for a Better Structure
Anand Panyarachun: ‘Accidental Prime Minister’
committed to treating more than the symptoms of Thailand’s political malaise
we want to have democratic rule we have to earn it. It is something that is not
given to you by divine right…. It is something that we have to earn, and it is
something that we have to fight for: fight for with our ideas, fight for with
our own participation, fight for with our own responsibility to the public at
There are those who have never
forgiven Anand Panyarachun for agreeing to become Prime Minister in 1991. For
these activists and intellectuals. Mr. Anand legitimised the “coup d’etat” in
February of that year, by the military group that called itself the National Peace-keeping
Then there are those who have
never forgiven him for having stripped the coup leaders of their power, and at
the same time treated with disdain the elected politicians who were willing to
side with the coup leaders.
in Bangkok and the cities supported him in his efforts as “Prime Minister by accident”,
as he described himself. Toward the end of his second term - appointed almost
on the spur of the moment, to steer Thailand back to normality, after the bloody
anti-military protests of May 1992 - Mr. Anand was under such heavy criticism
that his supporters rallied around him. A special reception was organised for
him at a Bangkok hotel and “I love Anand” car stickers appeared everywhere.
critics accuse him of having been dictatorial and intellectually arrogant. Some
are bored with the media attention given to him. Some admire him for his principles
and independence. They accept his weaknesses - such as impatience with the more
simple-minded questions of reporters, and intolerance of the tedious “nit-picking”
of Thai political debate.
Among many Thais
who believe that only charismatic individuals can save the country, Mr. Anand
is the 1990s version of “the knight on a white-horse”. For them, he personally
saved the country twice; from dictatorship in his first term as Prime Minister
from March 1991 to April 1992, and then taking Thailand out of turmoil back to
electoral democracy from June to September 1992.
white-horse knight” is not an image he encourages. His speeches and interviews,
during those brief periods as Prime Minister, emphasised structure, rather than
personalities. He did not talk much about the need for “good people” to come to
power. He did talk about suitable laws to define the proper role of the military,
about freedom of information and the press, and about the participation of the
public in politics.
In April 1991, two
months after the coup that first brought him to office, Mr. Anand spoke to the
Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand. He urged the Thai public to “wake up
to the fact that if we want to have democratic rule we have to earn it. It is
something that is not given to you by divine right…. It is something that we have
to earn, and it is something that we have to fight for: fight for with our ideas,
fight for with our own participation, fight for with our own responsibility to
the public at large.”
It was a stirring
and surprising performance, a passionate argument for participation and against
military dictatorship, by the man the military had put into office un-elected.
As if to sum up the contradictions that has characterised his life, it was in
English. Communication with the Thai masses, has never been his strong point,
even if large sections of the urban population love him.
of those who look back favourably on his two terms as Prime Minister, do so out
of admiration for his honesty, and for the way he resisted the military that put
him in power. Few realise that what he and his colleagues were trying to do was
more complex than that. They were trying to set up better structures, that would
make Thailand more democratic and open, reduce the power of the military, and
reduce opportunities for corruption among military and civilian officials and
It is surprising that Mr.
Anand ever became Prime Minister. His early years were promising enough. He was
born on August 9, 1932, the year of the revolution that turned Thailand into a
constitutional monarchy. He went to three schools: Amnuay Silpa, Bangkok Christian
College, and Dulwich College in London. Then came Trinity College, Cambridge University,
an honours degree, and 23 years in the diplomatic service.
12 years, he was Ambassador to the UN in New York and to Canada. In 1972 he became
Ambassador to the United States in Washington as well as to the UN in New York.
The two postings gave him nine un-interrupted years at Ambassador level in the
United States. In 1976 he returned to Bangkok, to become permanent secretary at
the Foreign Ministry.
And then his high-flying
career stalled. Within months, he was removed from office, accused of communist
sympathies, and made Ambassador-at-large. He was grounded. In 1977, he became
Ambassador in Bonn, but by then the strain on his family had been immense, and
diplomacy was no longer attractive. A year later, Mr. Anand left the Foreign Ministry,
and joined Saha Union, at that time a business group mainly involved in textiles.
