King Vajiralongkorn has issued 112 royal orders without countersignatures

Since 2017, King Rama X has issued at least 112 royal edicts appointing and demoting royal officials and the royal consort, bestowing royal decorations, appointing monks to the Sangha Supreme Council and expressing political views, which raises questions over accountability under the King Can Do No Wrong principle.

The Royal Service Administration Act enacted in March 2017 transferred 5 agencies that were formerly part of the government structure into royal agencies to be organized “at the royal pleasure”.

After the Act came into force royal edicts were issued appointing and demoting officials in the royal agencies with no countersignature from anyone in the government. Laws that were referred to in issuing these edicts are:

  • Section 9 of the 2017 Constitution regarding the King’s ’Royal Prerogative to create and remove titles and confer and revoke royal decorations’;
  • Section 15 of the 2017 Constitution regarding the ‘appointment and removal of officials of the Royal Household … at the King’s pleasure’ and ‘the organisation and personnel administration of the Royal Household … at the King’s pleasure, as provided by Royal Decree’;
  • Sections 4 and 9 of the Royal Service Administration Act 2017 that allow the monarch to administer the Royal Services ‘at the royal pleasure’;
  • Sections 10, 13, 15 and 18 of the Royal Decree Organizing Governmental Affairs and Personnel Administration for Royal Service 2017, where powers in administration and human resources exist ‘at the royal pleasure’;
  • Sections 8 and 11 of the Royal Assets Structuring Act 2018, that grant the King the authority to appoint and dismiss members of the Board of the Crown Property Bureau, a body that formerly was chaired by the Minister of Finance before the change in the law monopolized crown property under King Vajiralongkorn as single owner;
  • Section 5 of the Military Rank Act 1936 and Section 26 of the National Police Act 2004 regarding approval of promotions in rank;
  • Section 5 (iii) of the amended Sangha Act 2018, giving the King the power to appoint members of the Sangha Supreme Council and confer and revoke monastic ranks.

The non-countersigned edicts can be categorized as follows:

Category

Number of Edicts

Appointment of officials of the Royal Agencies, transfer of soldiers into Royal Service, conferral and revocation of military ranks

38

Royal decorations and medals

40

Appointment of members of the Sangha

22

Crown Property Bureau

2

Appointing and dismissing the Royal Consort, Sineenat Wongvajirapakdi

3

The Ratchathan Pansuk Project (Royal project for prisons)

3

Posthumous promotion of police officers killed in the line of duty

3

Political statement against the candidacy of Princess Ubolratana for Prime Minister in 2019

1

For more details, see the Thai version

No political power without accountability

In a 2008 article,  Piyabutr Saengkanokkul, a law academic and now Secretary-General of the Progressive Movement, stated that monarchs in the democratic world cannot use political power unless there are people who can be held accountable in their stead.

Thus, the principle of the King Can Do No Wrong, according to Piyabutr’s quotation from the renowned law academic Yut Saeng-uthai, is that in order for the monarch to be immunized, as stated in the constitution, he has to do nothing, as no one in a democratic system should be able to exercise political power without accountability.

In his article on the Progressive Movement website, Piyabutr also stated his concerns about the way the current monarch exercised political power in his appointment of his daughter Princess Bajrakitiyabha to head the Ratchathan Pansuk project with himself and Queen Suthida as advisors.

The orders were issued by the King without countersignatures, resulting in the creation of a body that is neither an agency of the government nor a royal service agency under the Royal Service Administration Act 2017. The absence of any relevant law to govern its existence leads to further questions about accountability and how government bodies can respond to this kind of establishment.

Piyabutr concluded that establishing the Ratchathan Pansuk Committee without any countersignature may raise questions over the monarchy’s neutrality when it exercises unilateral power in public administration.

iLaw, the legal watchdog NGO, also wrote that with the King Can Do No Wrong principle, since the monarch is protected from being sued, the monarch's actions must come under the framework of the law.

iLaw observed that the monarch exercised passive power. For example, under the constitution, appointment of the Prime Minister cannot be arbitrary. It must be made from among those elected by the people directly or indirectly, and accountability lies with the one who countersigns the edict. This is the process that distinguishes a monarchy in a democratic system of government from an absolute monarchy.

However, under the highly unstable political conditions in Thailand resulting from frequent coups and multiple constitutions, the countersignatory to the monarch sometimes has no legitimacy based on the people's will, such as coup makers.

Somsak Jeamteerasakul, a self-exiled academic and monarchy critic, posted on Facebook that having people accountable for the royal prerogative is very meaningful and widely-accepted in a democratic system of government. There were attempts to establish such a principle in Thailand after the 1932 revolution but the efforts waned over time.

Somsak goes on to say that there was an attempt by the late King Rama IX to bluff by not sending public speeches for prior approval from the government. But there were still efforts to maintain the form of having the government countersign.

In the reign of King Rama X, the form of countersigning decisions has been abandoned but the salaries that are tied to the decisions, such as those of officials appointed by royal edict, still come from the national budget.

Source: 
prachatai.com/journal/2021/09/95103

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