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Prem Tinsulanonda

Prem Tinsulanonda (Thai: เปรม ติณสูลานนท์, RTGSPrem Tinnasulanon, pronounced [prēːm tīn.nā.sǔː.lāː.nōn]; 26 August 1920[1] – 26 May 2019)[2] was a Thai military officer, politician, and statesman who served as Prime Minister of Thailand from 3 March 1980 to 4 August 1988, during which time he was credited with ending a communist insurgency and presiding over accelerating economic growth. As president of the Privy Council, he served as Regent of Thailand from the death of King Bhumibol Adulyadej on 13 October 2016, until the 1 December 2016 proclamation of Vajiralongkorn as King. At the age of 98, Prem was the longest-living Thai Prime Minister.

Prem Tinsulanonda
เปรม ติณสูลานนท์

Prem Tinsulanonda (Cropped).jpg
Regent of Thailand
In office
13 October 2016 – 1 December 2016
Prime MinisterPrayut Chan-o-cha
President of the Privy Council
In office
4 September 1998 – 26 May 2019
MonarchBhumibol Adulyadej
Preceded bySanya Dharmasakti
Succeeded bySurayud Chulanont
Prime Minister of Thailand
In office
3 March 1980 – 4 August 1988
MonarchBhumibol Adulyadej
Preceded byKriangsak Chamanan
Succeeded byChatichai Choonhavan
Minister of Defence
In office
24 May 1979 – 5 August 1986
Prime MinisterKriangsak Chamanan
Preceded byKriangsak Chamanan
Succeeded byPanieng Karntarat
Commander in Chief of The Royal Thai Army
In office
2 October 1978 – 26 August 1982
Preceded bySerm Na Nakhon
Succeeded byPrayuth Jarumanee
Personal details
Born(1920-08-26)26 August 1920
Songkhla, Siam (now Thailand)
Died26 May 2019(2019-05-26) (aged 98)
Bangkok, Thailand
Political partyIndependent
Alma materChulachomklao Royal Military Academy
United States Army Armor School
Military service
Allegiance Thailand
Branch/service Royal Thai Army
Years of service1941–1986
RankRTA OF-9 (General).svg General
RTN OF-9 (Admiral).svg Admiral
RTAF OF-9 (Air Chief Marshal).svg Air Chief Marshal
Battles/warsFranco-Thai War
World War II (WIA)
Communist insurgency campaigns

During the Thai political crisis of the mid-2000s, he was accused by deposed prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra and his supporters of masterminding the 2006 coup,[3] as well as in the appointment of the post-coup legislature and interim government of Surayud Chulanont.[4] The military junta that ousted Thaksin denied that Prem had any important political role.[5]

Prem, as the President of the Privy Council, promoted King Bhumibol's ideologies and royal projects, though he sometimes represented himself as being the voice of the king. He urged Thai society to follow the king's advice and himself founded several welfare projects related to education, drug suppression, poverty, and national unity. A southerner, Prem had also dealt personally with trying to resolve the South Thailand insurgency.[6]

Education, military, and political careerEdit

Prem in 1959

Born in Songkhla Province in south Thailand, Prem was the son of Luang Winittantagum (Bueng Tinsulanonda) and Odd Tinsulanonda, and had seven siblings. His father was the warden of Songkhla prison, and Prem jokingly claimed to have spent most of his childhood in prison.[7] Prem attended Maha Vajiravudh Secondary School in Songkhla, followed by Suankularb Wittayalai School in Bangkok. He entered the Royal Thai Army Academy (now Chulachomklao Royal Military Academy) in 1941. A distinguished army officer, he entered politics in 1959, as a member of the Constitution Drafting Committee. From 1968 to 1971 he was a Senator, in 1972–73 was a Member of Parliament, and in 1976 was appointed to the Advisory Council of Prime Minister Thanin Kraivichien. Under Prime Minister Kriangsak Chomanan, he was Deputy Interior Minister in 1977–78 and Minister of Defence from 1979 to 1986.

General Prem is known for initiating the negotiations with the members of the Communist Party of Thailand. Consequently, an amnesty was declared and many communist members — including former student protesters — returned home. This helped end the fighting between the government and communist guerrillas in 1980s.

Prem was single and once declared himself to be "married" to the army.[8]

Prime minister of ThailandEdit

Prem Tinsulanonda on a state visit to the US, 14 April 1984.

