Former Thai Prime Minister
Diplomat and businessman Anand Panyarachun twice served as unelected prime minister of Thailand during times of strife in the early 1990s. At the time many considered him the best prime minister Thailand had ever had, and hoped that he would stay on. He declined, however. Instead, each time he was premier he did what he was asked to do - see a democratically elected government installed - and then returned to civilian life. Since then, he has resisted calls to re-enter politics, and works for educational and environmental reform from outside elected office.
Anand's father, Phya Prichanusat, was closely associated with the "old" power structure of monarchical Siam: he had been sent abroad to Britain on a king's scholarship for his education and, on his return, had risen to a very high post in the civil service, Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Education. Retaining such a post was not an option after the change of government, however, so Phya Prichanusat left the civil service and started a publishing business, putting out newspapers in Thai, Chinese and English. He served as editor of the English-language paper "The Siam Chronicle", which was eventually bought out and has become the well-known daily "The Bangkok Post". Phya Prichanusat was also the founding president of the Press Association of Thailand, the founder of the first school for the blind in Thailand, and was the first non-Christian (he, like most Thai, was Buddhist) president of the Thai YMCA. Anand has cited his father as a major influence on his life.
A Good Education
Anand was the youngest child in a large family of twelve. The year he was born, 1932, was a tumultuous one for Siam, as Thailand was then known, for it was in that year that a "revolution" - really more of a transition - turned the country from an absolute to a constitutional monarchy.
Like his father, Anand was sent abroad for his higher education. He went to London at 16 years of age for a year of schooling, after which he entered University of Cambridge, reading law and economics; he graduated in 1955 with honours.
A Good Career
Bright, well-educated, well-connected young men were once more eagerly sought after in Thailand, and Anand returned to his homeland after graduation, quickly joining the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In 1958 he became secretary to the foreign minister and in 1964 was assigned to the permanent mission of Thailand to the United Nations. He served as ambassador to Canada from 1967 to 1972 and as ambassador to the United States from 1972 to 1976; during this latter period he was also Thailand's permanent UN representative.
In 1976 Anand and his family returned to Thailand, where he was promoted to a rank consonant with that his father had held: Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Thailand. In this powerful position, he successfully negotiated for the withdrawal of American troops from Thai soil, where they had had large bases during the Vietnam war, and also led efforts to resume diplomatic relations with socialist Asian countries Laos, China, and Vietnam.
But 1976 was a watershed year for Thailand. A four-year period of liberal government and artistic flowering came to a horrifying end on 6 October 1976, when a brutal right-wing backlash resulted in hundreds of protesters being killed and an authoritarian military-led government taking power. Anand, like thousands of other Thai, was accused of being a communist - illegal at the time - and stripped of his post. Unlike many others, he was not assassinated or sent into exile, but it was only after a civil service tribunal examined the evidence and called many witnesses that he was cleared of all charges and reinstated to his post. He was sent to Bonn in 1978 as ambassador, a demotion compared to his previous postings.
Business and Politics
Unsurprisingly, then, in 1979 Anand decided to leave the civil service and go into business. Today he sits on the boards of directors of many important Thai companies and has been very involved in promoting the ASEAN chamber of commerce.
In 1991 a coup once again saw the military depose the Chatchai government, widely believed to be corrupt. I was in Thailand at the time, and remember the tanks on the streets and the soldiers standing around royal palaces with machine guns, but in spite of this show of force the event this time was bloodless. As a show of commitment to an election process, one month after the coup the junta - calling themselves the NPKC (National Peace Keeping Council) and led by General Suchinda Kraprayoon - asked Anand to assume the prime ministership.
Though Anand says he felt reluctant to become involved with an illegal government, he believed that he could turn back the militarization of the government and restore a democratic process. He wanted a civilian government in place that could rule transparently and accountably over an open peaceful society which had been galvanized by economic and social reforms. He was at least partially successful in realizing his lofty goals. Tax and trade regimes were reformed, educational services opened up, health services modernized - he mounted a nation-wide campaign to combat HIV and AIDS in Thailand, dealing head-on with a problem that previous regimes had ignored. He promoted regional economic cooperation through the creation of an ASEAN Free Trade Area (AFTA); the initiative was endorsed at the ASEAN summit that year.
Finally, general elections were held in 1992, and were characterized by no more than the usual amount of scandal, corruption, and vote-buying. All looked fine until parliament chose Suchinda as the next prime minister.
Bloodshed, and Peace
By this time I was back in Canada, and I remember tensely watching newsclips as huge crowds took to the streets to protest the choice of the new prime minister. These very streets had been the scene of mass bloodshed in 1972 and 1976 when previous protests had been violently quelled, and everyone was nervous about whether such a thing would happen again. Perhaps inevitably, it did, but this time the revered king, Bhumibol Adulyadej, stepped in. He called Suchinda and opposition leader Chamlong Srimuang to an audience; on national and international TV they were shown crawling contritely to him (extreme deference must be shown to the king, and under no circumstances must anyone's head be higher than his) as he lectured them sternly to stop the bloodshed. Suchinda and Chamlong were roundly disgraced and faded from public life; Anand was once again called on to lead the government.
During the next four month Anand again rallied the nation. He saw the generals who had been responsible for the suppression removed from their command posts and ensured that another election was held, this time with better results. He then returned to private life, though with his stature and moral authority he is a natural choice to be called on when governments are looking for advice on economic and social policy, human rights, and governance; he chaired the committee which drafted a new constitution, promulgated in 1997. He has received twenty honorary doctorates from universities in Thailand, China, Japan, and Canada, and in 1997 was honoured with a prestigious Ramon Magsaysay Award for government service.
Anand is married and has two daughters and three grandchildren.
Information taken from Anand's informative website, www.anandp.in.th/en_index.html.