Several times since we began in 2009, PPT has marked the 1932 Revolution by reprinting the first announcement of the khana ratsadon or People’s Party.
In recent years the anniversary of this event is barely noticed, buried by a the celebration of various historically insignificant royal anniversaries. While there has been a long-term effort to erase 1932 from school books and the public mind, under the military junta there has been a determined efforts to make invisible an event it consider horrendous for reducing royal powers and granting sovereignty to common people. Moreover, the junta and palace have been writing laws that reverse important changes made in 1932, not least in limiting the powers of the monarchy under the constitution.
One of the nominated changes is to allow the king to decide if he needs a regent when he is flitting back and forth to his home outside Munich.
The current order by the king to change aspects of the draft constitution, “approved” in a “referendum,” is an example of how the very notion of a constitutional monarchy is being rolled back.
The junta may have been surprised by the king’s demands, but they are unwilling to tell him to go to hell. That could be because they are in dispute with the king but feel he should get his way for the moment. It might be that the junta is happy enough to have General Prem Tinsulanonda lose some influence. It may be that the junta wants to further delay an “election” and this is their excuse. It could be that the junta may feel that its legitimacy depends entirely on the monarchy. It might be that the junta believes that a feudal Thailand a la pre-1932 is appropriate for a 21st century Thailand. Or it might be all of these.
Whatever is going on, it’s clear the junta has asked how high the king wants it to jump. It is rushing ahead with the demanded changes.
The Nation reports that quotes junta lawyer Wissanu Krea-ngam as sayin: “Now, … the situation in the country has changed, so they will have to be amended to meet the situation. Otherwise, we will be using principles that were written in 1932…”.
He’s clear on what’s being done here. As a reminder, in 1932, Article 5 stated:
If there is any reason that the king is unable temporarily to carry out his duties, or is not in the capital, the Committee of the People will execute the right on his behalf.
How things have changed and they’ll change further in the next few days.
Readers might ask why the junta wasn’t getting the king’s view as it developed its constitution. Wissanu says: “The clauses to be amended were not paid attention to before the referendum, because drafters had only copied them from the previous constitution.” Yet, you would think a royalist regime would have been talking with the soon-to-be-king. Maybe he was more interested in his concubines and fake tattoos than the work of rolling back 1932 constitutionalism. Perhaps he only realized the potential problems of the regency when Prem got the job back in October.
The chief of the charter drafters, Meechai Ruchupan might have been a bit contrite about causing the king some angst, but he’s still talking draft constitutions and says the proposed “amendment would give the [k]ing the option of either appointing or not appointing a regent should he not reside in the Kingdom.”
Another of the royalist dopes, Somchai Sawaengkarn, of the puppet National Legislative Assembly (NLA), ignoring constitutional history and practice, babbled about it not being “necessary to name a regent because modern communication methods have made it easy and convenient to work remotely. The charter should be amended to meet this environment…”.
In another report, Meechai blathered that the demanded changes were “in line with proposed changes to the charter sought by the government…”. That is so nonsensical that it suggests he’s lost his marbles or is a great liar. It could be both. If the changes were “in line,” why the seeming panic and back-filling now?
Recalling Article 5 from 1932, this is what the same article looks like in the draft constitution:
16. Whenever the King is absent from the Kingdom or unable to perform His functions for any reason whatsoever, the King will appoint a person as the Regent and the President of the National Assembly shall countersign the Royal Command.
If this is to change, what does it mean for related articles? The other relevant articles state:
17. In the case where the King does not appoint the Regent under Section 16, or the King is unable to appoint the Regent owing to His not being sui juris or any other reason whatsoever, the Privy Council shall submit the name of a person suitable to hold the office of the Regent to the National Assembly for approval. Upon approval by the National Assembly, the President of the National Assembly shall make an announcement, in the name of the King, to appoint such person as the Regent.
18. While there is no Regent under Section 16 or Section17, the President of the Privy Council shall be Regent pro tempore. In the case where the Regent appointed under Section 16 or Section 17 is unable to perform his duties, the President of the Privy Council shall act as Regent pro tempore….
Our immediate question is what happens if the king dies or is badly injured and can’t appoint a regent? Another crisis and military intervention to again fix the rules and manipulate constitutional principles and practice?
The new king may well end up creating a republican military that “remembers” what motivated the end of the absolute monarchy in 1932. That would be positive in the long run….