regime (traditional elitist rule), it was necessary to change the constitutional clause on the royal prerogatives to conform to the principles of democracy.  This included two main points: the appointment of Privy Councillors and the succession, with the latter being changed after the 1991 coup.

‘I have to speak slowly, as I have to be cautious.  It’s necessary to reduce the royal prerogatives at present to conform to the principles of democracy.  There are so many issues that I cannot explain them all,’ Somsak said on 6 Oct in a public forum commemorating the 6 Oct 1976 incident.

One of the problems currently is that Privy Councillors have been too involved in politics, resulting in vociferous attacks on the Amat regime.  Somsak said that this problem would never be solved until the constitution was amended to involve social control over appointments to the Council, instead of sole power being conferred on the Monarch.

Pridi Bhanomyong, a key revolutionary in the overthrow of the absolute monarchy in 1932, wrote that the Privy Council was born out of the 1949 anti-People’s Party Constitution.  However, Somsak said, Pridi stopped short of saying that this body should be abolished.

Somsak argued that, in the current context, to solve political problems, it was necessary either to abolish the Privy Council or reduce the royal power in this regard to the same level as that of other public powers.  If the Privy Council is to remain, councillors must either hold no power, or be accountable to the public.

His second main point is the succession.  In the 60 years after 1932 until the coup in 1991, the power to choose the next King belonged to Parliament, as was written in all charters during this period.  The 1991 coup changed this by conferring the power to change the 1924 Succession Law solely on the Monarch.  That was against the constitution itself, as its first sections stated that the King would exercise power through the legislature.

The 1997 and 2007 charters copied these clauses verbatim from the palace-favoured 1991 constitution.  The red shirts who claim to fight for democracy have never touched on this issue, although it is the very heart of democracy with the King as head of state, he said.

‘Regarding this issue, many may not have known that there was a parliamentary debate on the selection of the previous King, Rama VIII.  The voting was not unanimous, with objections from two members who said that [Prince Ananda] was too young.’

‘Inclusion of this provision [Section 8 in the current constitution which states that the Monarch shall be held sacred and inviolable] in the 10 Dec 1932 Constitution was proposed by Phraya Mana Ratcha Sevi, who said in an interview with Bowornsak Uwanno and Visanu Krue-ngam in an issue of the Law Journal in 1977 or 1978, that he copied it from the Japanese Constitution.  But this provision in the Meiji charter had already been dropped.  This was supported by Pridi, and has stayed on until now.  Pridi at that time wanted to console King Prachadhipok, Rama VII, because he had harshly attacked the King in the first People’s Party’s statement.’

Somsak said that to attack individual members of the Amat would not yield any changes.

‘Even if you can curse Prem so that he dies, there will always be a successor.  You have to address the power to appoint the Privy Council, instead of attacking Prem’s sexual taste, for which he can sue for defamation.  I suggest a debate on whether the Privy Council should be maintained, and how the sole power to appoint the body has brought about a powerful Prem,’ Somsak said.



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