After Kriangsak retired in 1980, Prem was chosen as Prime Minister. Prem led three administrations and often shifted coalition partners.[9]

  • 42nd Administration (13 March 1980 – 19 March 1983)
    • 1st Cabinet (3 March 1980 – 11 March 1981)
      • Coalition partners: Social Action Party, Chart Thai, Democrat, Chart Prachachon and Siam Democrat
      • Major opposition: Thai Citizens' Party
    • 2nd Prem Cabinet (11 March 1981 – 8 December 1981)
      • Coalition Partners: Democrat, Chart Thai and a number of smaller parties including Siam Democrat, Ruam Thai and Social Democrat
      • Major opposition: Social Action and Prachakorn Thai
    • 3rd Prem Cabinet (9 Dec 1981 – 30 April 1983)
      • Coalition Partners: Social Action, Democrat, Chart Thai and a number of smaller parties
      • Major opposition: Prachakorn Thai
  • 43rd Administration (30 April 1983 – 5 August 1986)
    • 4th Prem Cabinet (30 April 1983 – 11 August 1986)
      • Colatition partners: Social Action, Democrat, Prachakorn Thai and National Democrat (replaced by the Progressive party in Sept. 1985)
      • Major opposition: Chart Thai
  • 44th Administration (5 August 1986 - 28 April 1988)
    • 5th Prem Cabinet (11 August 1986 – 28 April 1988)
      • Coalition partners: Democrat, Chart Thai, Social Action, Rasadorn
      • Major opposition: Prachakorn Thai, United Democratic, Ruam Thai, Community Action, Progressive

Overcoming coup attemptsEdit

From 1–3 April 1981, a group of army colonels known as "the Young Turks" launched a coup attempt in Bangkok. Prem escorted the King and Queen to Nakhon Ratchasima, and began negotiating with the coup leaders. On 3 April, major leaders agreed to end their "April Fool's Day" coup attempt. Some were allowed to take refuge abroad.

Another coup attempt took place on 9 September 1985. Its leaders had been involved in the previous coup four years earlier. The attempt became violent when rebel soldiers fired at the government's information centres, killing an Australian journalist and his American sound man. The coup attempt was supported by Ekkayuth Anchanbutr, a businessman who had fled the country after Prem's government issued new legislation against financial crime. By late afternoon of the same day, the rebels surrendered to the government. Most of its leaders, including Ekayuth, fled abroad.

Assassination attemptsEdit

Prem was the target of at least four assassination attempts in 1982. The investigation implicated military officers who were among the 1981 coup's leaders and former communists who opposed Prem's amnesty policy. This became one of the pretexts claimed by the coup leaders of 1991.

Negotiation with communist insurgentsEdit

President Reagan during a Working Visit of Prime Minister of Thailand Prem Tinsulanonda in the Oval Office in 1984
Prem with Prime Minister Ruud Lubbers, 10 March 1987

Communist insurgents in Thailand, mainly led by the Communist Party of Thailand, began their armed struggle in the 1960s. After the crackdown of a students' rally at Thammasat University in October 1976, communist activities in the countryside in the northeast of the country increased as students fled to join with the party. In the 1980s, Prem began changing his policy towards the communist insurgents. Previously Prem sent his men to China, persuading it to stop supporting the Communist Party of Thailand. China agreed. Prem's new policy offered amnesty to all insurgents, legally called "the communist terrorists". As a result, thousands of former students who had fled to the jungle left the communist strongholds.[10]

Privy councillor and statesmanEdit

Prem as the President of Privy Council

Due to political unrest in 1988, Prem dissolved parliament and called for a general election. Following the election, leaders of the winning political parties asked Prem to continue his premiership, but Prem stepped down.[11] Consequently, Chatichai Choonhavan, head of Chart Thai Party, was chosen to be the new prime minister.

On 29 August 1988, Prem received honored as a statesman by being the second person from Pridi Banomyong.[12]

On 4 September 1998, Prem was appointed to head King Bhumibol Adulyadej's Privy Council, becoming the successor to Sanya Dharmasakti.

During the Black May, bloody political crisis in May 1992, Prem was said to have played a crucial role in ending the military suppression of the demonstrations, consulting with King Bhumibol to end the violence and bloodshed.

Educational activitiesEdit

Prem was actively involved in many charities, including the Prem Foundation. He established the Prem Tinsulanonda International School, which opened in August 2001 in Chiang Mai Province. The campus covers 90 acres (360,000 m2); the student body numbers over 400, with more than 36 nationalities represented.

