Thai King picks junta-linked men for privy council

A screen grab from Thai TV on Dec 1 showed privy council president Prem Tinsulanonda (with pink sash) bowing and Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha prostrating as he looked up to King Maha Vajiralongkorn.
A screen grab from Thai TV on Dec 1 showed privy council president Prem Tinsulanonda (with pink sash) bowing and Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha prostrating as he looked up to King Maha Vajiralongkorn.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Seven out of 10 chosen had acted as advisers to late King Bhumibol

Thailand's new King has appointed to his privy council retired generals linked to the ruling junta, while retaining many of his late father's royal advisers.

In a notice released yesterday, King Maha Vajiralongkorn Bodindradebayavarangkun appo- inted 10 people to his privy council, out of which seven had also acted as advisers to the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej. The other three are Justice Minister Paiboon Kumchaya, Education Minister Dapong Ratanasuwan and retired army chief Teerachai Nakwanich.

Over the weekend, the new monarch had also sworn in 96-year-old former prime minister Prem Tinsulanonda as the president of his privy council, putting him in the same position that he used to hold during King Bhumibol's reign.

Analysts say the King's retention of long-standing privy councillors would help maintain near-term stability in the kingdom, while his new picks would bolster the standing of the junta.

"From now on, it's going to be more difficult to criticise the junta," said one political analyst who declined to be named, citing the sensitivity of the matter.

General Paiboon, a former deputy supreme commander, recently made headlines with his push to reform Thailand's drug laws. Gen Dapong, a former chief of army staff, has helmed both the natural resources and environment ministry as well as the education ministry under this government. Gen Teerachai retired as army chief in September.

Open discussion about the monarchy in Thailand is restricted by a law that allows anyone who insults or defames royals to be jailed for up to 15 years.

Last week, anti-junta activist Jatuphat Boonpattaraksa was accused of lese majeste and arrested for allegedly sharing a Thai-language biography of King Maha Vajiralongkorn posted online by the BBC. The article was shared widely on social media, but also condemned by royalists. Jatuphat has since been released on bail.

The police, meanwhile, visited the BBC's office in Bangkok yesterday, but found the office closed as staff had stayed away in response to intimidation on social media.

King Maha Vajiralongkorn, 64, ascended the throne last Thursday, ending a seven-week interregnum after the death of 88-year-old King Bhumibol.

The late King, who reigned for 70 years, was seen as the father of the nation and revered as a demigod whose influence extended beyond what was typical of constitutional monarchs. His birthday on Monday was marked by mass memorial ceremonies.

The new monarch's coronation will be held some time after King Bhumibol's cremation next year.

Thailand is run by a military government installed after a coup in 2014. While it has pledged to follow a "road map" back to fresh elections - now expected late next year - it has not explicitly committed to a deadline.

A new Constitution, expected to be endorsed by King Maha Vajiralongkorn, and promulgated soon after, will commit future elected governments to follow a long-term development plan. It will also allow for a non-elected prime minister to be installed.  

Political gatherings remain banned in the kingdom, and some politicians are worried they may not have enough time to prepare for future polls.

For now, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha is expected to reshuffle his Cabinet with the loss of two ministers.

Thailand's benchmark SET Index ended up by 0.99 per cent at the close of trading yesterday.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 07, 2016, with the headline 'Thai King picks junta-linked men for privy council'. Print Edition | Subscribe