Prominent business and media figures in Bangkok describe General Prem, 88, as the most powerful man in the country. Prem is a man's man. As a power behind the throne, his influence with the King Bhumibol is infinite. Prem's strength is due not only to the loyalty he exhibited to the monarchy, but also to his reputation for personal integrity.
Before he became the Privy Council President, Prem was a Prime Minister, and before that Commander-in-Chief of the army. He continues to wield tremendous influence over the military, kingdom's most powerful institution, and kept engaged in Thai affairs in general.
Prem entered politics in 1959 as a member of Constitution Drafting Committee. In 1968-71, he was a Senator, and in 1972-73, a Member of Parliament. In 1977-78, he was a Deputy Interior Minister, and in 1979-86, a Minister of Defence. In March 1979, General Prem was nominated to be the Prime Minister by an overwhelming majority (399 of 500 votes) of the National Assembly.
Under General Prem Tinsulanonda, who served as prime minister from 1980 to 1988, Thailand had established a new system of government in which the military shared power with parliament through the mediation of the monarchy. King's support enabled him to survive two coup attempts in 1981 and 1985.
After resigning as Prime Minister in 1988, General Prem was requested by the King Bhumibol to serve as a member of the Privy Council. All influential royal adviser, in 1998, he replaced Sanya Dharmasakti as the President of the Privy Council.
General Prem was present and played a pivotal role when the King brought General Suchinda Kraprayoon and Chamlong Srimaung before him to put an end to the street fighting during the bloody political crisis known as "Black May" of 1992.
General Prem is well known as a fierce critic of Thaksin Shinawatra. Thaksin's supporters and some senior political observers accused Prem of masterminding the 2006 military coup that overthrew Thaksin. Even among Thaksin's opponents, these accusations have been widely accepted as true.
Prem supporters justify Prem's involvement as being inevitable in an attempt to rid Thailand of Thaksin's influence. "Individuals who have no ethics and morals are bad people who are full of greed ... But if they have acquired wealth through illegal or unethical means, they no longer deserve to be in this country" Prem said addressing the troops.
In an interview published in early 2008, Prem conveyed his vision of a distinctive Thai-style democracy in which the monarch remains the ultimate defender of the public interest, and retains control of the armed forces.
In April 2009, Thaksin Shinawatra openly accused the Privy Council President of masterminding a 2006 coup. Thaksin also alleges that General Prem was behind events of last December in which Abhisit Vejjajiva, the current Prime Minister, replaced pro-Thaksin government.
In attacking Prem Tinsulanonda, Thaksin has significantly altered Thailand's political debate. Criticising King Bhumibol Adulyadej, or even discussing the political role of the monarchy, is illegal in Thailand – lèse majesté laws.