Monday, August 4, 2014

Democracy Regains, 1980s

In a significant progression, much of the 1980s saw a process of democratization overseen by the King and Prem Tinsulanonda. The two preferred constitutional rule, and acted to put an end to violent military interventions.

(Another shot of the Phu Chan area)

Here’s how Prem came to power:

In April 1981 a clique of junior army officers popularly known as the "Young Turks" staged a coup attempt, taking control of Bangkok. They dissolved the National Assembly and promised sweeping social changes. But their position quickly crumbled when Prem accompanied the royal family to Khorat. With the King's support for Prem made clear, loyalist units under the palace favorite General Arthit Kamlangek managed to recapture the capital in a bloodless counterattack.

This episode raised the prestige of the monarchy still further, and also enhanced Prem’s status as a relative moderate. A compromise was therefore reached. The insurgency ended and most of the ex-student guerillas returned to Bangkok under an amnesty. In December 1982, the Thai army Commander in Chief accepted the flag of the Communist Party of Thailand at a widely-publicized ceremony held in Banbak. Here, communist fighters and their supporters handed in their weapons and swore allegiance to the government.[1]

(Prem, early 1980s)

Prem declared the armed struggle over.[1] The army returned to its barracks, and yet another constitution was promulgated, creating an appointed Senate to balance the popularly elected National Assembly. Elections were held in April 1983, giving Prem Tinsulanonda, now reincarnated as a civilian politician, a large majority in the legislature (an arrangement which came to be known as "Premocracy").

Prem was also the beneficiary of the accelerating economic revolution which was sweeping South-East Asia. After the recession of the mid 1970s, economic growth took off. For the first time Thailand became a significant industrial power, and manufactured goods such as computer parts, textiles and footwear overtook rice, rubber and tin as Thailand’s leading exports. With the end of the Indochina wars and its insurgencies, tourism developed rapidly and became a major earner.

The urban population continued to grow rapidly, but overall population growth began to decline, leading to a rise in living standards even in rural areas – although the Isaan continued to lag behind and still continues to. While Thailand did not grow as fast as the "Four Asian Tigers," (namely Taiwan, South Korea, Hong Kong and Singapore) it achieved sustained growth.

Prem Tinsulanonda held office for eight years, surviving two more general elections in 1983 and 1986, and remained personally popular. However, the revival of democratic politics led to a demand for a more leadership options. In 1988 fresh elections brought former General Chatichai Choonhavan to power. Prem rejected the invitation offered by major political parties for the third term of premiership.

Significantly, the Prem era also marked the end of violent struggle between the Bangkok government and communist insurgents by issuing the general amnesty. Former students who fled the cities and joined the communist party, returned eventually to take part in Thai society.

(Prem, contemporary photo)

References for this post and the preceeding post (“Democracy Falters, 1974-80”):

"Declaration of the State of Emergency within the areas of Bangkok Metropolis". (2008, 2 September). Government Gazette of Thailand, (vol 125, pt 144 D, special issue). pp. 1.

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