The 23 February 1991 coup

29 08 2014

PPT was doing some hard disk cleaning and came across a file that was sent to us some time ago by a reader who thought  we’d be interested.

It is a report by Australia’s Parliamentary Research Service and is listed as a “Background Paper,” and we have also located it online as “The Coup inThailand” [Clicking downloads a PDF]. Because there are so many of them, we should note that this refers to the coup of 1991, and that the report is dated 19 March 1991. Its author is listed as Frank Frost.

We thought these bits interesting, indicating how the monarchy has been used by the military/has used the military for political purposes:

The deterioration in relations between Prime Minister Chatichai and his government and the senior military leadership came to a decisive point in February 1991. The ultimate cause of the confrontation was probably the military’s concern at evident efforts by Chatichai to bring their autonomy into question and the general lack of trust between the parties. The immediate focus for tension was an investigation into an alleged assassination plot against senior public figures in 1982 and an attempted Cabinet change by Chatichai.

Prologue: The assassination plot’ issue

The publicity given to the alleged assassination plot highlighted the continuation of tensions between elements of the Thai military from the 1980s. The Thai military is now firmly in the control of a group of military leaders identified by their status as graduates of the Chulachomklao Royal Military Academy’s Class Five (i.e.the fifth post-world war two graduating class); General Suchinda Kraprayoon, now commander of the Army, was class president. The 1981 and 1985 coup attempts were largely planned by a group of officers identified with the Military Academy’s Class Seven. In January 1991 , publicity was given to the continued investigation of an alleged plot in 1982 by some military officers, several  academics and several members of the Communist Party of Thailand, to assassinate several figures, including Prime Minister Pram, Supreme Commander Arthit Kamlang-ek, and Queen Sirikit. One alleged suspect was a leading Class Seven officer, Manoon Roopkachorn, who led both the 1981 and 1985 coup attempts. He left Thailand after each attempt, but in 1990 was able to return, was pardoned, reinstated into the military, promoted from Colonel to Major General, and appointed by Prime Minister Chatichai to the Defence Ministry as his adviser. In January, anonymous leaflets were reportedly circulated, accusing Manoon and Chatichai’s son, Kraisak {who had been one of the Prime Minister’s key advisers) of having been involved in the alleged plot. Both men complained to the police about the leaflets.

The controversy was intensified in late January, when the national police chief General Sawaeng Thirasawat and General Boonchu Wangkanond, who had been in charge of the assassination plot case, were both transferred; Boochu was a Chulachomklao Class Five officer. Rodney Tasker (Far Eastern Economic Review) wrote that: “Inevitably, there was strong suspicion that Chatichai had ordered the police reshuffle to prise the assassination case away from Boonchu and place it out of harm’s way in other officers hands … Chatichai strongly denied that this was a motive and ordered the police through the Interior Ministry, to expedite the case”. Tensions rose over the issue. Army commander General Suchinda called for a speedy conclusion to the case and Supreme Commander General Sunthorn in his capacity as director of internal security, warned: “If the directorate of internal security finds any distortion of the facts, it will take drastic action against the ill-intentioned people in accordance with its legal powers”. Sunthorn took action to ensure that General Boonchu would remain involved in the case as a military representative. In this complex context, Chatichai’s association with Manoon, the alleged conspirator, was clearly a matter of controversy. In an atmosphere of rising tension, Prime Minister Chatichai moved to appoint a senior former military supreme commander, now in parliament, General Arthit Kamlang-ek as deputy minister of Defence on 20 February. The military leadership, who are known not to be on good terms with Arthit, evidently viewed this with disfavour. Chatichai may also have planned to make personnel changes among the top military leadership. In the event, on 23 February, when Chatichai boarded an aircraft to fly to Chiang Mai for an audience with the King, a coup was instituted by the military leadership.

The coup leaders received formal endorsement for their actions from the King. A Royal Command, dated 24 February, stated that “it has occurred that the government which has Gen Chatichai Choonhaven as prime minister, has not administered the country to the confidence of the people, and cannot keep peace and order in the nation”. The Command formally appointed General Sunthorn as head of the NPC and directed civil servants to heed the orders of General Sunthorn. While formally endorsing the position of the NPC, the King, in a comment relayed by General Sunthorn the day after the coup, cautioned the NPC “not to let the people down”. The King’s endorsement was a crucial issue; the monarch played a major role in the defeat of the coup attempts in 1981 and 1985. A draft interim constitution was submitted to the King and, in an unusual step, he reportedly asked for it to be amended before approving it.

The new interim constitution, approved by the King on 1 March, granted extensive powers to the military. A legislative assembly of up to 300 members would be appointed to prepare for elections and draw up a permanent constitution. The assembly will have six months to do this, and elections would be held by April 1992. But the NPC reserves the right to dismiss the interim prime minister or dissolve the assembly in the interests of national security. Article 27 gives seemingly wide-ranging authority to the military to take any action necessary against people threatening national security or going against Buddhist morals.

PPT previously posted documents about this: Young Turks Assassination Plot 1982-91.


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