The statement made to cabinet and public by The Dictator, General Prayuth Chan-ocha, that the crown prince had told him he wanted time to mourn the passing of his father and did not immediately wish to deal with succession, has created considerable confusion and angst. Remarkably, Thailand became a constitutional monarchy without a monarch.
The junta and its overlapping cabinet seemed confused and was confusingly silent. General Prem Tinsulanonda appeared to become regent by osmosis rather than by law and announcement.
Naturally enough, all of this led to considerable speculation. What was happening?
The junta is now trying to retake control of this succession discussion. The prince has joined in.
The junta’s main effort has come from legal flunkey Wissanu Krea-ngam. He went on national television to explain the legalities of delayed succession. The “interview” began at 22.25 hrs and went for 22 minutes. It saw Wissanu go through constitutional provisions about a vacant throne.
At times, Wissanu seemed uncomfortable and admitted that this was a very unusual situation. The point was to explain that the provisions of the 2007 constitution (ditched by the 2014 coup) on the monarchy remained in place to govern succession and a vacant throne.
The notion that there is an heir apparent who does not immediately become king is not something that the constitution drafters could have considered when they tried to cover all the succession bases. (As we recall, the last succession, in 1946, was completed within hours.)
Yet Wissanu states that the constitution is clear and that there was no need to announce Prem as regent because of that constitutional arrangement. He stated: “there will be neither an official announcement nor a parliamentarian process of endorsement.” That seems a rather flaccid response to the junta’s silence on the country’s head of state position.
Wissanu made an interesting claim about the new “reign,” saying that it began on 13 October. That seems to imply a reign without a king.
Another footnote to this arrangement is that it will be Prem, as regent, who will endorse the junta’s draft constitution.
Wissanu was careful to ensure that the successionist argument about a regent fiddling with succession was denied:
It is untrue that the Regent is authorised to propose the new King. It is the role of the Cabinet to inform the chief of Parliament [of the new King] and the Parliament will hold a meeting to acknowledge [that fact] and the head of Parliament will invite the heir to become the King…. Wissanu said that by doing so the process of proposing the new King would be done “perfectly”.
Wissanu’s appearance was followed at 23.30 by a less than 5 minute statement by General Prayuth. He reported on a meeting between Prince Vajiralongkorn and (now regent) Prem Tinsulanonda, which he also attended. That meeting was at about 19.00 hrs.
As Khaosod translates it, Prayuth confirmed that Prem “is exercising royal authority temporarily on behalf of the Crown Prince, who has delayed taking the throne because he wanted time to grieve his late father, King Bhumibol. The prince also said in the conversation with Prem that he would still assume the throne one day…”.
We are not sure that this removes all confusion or dampens speculation. For one thing, the Khaosod report gives the impression that Prem is acting for the prince. In law, the regent acts for the king or acts for the state in the absence of a king.
But Prayuth also stated: “One of his important remarks was that he [the prince] asked the people not to be confused or concerned about government affairs, including the royal succession…”.
The official word is that the prince will become king at an appropriate time after mourning. Prayuth seemed to say that the prince would take the throne following the funeral rites for the king. This is confusing. When do the funeral rites conclude? After the late king is cremated? The king’s brother was not cremated for some four years after his death. Does taking the throne mean assuming the role of king or just coronation? The late king’s own coronation was delayed for about four years.
The Nation has come up with a little video that is meant to “explain” things, presumably for foreigners, but leaves many questions unanswered.
These remain interesting days.