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Bangkok Travelbug June 08 - 24 June 1932 coup
May 30, 2008
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June – This month in history
The coup that changed the course of Thai history
June is a momentous month in Thai political history. On 24 June 1932, a group of 114 civilians and junior army officers staged a coup that put an end to 150 years of absolute monarchy of the Chakri dynasty.
The coup was launched at dawn at a time when King Rama VII was out of Bangkok. The lightning coup took the city by surprise. Key government officials were rounded up. It was over by noon, before many realized what had happened.
A delegation called on the king to agree a constitution. King Rama VII agreed to avoid bloodshed.
The Promoters, as the group called themselves, overthrew a regime but lacked mass support. They soon realized the problems in governing the country. Within months, internal conflicts and power struggles began to surface.
This shaky start to constitutional government was to have telling effects in the years to come.
In the ensuing 76 years, 18 more coups and as many constitutions followed; the latest constitution was passed by national referendum in December 2007. Please see Coups in Bangkok.
Two men played major roles in the 1932 coup, a French educated lawyer, Pridi Banomyong, leader of the Peoples’ Party and an artillery officer Lt Col Plaek Phibun Songkhram. They were to dominate Thai politics for the next two decades. They also ended up implacable foes.
For the political background leading to the 1932 coup, please read 24 June 1932 coup.
Pridi Banomyong is often referred to as the Father of Thai Democracy. He wrote the first Thai constitution and the Election Act 1932. Among other his reforms,
From 1932 – 1949, Pridi Banomyong was Minister of Interior, Foreign Affairs, Finance, Regent, Seri Thai (Free Thai) resistance leader during World War II, Senior Statesman and Prime Minister. He saw five Prime Ministers, a World War, five coups and was exiled three times.
He played a leading role in promoting solidarity among the anti-colonial movements in the region.
Pridi’s political career suffered a disastrous setback in June 1946 and he had to resign in August. A year later, a coup by his former ally Phibun forced him into exile. Pridi countered with a coup in 1949, lost and went into exile for the third time.
He never lived to see Thailand again. It was a sad and ignominious end for a man who had such a far-reaching vision for his country.
Details of the contributions of Pridi and his tumultuous political career are at Pridi Banomyong.
Phibun and Pridi were strange bedfellows. Just as the liberal Pridi relied on his intellect and the pen, the militaristic Phibun preferred power from the barrel of a gun.
A fervent nationalist, Phibun left his mark in Thai politics. He changed the country’s name from Siam to Thailand in 1939. Thais were ordered to honor the national flag and anthem. It was Thailand for the Thais at the expense of the ethnic Chinese and other minorities.
An admirer of Fascism, Hitler and Mussolini, Phibun pushed for a greater Thai empire embracing people on the Thai borders who were ethnically and linguistically Thai.
This was a frightening resemblance to Hitler’s Anschluss (political union between Germany and Austria through annexation)! A campaign was launched to recover these territories.
Despite his nationalistic fervor, Phibun tried to westernized Thai society with decrees for Thais to wear Western dress.
New Year’s Day was changed to 1 January instead of the traditional April. He even encouraged Thai men to kiss their wives goodbye, in the mornings before they leave home.
In his first term (1938 – 1944), Phibun declared war on the Allies at the outbreak of World War II, incurring the wrath of the Allies who branded him a war criminal. This brought him at odds with the Regent Pridi who was pro-Allies.
By 1944, when it was obvious that Japan would lose the war, the Pridi faction in the government dumped Phibun as PM.
Phiobun bounced back into power in 1948 and became one of the staunchest allies of the US in the Cold War. Millions of dollars of US aid poured into Thailand as a result.
The military and police arsenals grew rapidly and so did their bank accounts. The police with CIA help became a formidable paramilitary force with its own tanks and armored cars! Phibun’s two terms of office were scarred by brutal repression of political opponents and Communists.
The police chief in the 1950s, Phao Siyanon is remembered for his infamous remark, “There’s nothing under the sun that the Thai police cannot do”.
A master of the coup d’etat, Phibun staged four coups, put down a rebellion and survived three coups while in power. In his two terms as prime minister, he served 14 years, a record that still stands today.
In 1957, Phibun was finally ousted in a coup. Like Pridi, he had to flee his country.
For more on the controversial Phibun Songkhram.
Corrado Feroci, an Italian sculptor from Florence, came to Bangkok in 1923 on the invitation of King Rama VI who wanted an Italian to train Thai artists and craftsmen. During the premiership of Phibun, Feroci was commissioned to design a monument to commemorate the coup in 24 June 1932.
In 1939, the Democracy Monument was unveiled. The design of this monument has a number of significant features.
Read about this famous Bangkok landmark and the momentous events which occurred around it at Democracy Monument.
Remembering 24 June 1932
Until 1957, 24 June was the National Day and a national holiday. After Phibun’s ouster, 24 June was dropped as national holiday in an attempt to scrub the 24 June 1932 coup and all those involved from collective memory.
Subsequent governments have continued with this till today. It’s almost as if no one wanted to remember that day.
But the symbolism of the Democracy Monument, a favourite rallying point for demonstrators, is a stark reminder of that fateful day when 114 men changed the course of Thai history.
This month’s promotion
Download this FREE e-book, “Netwriting Masters Course”. It’s 48 pages, easy-to-read and in pdf format, 420KB. If you want to print a copy and review the e-book offline, right-click to download it.
It’s Asarnha Bucha Day, the start of the Buddhist Lent and the rainy season.
We focus on traditional Thai arts and old communities in Bangkok with the feature article “Bamboo flute makers of Ban Lao”.
There’re also several updates on Bangkok hotels. See you then.
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