Power behind Thailand’s throne dies, aged 98

Prem Tinsulanonda, a former Thai military chief, prime minister and key adviser to the royal family, who has been one of Thailand’s key political figures since the 1970s, has died aged 98.

Prem died of heart failure at Bangkok’s Phramongkutklao hospital.

He has donated all his money and assets to help the poor, his aide said.

General Pissanu Phutthawong said Prem had told him to distribute his assets and savings from his salary – hundreds of millions of baht – to sustainable projects for the poor.

He who was accused of masterminding the 2006 coup against then prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, and more than 100,000 pro-Thaksin supporters surrounded Prem’s house in 2009 demanding he step down from the privy council. They accused the alleged power behind the throne of engineering Thaksin’s fall in 2006. Prem denied involvement in the 2006 coup, which has destabilised Thai politics ever since.

King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who died in 2016, appointed Prem to the privy council immediately after the former general’s eight years as prime minister. Prem was appointed head of the privy council, a powerful advisory body, in 1998 and has held a position he held until his death.

“He essentially forged and sustained a partnership between monarchy and military with the latter as junior partner up until today,” said veteran analyst Paul Chambers at Naraesuan University in northern Thailand.

Prem was premier from 1980 to 1988 and brought relative stability after a pro-democracy uprising against a military junta in 1973, a bloody counter-revolution and coup in 1976 and another coup in 1977.

Prem’s body today (Monday) was sent to Wat Benchamaborpit for a royally sponsored bathing rite and chanting.

Thai MPs are expected to vote this week for a new government. Former general Prayuth Chan-ocha, who led a coup in 2014 against Thaksin’s sister Yingluck Shinawatra, is expected to retain the role of prime minister with the support of the unelected, military-appointed senate. 

Thaksin’s allies have the most seats in the lower house but lack an overall majority amid ongoing claims of vote-rigging against the military-controlled authorities.

Prem was often dismissive of democratic politicians. In 2006, he compared governments to jockeys who ride a horse that is owned by the monarch and, in 2014, he said voters “should be proud” of the May 2014 coup that deposed Thaksin’s sister. The voice of the Thai establishment called the putsch “a great display of loyalty”.


Former prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva with Prem Tinsulanonda in 2009. Picture credit: Wikimedia