M.R.Prudhisan Jumbala is an associate professor in Politics, Faculty of Political Science, Chulalongkorn University, and is on the committees of the two foundations and the King Prajadhipok Museum.
|His Majesty and the Country's Governance
|Seventy four years ago on June 24, 1932, the so-called Absolute Monarchy in
Siam was ended by a coup, even though the then reigning and ruling King Prajadhipok
was undertaking steps to bring about a Constitutional Monarchy. On March 2,
1935, the King abdicated, saying:
"Now that I am of the opinion that my desire for the people to have
a real voice in the policies of the country has not been fulfilled and as I
feel that now there is no longer any way for me to assist and protect the people,
I therefore desire to abdicate
It was known among those close to him that H.M. King Prajadhipok was well aware
that incessant conflict between the Monarch and the government would be detrimental
to the country's progress. Thus, by removing himself from the throne, he not
only underscored the importance of individual freedom and the rule of law but
also helped to ensure the survival of the Monarchy.
While he declined to exercise his right to name a successor, it was also known
that he mused that it would be good for the country should Parliament choose
to elevate an offspring of his beloved half-brother, H.R.H. Prince Mahidol,
as King, for the then deceased Prince "was a real democrat who was
close to the people and who had sacrificed much for the peoples well being.
He was therefore loved by them. Such love and respect they had for him might
motivate them to also love his offspring, and thus be good for the country.
This year, also in the month of June, the country is joyously and thankfully
celebrating the 60th Anniversary of the Accession to the Throne of the second
son of H.R.H. Prince Mahidol. H.M. King Prajadhipok's prediction had really
However, as we celebrate, let us recall and appreciate well that it was no
mean feat for His Majesty the King to have accomplished.
H.M. King Bhumibol Adulyadej became a constitutional king
after his as yet uncrowned 20 year-old brother, H.M. King Ananda Mahidol, met
a sudden death on June 9, 1946. He himself was 18 years old at the time. Until
his coronation in 1950, Thailand had been without a crowned resident Monarch
for some 15 years since H.M. King Prajadhipoks abdication. The onus was thus
on His present Majesty to revitalise the status of the Monarchy and to fashion
for it anew a role appropriate to the constitutional order.
Virtuous and Constitutional King
Though bound by constitutional constraints, His Majesty none the less pronounced
the Oath of Accession to reign with righteousness for the benefit and happiness
of all the people of Siam, thus stating his royal intention to be a Dharma
Raja or Virtuous King who would not act arbitrarily but within moral bounds,
nor to seek personal benefits but to do all for the benefit of his people. The
traditional idea actually dovetails nicely with that of the rule of law in a
modern constitutional order. On this, His Majesty was to expound in 1978 and
1979 to the effect that though laws applied to all equally, they were mere instruments
of justice rather than justice itself. Delivering justice required more than
laws; a sense of morality and ethics and the recognition of the realities of
the situation were also imperative.
Faced with a feeble constitutional order in the reigns early years and with
a government largely unappreciative of a Constitutional Monarchs right to be
consulted, to encourage and to warn, His Majesty none the less persevered in
the performance of his duty for the peoples benefit. He personally initiated
many healthcare, educational and disaster relief programmes and also began pilot
studies on rural development. When the opportunity arose, he made arduous trips
to the outlying regions to visit his people and to find ways of alleviating
their hardships. Thus endearing himself to his people, the Monarchy became a
reality in the hearts and minds of the Thai.
In 1957, Field Marshal Sarit Thanarat seized power and consolidated his revolutionary
regime. In reality a dictatorship devoid of any claim to legitimacy except for
the reference to the paternalism of past kings and a commitment to national
development, the regime had to rely on the Monarch as the fountain of legitimacy
domestically and as the representative of a modern nation internationally, qualities
which the regime itself lacked.
In such circumstances, His Majesty was able to demonstrate in his own unique
way the contributions a constitutional monarch could make to national development.
He personally pioneered and paid for many development projects that reached
out to the people in ways that the government bureaucracy failed to do, handing
them over to the government to carry on in due course. These thus supplemented,
and carved the way for, government programmes rather than conflicted with them.
Neither were they beyond criticism. His Majesty is known to have said that,
if they were, progress would not come about. In fact, the objective was to help
the people to help themselves and become self-sufficient, and as a consequence
better able to govern themselves.
His Majestys patient and persevering pursuit of a step-by-step and evolutionary
approach to the acting out of his role without incurring conflicts with the
government in power eventuated in his having boundless royal influence in place
of the powers Absolute Monarchs of times past had at their disposal.
Influence at times of crisis
His Majesty has sparingly, carefully and suitably used the influence so built
up to bring about resolutions to national political crises in the last 30 years
of greater political consciousness about the meanings of constitutionalism and
democracy among the general public.
When in 1973, as students rallied to demand constitutional rule from the then
military regime, His Majesty advised the government to avoid violence and the
students to use their heads instead of their feet. Violence none the less broke
out as soldiers fired on the demonstrators. Bloodshed ensued and the Prime Minister
resigned. His Majesty timelily went on television to announce the royal appointment
of a civilian Prime Minister, duly countersigned, thereby bringing instant peace.
