King and constitution

26 04 2015

Back in 1947, royalists attempted to use a military coup and the subsequent constitutional drafting process, monopolized by military and royalists, to turn back electoral democracy. Wikipedia has a pretty good summary, emphasizing the role of the military, Democrat Party and palace:

The military overthrew the elected government of Admiral Thamrong Navasavat in 8 November 1947, amid the political chaos that followed the official finding that the mysterious death of King Ananda Mahidol was not due to suicide. The coup restored power to Marshal Plaek [Phibun], and was supported by Phin Choonhavan, Seni Pramoj, and the palace. The coup leaders alleged that government corruption had demeaned the sacredness of King Ananda’s 1946 Constitution….

The Regent, Prince Rangsit officially accepted the coup within 24 hours and immediately promul[g]ated the new charter the coup leaders had drafted. The King, who at the time was studying in Lausanne, endorsed the coup and the Charter on 25 November, noting “Those who were involved in this operation do not desire power for their own good, but aim only to strengthen the new government which will administer for the prosperity of the nation and for the elimination of all the ills suffered presently.”

The new charter gave the palace a persistent demand: a permanent Supreme State Council (later to be transformed into the Privy Council) to advise the monarch and handle his personal affairs. The Council would be composed of 5 members, appointed by the monarch and acting as a regency council in his absence. The Supreme State Council had been banned after the 1932 revolution. The palace was also given increased control over its own operations, including the Royal Household, the Privy Purse, and the Royal Guards. The King was given several emergency prerogatives, such as the ability to declare war and martial law.

A monarch-appointed Senate was established, and, with 100 members, equal in size to the House of Representatives. Like previous Constitutions, the monarch still did not have an absolute veto. However, the monarch-appointed Senate could, through a simple majority over the combined houses of Parliament, sustain a royal veto. The chairman of the Supreme State Council had to countersign any royal orders in order to make them official (when the constitution was announced, Bhumibol Adulyadej was still a minor and the Privy Council performed the king’s regnal duties on his behalf; thus in practice, the Supreme Council of State itself selected and appointed senators and had the power of veto). … A multi-member constituency system replaced the single member constituency system which had been in effect since 1932. …

Surprisingly, the Palace/Privy Council rejected the slate of Senate appointees proposed by the military. It instead filled the Senate with princes, nobles, and palace-friendly businessmen, leaving only 8 appointees from the military’s slate. With control over palace operations, the palace purged nearly 60 officials, clearing out earlier appointees from previous governments.

[The Democrat Party’s] Khuang Aphaiwong was appointed Prime Minister, and it was agreed that a new constitution would be drafted following House elections, which occurred on 29 January 1948. The Seni Pramoj and Khuang Aphaiwong-led Democrats won a majority and appointed a Cabinet packed with palace allies….

There are many parallels with the recent situation. The palace and royalists never cease in their efforts to expunge 1932, with the military now firmly royalist.

We should not be surprised when royalists again raise issues about the monarchy and the constitution. In considering the 1997 constitution, details about the sections on the monarchy were discussed in a secret session.

This time, looking at the draft 2015 constitution, the anti-democrat “monk” Buddha Issara proves he is no historian but a devout royalist by raising the role of the king, his “royal power” and the possibility that nasty constitution drafters are seeking to “diminish” those powers.

The “royalist monk … expressed alarm over a clause in the charter draft that permits Parliament to pass legislation without the King’s signature.” The report states:

According to Section 157 of the current draft, the Parliament must submit legislation to His Majesty the King for a royal signature. However, if 90 days pass without a signature, Parliament can re-submit the bill to the king with support from two-thirds of the chamber. In the event that the King does not sign the bill in the next 30 days, the Prime Minister will be authorized to enact the bill as a law.

The monarchist monk managed to consider this a clause to “allow politicians to limit the [k]ing’s power…”. He demanded that the clause be removed.

Royalist and miltiary puppet constitution drafting chairman Bowornsak Uwanno “explained that Section 157 has been included in Thai constitutions since 1949, including the recent 2007 constitution that was dissolved by the military junta who seized power last May.”

The 1949 constitution is explained at Wikipedia as yet another royalist intervention:

The Constitution of 1949 was promulgated on 23 January 1949, a permanent instrument to replace the temporary 1948 Charter. The drafting committee was headed by Seni Pramoj and dominated by royalists under the direction of Prince Rangsit and Prince Dhani.

The 1949 Constitution elevated the throne to its most powerful position since the 1932 overthrow of the absolute monarchy. The Supreme Council of State was transformed into a 9-person Privy Council. For the first time, members this council would be selected by the King alone. A 100-member Senate would also be selected by the King alone. The President of the Privy Council, rather than the Prime Minister, would countersign all laws. The King’s veto was strengthened, with a 2/3’s vote of Parliament required to overrule it.

The King could issue his own decrees with equal authority to the government. The King also gained the power to call for a plebiscite – the ability to amend the constitution via public referendum, bypassing Parliament and the Government. At succession, the Privy Council would name an heir – not the Parliament.

Referring back to that royal constitution means that Bowornsak is right when he states that “it is extremely difficult for politicians to decrease the [k]ing’s power.” He is also absolutely right when he states that the draft constitution “gives more power to the King than the British [constitutional monarchy] system.”

Royal power is one of the principal limits on Thailand’s democratization, and has been so for more than 83 years.

This is why Khaosod is wrong to state that “[f]ollowing a revolution that overthrew absolute monarchy in Thailand in 1932, the Thai king has been granted largely ceremonial powers through the constitution.” As even Wikipedia shows, the constitution has long been a site of conflict over political power, and the royalists have largely won out since 1946.


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