Anand was a victim of the extreme polarisation of the 1970s. In 1975, the year
the Vietnam War ended, and two years after the overthrow of the Sarit- Thanom
military dictatorship, the elected government of M.R. Kukrit Pramoj decided that
U.S. bases should leave Thailand. As Ambassador in Washington, Mr. Anand’s job
was to negotiate the withdrawal. The military and the ultra-conservative civilians
they installed after the bloody “coup d’etat” of October 6, 1976 did not forgive
His career since then shows
just how absurd the communism accusation was. For the past 18 years, except for
his two “accidents” in 1991 and 1992, he has been a businessman. His premiership
in 1991 and 1992 included an increased emphasis on privatisation and the outlawing
of state enterprise unions.
list of past and present positions includes numerous directorships and Chairmanships
of Saha Union companies (including Chairman of Saha-Union Public Co. Ltd. Itself
since 1991), President of the Federation of Thai Industries, director of many
Thai and international companies, including IBM (Thailand) and Sime Darby Berhad
of Malaysia, President of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations Chambers
of Commerce and Industry, and member of the Board of Governors of the American
Chamber of Commerce in Thailand. Since April 1994 he has been Chairman of Post
Publishing Public co. Ltd., publisher of the Bangkok Post.
is also Chairman of the Thailand Development Research Institute, Thailand Environment
Institute, and Thailand Business Council for Sustainable Development, as well
as Ambassador for Thailand for UNICEF (the UN children’s fund). Among the public
figures he admires are former British Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, and international
media tycoon, Rupert Murdoch.
up his ideological position, in an interview during his second term in 1992, beginning
with a joke.
“Who was it who said: “Who
was the first socialist in the world?”… The answer is Christopher Columbus. Why?
Because he didn’t know where he was going. When he got there he didn’t know where
he was, but he didn’t care, because he didn’t have to pay for it!”
Anand described himself as an “enlightened liberal”, not an enlightened authoritarian.
There is a vast difference in that.” That meant distancing himself from leaders
like Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore.
it’s all wrong in a way, when you listen to all these foreigners comparing the
May events in Thailand to the Tiananmen Square incident in China; or when people
try to compare my previous (first) administration with Mr. Lee Kuan Yew’s style
of management, because here we have unlimited freedom of the mass media - that
was only interrupted during that fateful week (of the May 1992 uprising).”
inevitably means a risk of instability. The former Prime Minister of Singapore
placed development and stability before democratic freedoms, Mr. Anand said. “I
do not go that far, but at the same time I would say that Mr. Lee Kuan Yew is
partially right, and perhaps in terms of Singapore society, who am I to say that
is not right for the Singaporeans?”
size and diversity make it quite different from Singapore. “I mean, you can discipline
two million citizens, but you cannot really discipline 56-57 million people.”
was June 1992, one month after the May uprising. He described what he thought
had gone wrong with Thai democracy and what he thought needed to be done. The
fault, he said, lay with the political structure, and this was the ultimate cause
of the May bloodshed.
“In the past 60 years
we merely dealt with the symptoms of the malady, and we either did not have the
courage, or didn’t have the vision, to try to undertake some structural adjustments.
That doesn’t mean that within the next four months I’ll be able to do many things
with regard to structural adjustment, but at least I hope that by the time I leave,
I will have begun a process of structural adjustment.”
spoke especially about the military, and the laws or administrative measures needed
to redefine its role. “The objective is to try to lower the army’s profile, or
lower their role. It is not aimed at destroying the institution, or defaming the
institution. On the other hand, I’d rather look at the positive side of the structural
adjustment, in the sense that it will enhance the army’s professionalism, enhance
the effectiveness of their management, and make them into a more efficient fighting
force, in defence of the constitution and in defence of our territorial integrity.
think in the past 60 years - this is not really the fault of the army, I think
it’s the fault of the entire system in Thailand - that somehow in-advertently
we have either given or we have acquiesced in the acquisition of this very high-profile
role of the army. We need time to think, to ponder seriously whether certain roles
they have been given, or they have acquired on their own, are really the roles
that should belong to them.”
military, only became his responsibility in his second term. In his first term,
the military kept the task of re-drafting the constitution out of his hands completely.
