|BEST-SELLING BOOK: The real power of the MONARCH
Published on September 05, 2005 - HM the King’s authority is retained in the Constitution, argues an MP
After the 1932 Revolution that put an end to more than 1,000 years of absolute monarchy in Thailand, most people have formed a general misconception that His Majesty the King is under constitutional rules.
On the contrary, as Pramual Rujanaseri, a party list member of Thai Rak Thai, argues in his best-selling book “Royal Power”, the King has never lost his legitimate power.
“The royal hand-over of democracy to the Thai people in 1932 represents a reduction of absolute monarchy to the exercise of royal power through the Constitution,” he said in the book.
“But it does not mean that the Constitution is above the monarchy.”
Thailand witnessed 16 constitutions during the politically unstable period of democratic development, highlighted by military coups. In all this time, no single party dared to push out a new constitution without seeking prior royal signatures. In particular, the 1978, 1991 and 1997 constitutions all sought royal permission from His Majesty the King first. This has made the institution of the monarchy of Thailand unique.
Pramual has written “Royal Power” to clarify further details about the King of Thailand’s legitimate power, which is embedded formally in the Constitution and informally – which is equally important – in the ancient Thai culture, beliefs, values, procedures and royal traditions.
The current controversy surrounding Auditor-General Khunying Jaruvan Maintaka’s nomination and the attempt by politicians and government officials to remove her from this royally-commanded post has made it necessary to understand His Majesty the King’s royal power.
Jaruvan has defied political moves to oust her from office, arguing that since she got the job by royal command she would only leave it with the King’s signature. The Senate’s appointment of Visut Montriwat to replace Jaruvan three months ago has so far failed to get royal endorsement, and Thailand has plunged into a political and constitutional crisis.
Pramual said in an interview with The Nation that some people were trying to override the royal power of His Majesty the King, whose appointments of state officials could not be overridden.
“But I assume that they have done so because they lack knowledge of His Majesty the King’s royal power,” the author added. “The public also has the misunderstanding that His Majesty is under constitutional rules.
“The fact is that His Majesty will endorse every constitution before it can be implemented. His power apparently overwhelms what’s stated in the charters.”
For more than 1,000 years, Siamese kings had absolute power, but their exercise of royal power may have differed, depending on the time in history. Nevertheless, the kings’ power has never been used to suppress or take advantage of the people.
During the Sukhothai period, the kings ruled over their subjects according to a paternal system, like a father looking after his children. The Ayutthaya kings embraced Brahmanism from the Khmers and adopted the concept of god-kings, or Devaraja. Still, there was no evidence that they exercised their God-like powers to suppress their subjects.
The concept of kingship in
the Rattanakosin Era, starting in 1782, has evolved to become
what is known as aneknikorn samosornsommuti, or the King who is unanimously accepted by the populace.
Phraya Chakri ascended the throne to become King Yodfa, or King Rama I of the Chakri Dynasty, by subduing the riots in Thon Buri. He became king by the unanimous support of the Siamese people.
This tradition would be further exemplified during the reigns of King Rama II, King Rama III, King Rama IV and King Rama V. King Rama VI and King Rama VII ascended the throne by heritage. However, King Ananda, or Rama VIII, and King Bhumibol, or Rama IX, were both appointed by Thai parliaments.
This evolution further augmented the role of the Chakri kings, whose chief aim of exercising royal power has been to defend the land and safeguard and care for the welfare of the Thai people.
Pramual quoted His Majesty, from an interview conducted by National Geographic magazine, as saying: “In my case, the people know me as King. But in fact, the real duty is far from the role of the King as known in the past. My job now is to do anything that is useful. I don’t know what is going to happen in the future. But whatever happens, I will do what is useful.”
According to the Constitution, the King’s status can be defined in five important roles: he is the Head of State; he is a symbol of respect and worship; he can do no wrong; he is the defender of the Buddhist faith; and he is the head of the Royal Army, Royal Air Force and Royal Navy.
The Chakri kings have been pursuing the role of Phra Thammaraja, who ruled with power, decisiveness and the aim of further promoting Buddhism.
As Head of State, the King has the duty and obligation to look after the well-being of his subjects. His relationship with his subjects is very close.
The ancient Thai belief is that kings are those who have prac-tised virtue at the highest level in previous lives, before they were born to be kings. When they become kings, they are determined to continue pursuing virtue at the highest level, defending the land, looking after the welfare of the people, and promoting and supporting Buddhism.
The Siamese Kings practice thosaphitrajatham, or the Ten Virtues of the King, based on the Dharmma principle. The kings do not exercise their royal power through might or weapons, but rely on the Dharmma of the Lord Buddha to look after the welfare of the Thai people.
On one occasion, His Majesty gave an interview to the BBC, in which he said: “Somebody used to say that a kingdom is like a pyramid, with the king on top and the people at the base. But for Thailand, everything is in the opposite. That’s why I feel pain at my neck and my shoulders.”
The King also seeks to look after the plight of the common people. “I try to keep a neutral stance and cooperate peacefully with all parties. Being impartial is necessary to me,” he told the BBC. “The people might be attached to political groups or have their own interests to protect. But the majority of Thais do not have that. They can’t make their wishes known clearly. Therefore, I should pay attention to these people.”
In the broadest terms, the monarch exercises his royal authority as defined by law and by following the royal tradition and the principles of Buddhism. The royal powers are summarised in the graphic below: