Skip to the content Home .:. About .:. Biography
Grant Peck
Gender Male
Job Associated Press Staff Writer
Desc Grant Peck has covered coups and elections in Thailand for The Associated Press since 1992


Media Associated Press


Coworker Kaweewit Kaewjinda

2019 04 02 Publish

Thailand’s junta leader looks set to return as prime minister after a general election stacked heavily in his favor, but the process reveals that more than a decade’s polarization in Thai politics is as strong as ever. Rather than ensuring stability, the sharply divided vote almost guarantees new struggles over power, which could involve parliament, street protests or even fresh military intervention

A self-declared ‘democratic front’ of seven political parties says a preliminary vote count from the March 24 election shows it will be able to put together a majority in the House of Representatives

With the final election results not being certified until May 9, there’s a good chance the numbers - perhaps whittled down by disqualifications - will not give the anti-junta coalition a majority. But this runs the risk of appearing that the junta-friendly Election Commission is helping to steal the election, creating a public backlash and the possibility of street protests

The army’s excuse for staging its coup in 2014 was to end political strife that deadlocked the country’s administration. Aside from the maneuvering to form a new government, the vote showed that what Thailand’s people want is not uniform and perhaps not even clear after nearly half a decade in which political activities were banned and freedoms of speech and assembly were severely restricted

Thaksin Shinawatra was beloved by many in the countryside for policies such as universal health care and farm subsidies, but was loathed by many in the country’s conservative establishment who saw him as corrupt and a threat to the traditional role of the monarchy at the center of Thai society. He was ousted by a 2006 coup and is now in exile

But the dominating factor of Thaksin as boogeyman may be fading, with the rise of what some analysts see as a third force, the Future Forward Party, which starting from scratch without the benefit of old-school politicians in its leadership managed to pull off a third-place finish in the polls, both in terms of popular vote and likely seat total.

The party has a youth-oriented appeal but also a frank anti-military stance, and as more or less amateurs, stands apart from the other major contenders. Part of the party’s appeal is that it has given those opposed to both military rule and Thaksin a path to express themselves.

Party leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit has said he would join a coalition and support a Pheu Thai prime minister. Yet in a recent interview, when a reporter asked him to say the first word that popped in his head when he heard the name Thaksin Shinawatra, his answer was telling: ‘History’

… the Future Forward Party and Pheu Thai are trying to move it toward a pro-democracy versus anti-democracy dialogue, said Jacob Ricks, a political scientist at Singapore Management University.

2019 05 27 Publish

In this Aug. 6, 1988, file photo, then Thai Prime Minister Prem Tinsulanonda greets then British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher at Bangkok Military Airport

Prem Tinsulanonda, who as an army commander, prime minister and adviser to the royal palace was one of Thailand’s most influential political figures over four decades, died Sunday at age 98. A statement from the palace said Prem died of heart failure at Bangkok’s Phra Mongkutklao hospital, and had served the throne loyally, contributing beneficially to the country

Prem was best known for his long-standing devotion to the monarchy, especially the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who appointed him to his Privy Council immediately after Prem’s eight years as prime minister, and named him head of that powerful advisory body in 1998, a position he held until his death. Prem is credited by scholars with establishing the unspoken primacy of the palace in Thailand’s power structure, cementing a mutually beneficial alliance with the military

Prem was prime minister from 1980 to 1988, and helped usher in a period of relative stability after a successful pro-democracy uprising against a military dictatorship in 1973, a counter-revolution and coup in 1976 and another coup in 1977, as well as edginess about communist takeovers in neighboring Indochina in 1975

While most Thai army commanders came to the position through coups, Prem was elected constitutionally by parliamentary vote, though he never ran for office. As prime minister, he weathered two attempted coups and was reportedly the target of several assassination plots

Critics questioned his devotion to democracy, and accused him of encouraging, if not engineering, the 2006 coup that ousted elected Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. He denied such allegations, but in the months preceding the military takeover, he frequently spoke out about corruption and greed in government - a major accusation against Thaksin by his critics - and strongly advised in public speeches to army and navy cadets that their loyalty was to king and country, not the government