March 2006 blast: Prem-Thaksin antagonismEdit

Prem's conflicts with Thaksin's government were apparent from 2005, although he had never mentioned Thaksin. Prem, still influential with the armed forces, became a critic of Thaksin's choice of military commanders, especially when Thaksin named his first cousin, general Chaiyasith Shinawatra, as army chief. Thaksin and his supporters immediately reacted against what they called an "out of constitutional" individual (Prem) "meddling" in Thai politics.[citation needed]

Amid the tensions between Thaksin and an "unconstitutional figure", on 9 March 2006, a small bomb exploded outside Prem's residence in Bangkok. Two people were slightly injured, including a passing British tourist. Police said the device had been hidden beneath a stone bench near an unoccupied security booth at the entrance to the residence. The guards were inside the residence at the time. Three cars parked nearby were damaged by the blast. Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra denied being involved in the attack.[13][14]

Role in political crisis and 2006 coupEdit

Prem found himself a leading player in the Thailand political crisis of 2005-2006. In a number of public lectures, he had criticised the attempts of politicians to tighten their grip on the army, urging the public to resist corruption and vested interests. Some commentators inferred that Prem was criticising Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and his administration.

In June 2006, Thaksin gave a controversial speech to officials claiming "the intervention of an extra-constitutional power, or figure" was seeking to damage his government. Thaksin's supporters presumed Prem was that figure, though Thaksin himself mentioned no names.

Following the September 2006 military coup, Thaksin's supporters blamed Prem, whom they decided must have been the mastermind behind the coup against Thaksin.[3] Prem did help secure the appointment of Surayud Chulanont, another member of the King's Privy Council, as Premier, and allegedly had a say in the appointment of Surayud's Cabinet. Critics claimed the cabinet was full of "Prem's boys".[15][16][17]

In an interview published in early-2006, Prem explained his vision of a distinctive Thai-style democracy in which the monarch remains the ultimate defender of the public interest and retains control of the armed forces. Prem used an equestrian metaphor to describe the relative roles of monarch, prime minister, and the army: "In horse racing they have the stable and the owner of the stable owns the horse. The jockey comes and rides the horse during the race, but the jockey does not own the horse. It's very easy [to comprehend]."[18]

The issue of Prem's responsibility for the coup and the subsequent junta has been hotly contested. A ruling Military Council spokesman stated that Prem was not behind the coup.[19] Thai police Lieutenant-General Theeradech Rodphot-hong, head of the Special Branch, cautioned that any legal proceedings would be improper as these could involve the king in a political conflict. He also urged the activists to drop their campaign as it could create conflict within the country.[20]

Prem with Thai PM Abhisit Vejjajiva, 2009

On 22 July 2007, thousands of protesters, mostly Thaksin supporters, demonstrated in front of Prem's house, calling for him to resign. When the demonstration exploded into violence, police cracked down and arrested several protest leaders, including an interim National Human Rights Commissioner and a former judge, both being former members of deposed prime minister Thaksin's political party.[21] Afterwards, junta chief Sonthi Boonyaratklin visited Prem to apologise for the protests on behalf of the government. A day later, Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont, along with 34 members of his Cabinet, went to Prem's house to apologise to Prem for failing to ensure peace. Surayud accused the protestors of trying to bring down the highest institution of the country.[22] Government spokesman Yongyuth Mayalap said Prem categorically denied the protestors' allegations that he was behind the military coup. According to Yongyuth, Prem said that the charges were repetitive, baseless and provocative.[23]

Prem considered taking legal action against the pro-Thai Rak Thai United front for Democracy against Dictatorship for defamation. A source close to him said Gen Prem compiled evidence and might file defamation charges against nine key anti-coup figures.[24] Prem continued to wield considerable influence over the military. Interior Minister Aree Wongarya and his deputy, Banyat Chansena, held talks with Prem at his residence on 1 August 2007. During the meeting, Prem gave advice on resolving the South Thailand insurgency and on providing assistance for family members of the victims in accordance with the government's Sarn Jai Thai Su Jai Tai campaign.[25]

In summing up Prem's legacy, a Nation editorial entitled, "Prem was no friend of the people", wrote that, "Prem's legacy will be to inspire military top brass to maintain their strong influence in politics, to the diminishment of democracy in Thailand."[26]

Prem and April 2009 protest of Thaksin's supportersEdit

Before and during the mass protests of Thaksin's supporters, the UDD, Thaksin started mentioning Prem's name publicly. UDD leaders harshly blasted Prem for meddling in politics, calling him an ammatya, or 'royal puppet', or 'aristocrat', and a threat to democracy as he had never been democratically elected but had been appointed by the king. Prem did not respond to these attacks.

Regency (2016)Edit

Upon the death of King Bhumibol Adulyadej, Prem, at age 96, became regent of Thailand as Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn asked for period of mourning before being proclaimed king.[27] For the duration of Prem's regency the Privy Council appointed Thanin Kraivichien as its interim president.[28]


Prem died of heart failure at Phramongkutklao Hospital on 26 May 2019 at 09:09 ICT, aged 98.[29]


Prem has received the following decorations and awards in the Honours System of Thailand:


Foreign honoursEdit


  1. ^ Mishra, Patit Paban (2010). "Notable People in the History of Thailand". The History of Thailand. ABC-CLIO. p. 164. ISBN 0313340919.
  2. ^
  3. ^ a b "Could Thailand be Getting Ready to Repeat History?". Asia Sentinel. 2 April 2007. Archived from the original on 25 August 2014. Retrieved 5 April 2007.
  4. ^ "Former Thai PM Prem Tinsulanonda had key role in coup - analysts". Retrieved 15 August 2008.
  5. ^ "UDD aims to damage monarchy". Bangkok Post. 25 July 2007. Retrieved 15 August 2008.[dead link]
  6. ^
  7. ^ Warren (1997). Prem Tinsulanonda. p. 26.
  8. ^ Frederick A. Moritz (4 March 1980). "Thailand's new strong man is also nation's Mr. Clean". The Christian Science Monitor. Retrieved 4 March 2015.
  9. ^ Suchit Bunbongkarn, "The Military in Thai Politics, 1981-1986", published by the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 1987.
  10. ^ "Thailand Communist Insurgency 1959-Present". Retrieved 20 October 2016.
  11. ^ McCargo, Duncan; Pathmanand, Ukrist (2005). The Thaksinization of Thailand (PDF) (Hardcopy ed.). Copenhagen: NIAS Press. p. 130. ISBN 87-91114-45-4. Retrieved 31 December 2018.
  12. ^
  13. ^ "British tourist injured in Bangkok bomb blast". The Telegraph. 10 March 2006. Retrieved 2 January 2007.
  14. ^ Simon Freeman (9 March 2006). "Thailand tourist alert after Bangkok bomb". Times Online. Retrieved 2 January 2007.
  15. ^ "Thailand's post-coup cabinet unveiled". The Australian. 9 October 2006. Archived from the original on 12 March 2007. Retrieved 16 October 2006.
  16. ^ "NLA 'doesn't represent' all of the people". The Nation. 14 October 2006. Archived from the original on 2 November 2006. Retrieved 16 October 2006.
  17. ^ "Assembly will not play a major role". The Nation. 14 October 2006. Archived from the original on 16 January 2007. Retrieved 16 October 2006.
  18. ^ Far Eastern Economic Review
  19. ^ "CNS to take action against Prem's critics". Bangkok Post. April 2007. Retrieved 11 April 2007.[dead link]
  20. ^ Asia Media Post, Petitioners cautioned that appeal improper Archived 20 May 2011 at the Wayback Machine, April 2007
  21. ^ "Six protesters held". Bangkok Post. 23 July 2007. Archived from the original on 23 July 2012. Retrieved 26 July 2007.
  22. ^ "PM says sorry to Prem over mob violence". The Nation. July 2007. Archived from the original on 29 September 2007. Retrieved 26 July 2007.
  23. ^ "PM: UDD aims to damage monarchy". Bangkok Post. 25 July 2007. Retrieved 27 July 2007.[dead link]
  24. ^ "Prem may take UDD to court". Bangkok Post. 26 July 2007. Archived from the original on 17 April 2009.
  25. ^ "Ministers talk to Prem on southern unrest". Bangkok Post. 1 August 2007. Retrieved 1 August 2007.[dead link]
  26. ^ "Prem was no friend of the people" (Opinion). The Nation. 29 May 2019. Retrieved 30 May 2019.
  27. ^ "Prem becomes Regent pro tempore". Bangkok Post. 14 October 2016. Retrieved 24 October 2016.
  28. ^ "Former PM Thanin appointed president of Privy Council". The Nation. 20 October 2016. Retrieved 24 October 2016.
  29. ^ Charuvastra, Teeranai; Reporter, Staff (26 May 2019). "Prem Tinsulanonda, King's Advisor and Statesman, Dies at 98". Khaosod English. Retrieved 26 May 2019.
  30. ^ King bestows new title upon princess
  31. ^ "Semakan Penerima Darjah Kebesaran, Bintang dan Pingat".
  32. ^ "Senarai Penuh Penerima Darjah Kebesaran, Bintang dan Pingat Persekutuan Tahun 1984" (PDF).

Further readingEdit

External linksEdit

Military offices
Preceded by
Serm Na Nakhon
Commander of the Royal Army
Succeeded by
Prayuth Jarumanee
Political offices
Preceded by
Kriangsak Chamanan
Minister of Defence
Succeeded by
Panieng Karntarat
Prime Minister of Thailand
Succeeded by
Chatichai Choonhavan
Preceded by
Sanya Dharmasakti
President of the Privy Council
Position Vacant
Regnal titles
Regency began Regent of Thailand
13 October – 1 December 2016
During beginning of
Vajiralongkorn's reign
Regency ended