( PR4US.com | Press Release | 2016-11-25 08:42:31 )
The king had to intervene several times to help defuse explosive national crises
IN THE SEVEN decades of his reign, His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej saw 26 prime ministers and nine military coups. He grew from being a young and inexperienced man on the throne to a seasoned and refined head of state.
But His Majesty was not a symbolic head of state, as he had won trust and respect from society, and also commanded moral authority. This respect and authority put him in the best position to help guide the country out of political crises, even though he usually kept himself above politics and sought to remain impartial.
He once spoke about the need to step in at times of national crisis: “It seems to be a very bad thing to defuse a crisis, because one touches politics. But if we try to speak and put some reason into the heads of people, I don’t think that is so bad. And even the word ‘defusing’ the situation – I don’t think that is very bad. If you don’t defuse a bomb, it will blow up.”
His Majesty was speaking in reply to a question from BBC reporter David Lomax in an interview in 1979 for the documentary “Soul of a Nation”.
The King also told the BBC reporter that he kept politically impartial. “We keep in the middle, neutral, and in peaceful coexistence with everybody. That is the way of doing it. We are in the middle. We could be crushed by both sides, but we are impartial.”
Thanks to the King’s moral authority and trust from the public, he opted to step in when intervention from someone of his stature was badly needed in times of political crisis that threatened to start a war within the country.
There were three major political crises where the King stepped in to mediate and help avert further disaster – in 1973, 1992 and 2006.
The first intervene on October 14, 1973, "Day of Great Sorrow”.
The first mediation came after the student-led uprising on October 14, 1973, which was known later as the “Day of Great Sorrow”.
The protesters were demanding an early completion of the drafting of the new charter, which had been going on for several years. The government led by Field Marshal Thanom Kitti-kachorn reacted by arresting 13 activists calling for a permanent constitution to be promulgated. In an initial mediation attempt, the King gave separate audiences to the prime minister and student leaders on Oct 13, when he urged the two sides to come to peace, according to the book “King Bhumibol Adulyadej: A Life’s Work”.
The government agreed to finish drafting the charter within a year, though the number of protesters swelled to about 400,000. But the situation worsened on October 14, when security forces opened fire on the protesters, leaving 77 people dead and 857 others injured. Many protesters then moved to Chitralada Villa, where the Royal Family was residing, and were given refuge inside the palace compound.
The King gave a rare television address to the nation that evening, turning the tide of violence at a time of political and constitutional breakdown. “Today is a day of great sorrow that will be recorded with the utmost grief in the history of our Thai nation. For the past six or seven days, there were various demands and negotiations that culminated in an agreement between the students and the government. But then petrol bombs were thrown and tear-gas was fired, leading to clashes that left many people injured. Violence then escalated all over the capital and turned into a riot that has not ended. Some 100 of our compatriots have lost their lives. I urge all sides and all people to eliminate the causes of violence so our country will return to normalcy.”
The King also said that Thanom stepped down as prime minister and appointed privy councillor Sanya Dharmasakti as his replacement.
The second time, May 1992, “Black May”.
The second time His Majesty |interceded was after a bloody military crackdown on pro-democracy |protesters in May 1992, which later became known as “Black May”. The official death toll was 52, with |hundreds injured and more than 3,500 arrested.
Dramatic ‘Black May’ intervention
People had taken to the streets against General Suchinda Kraprayoon’s decision become an unelected prime minister even though, as a key coup-maker in the 1991 power seizure, he had promised not to assume premiership. The protesters included many members of the affluent middle-class, who carried mobile phones – an expensive status symbol at the time – to communicate.
The demonstrators refused to disperse even after the protest leader, former Bangkok governor Chamlong Srimuang, was arrested on May 18, 1992. There were riots and arson attacks as Bangkok descended into anarchy and a complete collapse of law and order.
Then, on the night of May 20, the King appeared in a national broadcast along with Suchinda and Chamlong. In an iconic image, the monarch was seen sitting on a sofa while the two sparring leaders lay prostrate apologetically on the carpet in front of him. It looked as if a father was admonishing his feuding sons.
In the broadcast, the King was heard telling Suchinda and Chamlong: “Our country does not belong to any one or two people, it belongs to everyone. The danger is that when people get in a state of blind fury and act in uncontrolled violence, they will not even know what they are fighting about or how to solve the problem. They will only know that they must win. But can there be a winner? Of course not. It is so very dangerous. There will only be losers – that is, everyone is a loser, each side in the confrontation is a loser. If great destruction occurs in Bangkok, then the country as a whole is also destroyed. In such a case, what is the point of anyone feeling proud to be the winner, when standing on a pile of ruins and rubble?”
Thanks to His Majesty’s mediation, the protesters dispersed and the forces returned to their barracks. Later, Suchinda announced that he was resigning in order “to allow the situation to return to normal”.
Another Royal intervention in April 2006, 'The yellow shirts’ rally.
Another Royal intervention occurred during the Constitutional Crisis of 2006, which was prompted by a snap election called by then-prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra in April – who had faced daily street protests involving thousands of demonstrators. The yellow shirts’ rally was triggered by the sale of the Shinawatra family’s shares in Shin Corp to Singapore’s Temasek Holdings. The deal raised concerns over national security, as Thai-owned satellites were part of the sale, and there was huge criticism over the way it was set up to be tax-free.
Key opposition parties – the Democrats, Chart Thai and Mahachon – boycotted the snap election on grounds that it was unfair to the opposition as the election had been called within 30 days. Thaksin’s Thai Rak Thai Party won 16 million votes or 56 per cent of ballots. However, the legitimacy of the vote result was questioned, as most constituencies only had one candidate – from the ruling party.
Protest leader, Sondhi Limthongkul of the People’s Alliance for Democracy, led calls for the King to appoint a new prime minister – arguing that His Majesty could exercise this power under Article 7 of the constitution. King Bhumibol disagreed.
His Majesty had no choice but to step in as a last resort when a constitutional crisis appeared to be developing, the book said. The King suggested that ultimate responsibility for addressing the crisis rested with the Supreme Administrative Court and the Constitutional Court.
“I have always done everything in line with the constitution. So there can be no royally-appointed prime minister. When a crisis happens, you cannot shift the responsibility to the king. The king does not have that duty,” His Majesty said in late April 2006 during the swearing-in ceremony of new senior judges. Just over a week later, the Constitutional Court ruled the results of the April 2 election as nullified, and a new election was called.