Reducing the power of the privy council

14 10 2009

In a timely piece given rumors of the king’s demise, Prachatai (14 October 2009: “Academic urges charter amendments concerning royal power on appointment of Privy Councillors and succession”; 13 October 2009: สมศักดิ์ เจียมธีรสกุลเสนอเสื้อแดงหยุดระบอบอำมาตย์ด้วยการแก้ รธน.ว่าด้วยพระราชอำนาจในการแต่งตั้งองคมนตรี) has a report on interesting statements by Thammasat University historian Somsak Jeamteerasakul.

Somsak has taken a strong and public position on the monarchy in recent years, as a quick look through his posts at New Mandala indicate. He has now argued for the elimination of the so-called Amat regime, seen in “traditional elitist rule,” arguing that it is “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.”

Somsak charged that the Privy Council is now a political problem and suggested three solutions: (i) a Council with no power, (ii) “social control over appointments to the Privy Council” rather than allowing the monarch to simply appoint whoever he wants;  or (iii) for the Privy Council to be abolished.

On succession, Somsak points out that from 1932 until the military coup in 1991, “the power to choose the next King belonged to Parliament…”. He points out that 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.”

Somsak is right in viewing this issue as being at ” the very heart of democracy with the King as head of state…”.

He observed that attacking individuals associated with royal power was somewhat misguided: “You have to address the power to appoint the Privy Council, instead of attacking Prem [Tinsulanonda]’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…’.

These are important issues and Somsak continues to make significant contributions with a wonderful historical knowledge of the development of royal political and economic power.


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