Monday, October 2, 2006

Military coup of 1932

Here's a page from David K. Wyatt's "Thailand: A Short History", (Silk Worm Books, 1982/84) an account of the 1932 coup:
"It was accomplshed by a handful of conspirators with a few hundred troops and involved only one casualty. It succeeded initially on surprise and bluff, then on the Promoters' holding of princely hostages, and finally on the sanction conferred by royal approval - all of this taking only a few hours. The public was not even aware of what was happening until it was all over, and before noon on June 24, the life of Bangkok and Siam was proceeding normaly, but with new leaders at its top.

The 114 Promoters of the 1932 coup could not have succeeded as they did if they had not included in their ranks a small number of senior military men, whose membership in the group lent it credibility. It may perhaps also suggest the extent to which officials had begun to lose faith in the old order. These men, indeed, were relatively conservative, certainly compared with the youthful left-leaning civilians led by Pridi Phanomyong. It was they who dominated the first constitutional regimes until the late 1930s. The most important of these were Phraya Phahonphonphayuhasena (Phot Phahonyothin) and Phraya Songsuradet (Thep Panthumsen), both colonels by 1932. Phraya Song held a top post at the military academy in Bangkok, which gave the conspirators access to a broad range of contacts and an increasingly indoctrinated cadet corps. His tactical genius made it possible to neutralize a strong army and government with a handful of troops. Phraya Phahon was distinguised by a personal integrity that made him acceptable to all factions of the Promoters as the leader of the People's party.

Having induced the king to recognize and validate their actions, the Promoters undertook to organize a government under a provisional constitution of June 27. In order to minimize internal resistance and avoid the dangers of foriegn intervention that they thought civil strife might invite, the Promoters initially stayed in the background, though they were still firmly in control. The long-term political program drawn up at the time by Pridi envisaged a three-stage process of political development. The first stage had now begun, with the adoption of a provisional constitution establishing an Assembly of seventy members appointed by the Promoters and a smaller People's Committee drawn from and responsible to it. A second stage was to begin within six months under a constitution similar to that drafted for Prajadhipok in March, with a half appointed and half indirectly elected National Assembly. A third stage of full representative government was to be inaugurated when half the population had completed primary education or within ten years, whichever came first. The general framework was defined in terms of the political leadership and tutelage of the People's party.

This party had as yet no mass membership or following, nor had it even substantial control over the army, so the first government it constituted displayed at least the facade of wide support. The first National Assembly included in its membership numerous senior officials, including some chaophraya of the old regime, amounting to about one-third of the total membership. The president of the Assembly was Chaophraya Thammasakmontri (M.R.W. Sanan Thephastsadin), a former minister of education. On the People's Committee, which handled the day-to-day administration of the governement, there were eleven promoters, including the leaders of their four chief factions, and four senior officals. Of the latter, the most important were Phraya Maopakonnithithada (Kon Hutasing), a respected judge of the Court Appeals, and Phraya Sri Wisarn Waja, former undersecretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and adviser to King Prajadhipok. Phray Sri Wisarn was the new foreign minister, and Phraya Mano became prime minister and minister of finance.

Meanwhile to consolidate their power while experienced hands ran the government, the People's party reorganized the army and navy to put their men in key positions and began trying to build a popular constituency. They quickly discovered that the first course was much easier than the latter, that people would not attend rallies and demonstrations unless ordered to do so, and that many now seeking to join their ranks were motivated by desire for jobs in the new government. The lack of dependable popular support clearly became evident within a few months. It left the young civilian faction within the People's party at a severe disadvantage in competing the influence with the military and with senior civilians with the bureacratic experience and networks of connections within the elite.

Once the permanent constitution of December 10, 1932, came into force the conflicts and competition latent within the ruling coalition began to erupt."

More about factions in the Thai military coming up later.

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