'Chulalongkorn Connection' To Lead Junta's Reform Body

Bowornsak Uwanno, recently chosen as deputy chairman of the National Reform Council, on 10 Oct 2014.

BANGKOK — A clique of academics from Thailand's conservative Chulalongkorn University are set to shape the junta's national reform process after they were chosen to fill top posts in the military's interim government.

Known to the media as the "Chulalongkorn Connection," the clique includes Thienchay Kiranan, a former rector of the prestigious university in the 1990s, and his wife Suchada Kiranan, who also served as the university’s rector from 2004 to 2008.

Other members of the "Connection" include academics Bowornsak Uwanno and Visanu Krue-ngam, who co-chaired the Chulalongkorn University Council with Suchada. 

Their ascension to power in the military-appointed interim government was sealed today when Thienchay was selected as chairman of the National Reform Council (NRC), and Bowornsak was chosen as his deputy. 

Thienchay and Bowornsak were voted into the top posts unanimously by the NRC, whose members were pre-screened by a selection committee co-chaired by Thienchay's wife, Suchada, before being approved by the military junta. 

The NRC has been tasked with proposing national reforms across a wide range of sectors and contributing to the drafting of a new 'permanent' Constitution. The latter task will require Thienchay and the NRC to work closely with Visanu, another member of the Chulalongkorn clique, who is currently serving as Deputy Prime Minister and top legal adviser to the junta.

Visanu, who was the guiding hand behind the drafting of the 2014 Interim Constitution that created the NRC and the Constitutional Drafting Committee, is also expected to play a significant role in the writing of the new charter. 

After being selected as NRC chairman today, Thienchay told reporters he is committed to leading an inclusive reform process that "listens to the people on every issue.” However, his words are unlikely to reassure critics of the military junta because of the "Chulalongkorn Connection's" longstanding reputation as a conservative force in Thai society.  

Although Thienchay has largely stayed out of the political conflicts that have divided the country in recent years (he has been serving as a chairman of a charity foundation), his deputy, Bowornsak, is considered a celebrity in the conservative and royalist Yellowshirt movement. 

Like all supporters of the movement, Bowornsak is a staunch critic of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and the successive governments allied to him, including the government of his sister – former Primer Minister Yingluck Shinawatra – that was toppled in the 22 May coup.

Thaksin, who has been living in self-imposed exile since the military staged a coup against his government in 2006, is seen by Yellowshirts as a corrupt politician who abused democratic functions for personal gain and has continued to influence Thai politics through a series of "proxies."

Bowornsak also joined the Yellowshirt demonstration in December 2013 that called for the resignation of Thaksin's sister, former Prime Minister Yingluck. Many other members of the NRC were also active participants in the anti-government protests. 

In July, Bowornsak told Manager Online that he aimed to reform Thai politics by increasing the power of Thailand’s non-elected “independent” agencies to prevent elected politicians from acting corruptly.

He also advocated for placing a constitutional ban on any "populist" policy that could damage the nation's economy, and said the new charter must reflect traditional pillars of "Thai society."

"The new Constitution should be about a democratic regime with the King as Head of State that is appropriate for Thai society," Bowornsak said, "Let me stress the words 'appropriate for Thai society.' That means I do not agree with copying any model of foreign Constitution. It has to be drafted with the intention to be appropriate for Thai society."

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