Ironically, Prem’s barely veiled backing of the coup set in motion events that contributed to a decline in the near-universal respect for the monarchy, because of the perception among the popular Thaksin’s supporters that the palace was taking sides in politics, something it publicly always denied doing under the system of constitutional monarchy

The coup set off a sometimes violent battle for power between Thaksin’s opponents and his political allies, who despite electoral victories were forced time and again from office, culminating in another coup in 2014. An election in March this year is set to install a government in the near future, but constitutional changes ensure the military will keep elected politicians on a tight leash

Prem retained his role as a behind-the-scenes power broker after the 2006 coup, especially as King Bhumibol was in ill health for much of the decade before his death in 2016. Prem, in apparently vigorous health for his age until recently, looked frail at two recent public appearances: voting in the March general election and the formal coronation of Bhumibol’s son, King Maha Vajiralongkorn, earlier this month

Prem was born in the major southern fishing port of Songkhla on Aug. 26, 1920. He attended the prestigious Chulachomklao Royal Military Academy in Bangkok and later U.S. Army schools. He began his military career in 1941 as a second lieutenant in a tank regiment

He first achieved national prominence in 1974-77, when as regional army commander in Thailand’s poor rural northeast he stressed development and civic action instead of military might in a successful campaign against communist insurgents. As prime minister, he continued using policies of amnesty and other political means to prompt defections from the communist guerrilla movement

Junior officers pushed a reluctant Prem into taking the prime minister’s job in 1980, when Thailand was facing an ailing economy and perils on the border with Cambodia, which had been occupied by Vietnamese forces who had driven out the communist Khmer Rouge regime but also sent hundreds of thousands of refugees into Thailand. At the same time, Thailand expanded ties with China and allies in the West, Japan and Southeast Asia

Prem was appointed deputy interior minister in 1977 and later army commander and defense minister. He became prime minister in March 1980, after the resignation of Kriangsak Chamanand, another former military leader. The border crisis with Cambodia eased over time, and Prem had the good luck to preside over the birth of Thailand’s economic boom, which ended only with Asia’s devastating 1997 financial crisis

Thitinan Pongsudhirak, a political scientist at Bangkok’s Chulalongkorn University, credited Prem with keeping the military at arm’s length from politics by warding off the coup attempts in 1981 and 1985, and checking elected politicians from excessive graft by shielding the Finance Ministry and macro-policy agencies, particularly the Central Bank, from domestic politics

But Prem showed little appetite for public political activity, and was dubbed by some academics as suffering from ‘reluctant ruler syndrome’. Critics accused him of indecision and lacking in imagination, and influential businessmen criticized his government’s austere economic policies. His aloof manner, bordering on arrogance, didn’t help his popularity

Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, the junta leader who seized power in 2014, praised Prem as ‘a role model for Thais who love the country,’ according to a statement from deputy government spokesman Werachon Sukondhapatipak

A later government statement called Prem a ‘hero,’ and said that flags would be lowered to half-staff for seven days in his honor and that civil servants would dress appropriately for mourning for three weeks. Never married, Prem leaves no family survivors. Thailand’s Princess Sirindhorn will preside over his initial Buddhist funeral rites on Monday

2019 07 16 Publish

King Maha Vajiralongkorn presided over the swearing-in of the Cabinet, whose 36 members pledged their loyalty to the constitutional monarch. The Cabinet’s inauguration dissolved the junta that had governed while giving itself almost unlimited powers without oversight

Prayuth Chan-ocha is both prime minister and defense minister in the new government. His key partners are Democrat party leader Jurin Laksanawisit, who is deputy prime minister and commerce minister, and Bhumjai Thai Party leader Anutin Charnvirakul, who is deputy prime minister and health minister. Anutin campaigned for legalization of the production of marijuana to aid farmers.

Three other deputy prime ministers held the same jobs in Prayuth’s military government. One, Prawit Wongsuwan, was a senior career military officer like Prayuth. Another former senior officer, Anupong Paojinda, retains the post of interior minister