He still introduced innovations, to restructure Thai politics, setting up PoIIWatch,
the independent election monitoring commission, and introducing legislation requiring
more open and systematic screening of large public projects.
form of liberalism made Mr. Anand a champion of regional free trade, beginning
when he was President of the ASEAN Chambers of Commerce and Industry in 1982-83.
A decade later as Prime Minister he signed the ASEAN free-trade Agreements at
a Singapore summit.
Many assumed that the
coup group chose Mr. Anand as Prime Minister because one of its leaders, Gen Suchinda
Kraprayoon, had been military attache in Washington when Mr. Anand was Ambassador.
Mr. Anand played down the suggestion.
any case, his government was soon at odds with the coup group. The first big quarrel
was about the three-million-line contract that the Telephone Organisation of Thailand
had signed with TelecomAsia, a member of the Charoen Pokphand group. Against the
wishes of the army officers on the TOT’s board of directors, the Anand government
split the contract, leaving TelecomAsia with the two million new lines in Bangkok.
came public protests in late 1991 about the coup group’s attempt to draft a new
constitution, in a way that would improve its chances of retaining power after
the March 1992 election. Mr. Anand openly criticised the draft.
half a decade later, it could be argued that the impact of the Anand government
has been short-lived. Peace and democracy were restored, and foreign confidence
in Thailand was only temporarily damaged. The corruption and petty bickering among
politicians seems as bad as ever.
issues – such as ASEAN free trade, and some aspects of transparency in political
decisions – are now taken for granted. The combination of public protests and
the Anand government’s actions, have probably strengthened Press freedoms, considerably.
is probably still too soon to judge whether the other legal and structural changes
that Mr. Anand and his colleagues introduced, during their brief terms, are having
an impact. He has always emphasised the length of time needed for changes to become
ingrained. The last long gap between attempted or successful “coups d’etat” was
five years and five months from September 1985 to February 1991. That gap is right
now being surpassed.
Born: August 9, 1932, Bangkok
- Amnuay Silpa School, 1943-45
- Bangkok Christian College,
- Dulwich College, London, 1948-52
- Trinity College, Cambridge,
1964: Posted to Thai Mission to UN, New York
1967: Ambassador, Acting Permanent Representative to UN and Ambassador
1972: Ambassador to U.S. and UN
Secretary, Foreign Ministry
Ambassador to West Germany
1979: Joined Saha Union as Chairman or
Director of several Companies
1991: Chairman, Saha-Union Public
1991: Prime Minister (March-April 1992, June-October 1992)
1980-80: Vice President, Association of Thai Industries
1982-84: President, ASEAN Chambers of Commerce and Industries
Chairman, ASEAN Section of ASEAN-US Business Council
Chairman, Federation of Thai Industries
1991-95: Member, Business
Advisory Council, International Finance Corp.
Business Council for Sustainable Development (Geneva)
Star Block Group Pcl
1982: Director, Sime Darby Berhad, Malaysia
1984: Director, Siam Commercial Bank Pcl
1988-: Member, Advisory
Council of SASIN Graduate School of Business Administration
President, Old England Students Association
Eastern Star Real Estate Pcl
1990-: Member, Board of Trustees, Asian
Institute of Technology
1992-: Chairman, Thailand Development Research
1993-: Chairman, Thailand Environment Institute
1993-: Chairman, Thailand Business Council for Sustainable Development
1994-: Chairman, The Post Publishing Public Co. Ltd.
Chairman, Kenan Institute Asia
1996-: Distinguished International
ISIS Fellow, Malaysia
1996-: UNICEF Ambassador of Thailand