Thailand's new king appoints a smaller council of advisers

AP News
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Posted: Dec 06, 2016 2:53 AM

BANGKOK (AP) — Thailand's new king named an 11-member council of advisers on Tuesday, bringing in three new officials, including a former army chief and two representatives of the ruling junta.

The so-called Privy Council that Maha Vajiralongkorn Bodindradebayavarangkun named is smaller than the 16-member council of his father, the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who died on Oct. 13. Vajiralongkorn took the throne on Dec. 1. An official statement said Vajiralongkorn retained seven members from the old council, as well as the privy council head, Prem Tinsulanonda.

The new members are former army chief Gen. Theerachai Nakvanich, Justice Minister Gen. Paiboon Koomchaya and Education Minister Gen. Dapong Ratanasuwan. The two ministers are part of the ruling junta, which took power in a 2014 coup by ousting Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra's elected government.

"The new appointments lend a more military presence to the Privy Council," said Thitinan Pongsudhirak, a political science professor at Chulalongkorn University. But "there has been more continuity from the new line-up than anticipated because most of the previous members have been retained," he said.

Among those removed through the contraction of the council are the director of the crown property bureau, the former chief of navy, a former deputy chief of the military supreme command, former officials, a former diplomat and a businessman.

The seven advisers who were retained are an ex-bureaucrat, an ex-minister, a former prime minister, three ex-jurists and the former chief of the air force.

While the makeup of the new council doesn't shed much light on the 64-year-old king's thinking, the re-appointment of Prem as the privy council chief signals some continuity from Bhumibol's reign.

Prem, one of Bhumibol's closest advisers, had acted as the regent after the king's death during the period before Vajiralongkorn formally accepted the throne.

Thailand is a constitutional monarchy, but Bhumibol played an important role during his 70-year reign in stabilizing the country through a time of enormous change that saw neighboring monarchies collapse under the pressures of the Vietnam War. He was especially known for his energy in development activities, doing hands-on inspections in remote rural areas. He calmed the country through several political crises.

Vajiralongkorn faces the challenges of a country in which democracy has struggled to take root amid frequent coups, ostensibly to control corruption and pull political factions away from their bitter battles.