Prem leaves a rich legacy

Prem leaves a rich legacy

With the sudden passing of Gen Prem Tinsulanonda, president of the Privy Council, Thailand has lost a revered figure who gained deep respect from members of the armed forces and also those in the political arena.

Born in the southern province of Songkhla, Gen Prem was a professional soldier who climbed to the top of the military in 1978 when he was appointed army chief. It is well known that he had been one of the royal court's most trusted men since the 1970s.

His political career began in 1972 when he became a National Legislative Assembly member during the Thanom Kittikachorn regime.

After the 1976 bloodbath, he joined the cabinet of Thanin Kraivixien as deputy interior minister during a period when Thailand's ideological conflicts intensified, with students and intellectuals fleeing to the jungle to stage a war with the state after a brutal crackdown.

He later joined a new cabinet under Gen Kriangsak Chomanan who was forced to step down in 1980, giving him a chance to take over the premier's job.

During his time, Gen Prem saw much political turbulence and was renamed prime minister in 1983 and again in 1986, following two House dissolutions. The country's economy strengthened under his leadership and he managed to retain his grip despite two coup attempts.

Gen Prem's best-remembered legacy is his success in reuniting the country by issuing the historic "66/23 policy" that gave those fighting in the jungle, including the intellectuals Kasian Tejapira, Chiranan Pitpreecha and Seksan Prasertkul, a chance to return to society.

Most went on to pursue studies abroad and later took up academic jobs in universities or became leaders of civic groups.

The success of this policy marked a crucial chapter in Thai history in which the threat of communism ceased to exist.

It was in 1988 that Gen Prem dissolved parliament again and made the decision to quit politics permanently despite the election winners calling for him to come back again as a non-partisan prime minister. He was quoted as saying "Eight years is enough".

This brave decision, which paved the way for Chatichai Choonhavan of the Chart Thai party to form a coalition, enabled him to avoid the disgrace experienced by many of his predecessors and successors.

In the same year, the late King Rama IX appointed him privy councillor and subsequently a statesman. In 1998 he became the president of the Privy Council.

Even though Gen Prem, with his role on the privy council, was to maintain impartiality in politics, some political elements accused him of "behind the scenes" manoeuvres especially when politics heated up as the country plunged into colour-coded division.

As a revered figure, the statesman was in a position to give the country's leaders a slap on the wrist and he never failed to do so when necessary. Last year, while giving a New Year's speech to well-wishers, including Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha and the regime, the statesman advised the premier to see people as "friends, not foes", so he could run the country smoothly.

His warning came at the time when the regime's popularity was experiencing a nosedive.

Throughout his life, Gen Prem lived by example and Gen Prayut and the regime would do well not to forget Gen Prem's wise decision to relinquish power before the tide turned against him. The regime has been accused of trying to hold on to power at any cost, which is at odds with the example set by Gen Prem.


Bangkok Post editorial column

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