BANGKOK – Thailand’s Privy Council Chairman and Statesman, Gen Prem Tinsulanonda has died from heart failure at Phramongkutklao Hospital on Sunday morning at the age of 98, according to media reports.
As chairman of the prestigious Privy Council of royal advisers, Prem played an important role in organizing the ornate coronation of the King Maha Vajiralongkorn earlier this month, and also served briefly as the country’s regent shortly after King Bhumibol, the current monarch’s father, died in 2016 after a 70-year reign.
Prem was Thailand’s 16th prime minister, serving three terms from 1980 to 1988. He was also a former army chief.
Many Thais remember him as the prime minister who served as the bridge between decades of military rule and a period of democratization that came afterward.
Gen Prem was a kind of father figure, closely linked to the military and monarchy, a trusted advisor to the late King Bhumipol and a symbol of Thailand’s hybrid system of “guided democracy”.
He was born on Aug 26, 1920 at tambon Bo Yang in Muang district of Songkhla province. He was the last of the eight children born to Luang Winijthantakam (Bueng Tinsulanonda) and Mrs Winijthantakam (Odd Tinsulanonda).
He was given the name “Prem” by revered monk Phra Rattanathatmuni (Baen Khanathaporano). The surname “Tinsulanonda” was bestowed on the family by King Rama VI on June 14, 1919.
In his childhood, Gen Prem attended Maha Vajiravudh Secondary School in Songkha, followed by Suan Kularb Wittaya School in Bangkok, where he graduated in 1937.
He continued his education at an army technical school in the cavalry division before joining the army, and went on to take part in the Indochina War and Second World War.
After World War II, Gen Prem was an army officer in Uttaradit province. In 1952, he was awarded a scholarship to study in the United States at a cavalry school in Fort Knox, Kentucky, along with Gen Pichit Kullavanijaya and Gen Wichit Sukmark. On his return, he became deputy commander of a cavalry school in Saraburi province, which later became the Cavalry Centre.
He was given the rank of major general and appointed commander of the Cavalry Centre in 1968. He was made deputy commander of the 2nd Army overseeing the Northeast region in 1973, promoted to the rank of lieutenant general and appointed commander of the 2nd Army in 1974.
He became an assistant army commmander in 1977, holding the rank of general, and was appointed commander-in-chief of the army in 1978.
Gen Prem was one of the architects of Thailand’s modern history, famously offering amnesty to members of the Communist Party and ending a two-decade armed struggle. Fugitive former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra accused him of involvement in the 2006 coup.
He first entered politics in 1959 and served as a Senator from 1968 to 1971 and an MP from 1972 to 1973. In 1976, he was appointed to the Advisory Council of Prime Minister Thanin Kraivichien, and assumed the roles of deputy interior minister and defence minister before becoming the Thailand’s 16th prime minister, the position he held from 1980 to 1988.
He was appointed a member of the Privy Council — the King’s advisors — on Aug 23, 1988 and became Privy Council president on Sept 4, 1998.
Gen Prem remained a bachelor, and once declared he was “married” to the army.
By Geoff Thomas
Source: Reuters, Bangkok Post