Later, his influence was crucial in the appointment of a new Legislative Assembly
from a broad section of the public to scrutinize a newly drafted constitution
along democratic lines. Yet when that document gave him the right to appoint
senators nominated by the Privy Council, his advisors, His Majesty expressed
his unease and the constitution was amended accordingly. In sum, having used
his influence to resolve a national crisis, he sought to remain above politics
as befitting a Constitutional Monarch.
In 1991, there was a coup against an elected government. Later a new constitution
was drafted which allowed the appointment of a non-elected Prime Minister. This
made it possible for the newly elected House of Representatives to install General
Suchinda Kraprayoon, a coup leader, as Prime Minister. Public dissatisfaction
ensued. Many felt that it signaled a return to military dominance. Some petitioned
the King to dissolve Parliament. On this, His Majesty has recounted, demonstrating
well how careful he was to act within constitutional constraints:
I consulted all the 11 political parties in Parliament. Of these, 10 said
that Parliament should not be dissolved. Only one said it should be. So
course of action was not taken.
Later, a massive rally was held to demand Suchindas resignation and when
General Chamlong Srimuang, a prominent leader of the rally, and others were
arrested and soldiers moved in to quell the demonstrators, bloodshed ensued
without signs of ending. In the near civil war situation, the people looked
again to the Monarch, even though they considered themselves part of civil society
On the fourth day, the 20th of May 1992, His Majesty again timelily exerted
his influence to resolve the national crisis. He gave Suchinda and Chamlong
an audience and brought them to their senses by saying that the crisis had developed
from a political one into a national one, affecting the peoples security and
morale and the survival of the nation. Therefore he beseeched the two to put
their heads together, rather than confront each other, for the countrys sake.
Subsequently, Suchinda resigned and peace and normalcy returned. The Speaker
of the House of Representatives had the sense to nominate a non-politician,
Anand Panyarachun, as Prime Minister. When the constitution had been amended
to ensure that only a MP could become Prime Minister, Parliament was dissolved
and new general elections were held. A process of redemocratisation was thus
The current crisis in 2006
Alas, even if the May 1992 events had mobilized many sections of the general
public to push for democratic reforms and the drafting anew of a constitution
with public opinions widely sought in the process such that it was promulgated
in 1997, the Thai constitutional order has not escaped the lack of confidence
in corrupt politicians who use both state power and the power of money for their
In 2006, the Thai constitutional order is facing yet another crisis. Arising
out of dissatisfaction in some sections of the public with Prime Minister Thaksin
Shinawatra, of the party with a massive majority in the House, for his lack
of ethics in having conflicts of interest and in using state power for personal
benefits, a series of large peaceful rallies and marches were held to demand
his resignation. Again, petitions were made to His Majesty beseeching him to
deliver a royally-appointed Prime Minister.
Thaksin decided not to resign but instead dissolved the House and called for
new elections on only 37 days of dissolution. The former opposition parties
boycotted them in protest, making it virtually impossible for there to be a
full House arising from them. There was also a lack of confidence as to whether
the Election Commission would conduct free and fair elections. All this compounded
into a crisis of immobilism of the constitutional process.
Once again, His Majesty the King has had to use his inordinate wisdom in finding
and showing the way to resolve the crisis within constitutional bounds. In the
end, he timelily seized the occasion on April 25, 2006, when the Presidents
of the Administrative Court and of the Supreme Court were routinely in audience
to express his distress that people had been petitioning him for a royally-appointed
Prime Minister, something which is not democratic. If he were to appoint
one, he would be acting beyond his constitutional duty. He thus offered his
opinion that if there were not enough people elected, the democratic system
would stall and that one party, one candidate (running in some constituencies)
is not possible in a democracy. He then beseeched the two Court Presidents
to consult with the President of the Constitutional Court, as together they
were the Judiciary, to find ways of resolving the immobility, without contravening
the provisions of the constitution, such that the country could overcome the
obstacles and make progress.
His Majesty thus exercised his right to remind the Judiciary that as the third
branch of government, it had governmental duties to perform, actually with
broad jurisdictions, to advise it in the performance of them and also
to encourage it to fight for goodness, fight for justice in the land.
With such ideas as guiding lights, the three Courts diligently and assuredly
began their quest for non-conflicting measures to deal with the immobilism.
In sum, H.M. King Bhumibol Adulyadej has throughout the 60 years of his reign
dedicated himself to the performance of his duties as a Constitutional Monarch
in such a way as to have made the Monarchy into the invariable constant
above the inconstancies of politics so as to sustain the democratization
process. We Thais should trouble His benevolent Majesty less by learning how
to really govern ourselves.
An excerpt from the Exhibition Two Virtuous Kings to be shown at the
King Prajadhipok Museum at Panfa Bridge July 2 to September 30. Tel (02) 2803413-4
|Keywords : King Prajadhipok, King Phumibol, Constitutional Monarchy, Prudhisan Jumbala