Siamese coup d'état of 1947

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Field Marshal Phibun was returned to political prominence in the coup's aftermath.

The Siamese coup d'état of 1947 (Thai: รัฐประหาร 8 พฤศจิกายน พ.ศ. 2490) was a Thai coup d'état that happened on the evening of 7 November 1947, ending in the early hours of the morning on 8 November. The coup ousted the government of Rear Admiral Thawan Thamrong Nawasawat, who was replaced by Khuang Aphaiwong as Prime Minister of Thailand. The coup was led by Lieutenant-General Phin Chunhawan and Colonel Kat Katsongkhram.

Background[edit]

On August 1, 1944, as the Allies were winning the Second World War, the pro-Japanese strongman Field Marshal Plaek Phibunsongkhram was forced by parliament to resign his premiership. He was replaced by Khuang Aphaiwong, a civilian who had the backing of Pridi Phanomyong, regent for the absent King Ananda Mahidol and head of the Seri Thai underground resistance. For the next three years civilian cabinets, led behind the scenes by Pridi, governed the kingdom.[1]

For a brief while the various elements of the anti-Phibun coalition - Pridi and his supporters in the bureaucracy, politicians from the north-east, and conservative royalists - retained their unity. All hoped to see constitutional government succeed, and all feared a resurgence of the military.[2] Having established a civilian government, Khuang resigned in August 1945 to make way for a better qualified person to negotiate with the allies.[3] The most obvious choice was the leader of the American-based Seri Thai, Seni Pramot, who Pridi invited to become prime minister.[4]

In January 1946, Seni resigned and asked for the dissolution of parliament to pave the way for elections.[5] Khuang and his new royalist allies were elected to power. But because Pridi chose to support Direk Chaiyanam as his personal candidate, Khuang included none of the former regent's allies in his cabinet, but placed many of his opponents, including Seni.[6] Pridi's followers immediately sought revenge, continually harassing the government, further intensifying the bitterness between themselves and the conservatives. Within six weeks Khuang abruptly resigned, forcing Pridi to reluctantly step in and risk his personal prestige.[7][8] Up until the resignation of his wartime ally, Pridi had enjoyed the prestige of his position as a senior statesman without having to involve himself in everyday politics.[9] Pridi's failure to control inflation tarnished his reputation for competence, while official corruption bedevilled his governments.[10]

On the June 9, 1946, the 20 year-old King Ananda Mahidol, who had restored popularity[11] to the monarchy, was found dead in his bedroom with a gunshot to the head. Khuang, Seni, and the royalists who dominated their newly formed Democrat Party were quick to blame Pridi, spreading the rumour that the prime minister and his supporters had assassinated the monarch for their own political purposes and possibly to establish a republic.[12][13][14][15] Conservative newspapers criticised the government for failing to protect the monarchy, provoking Pridi to use repressive measures: he declared a state of emergency, censored newspapers, and arrested two editors and two opposition MPs.[16]

In an attempt to preserve his political influence, Pridi resigned on August 21, 1946. He was replaced five days later by Rear Admiral Thamrong, who would serve as Pridi's front man.[17]

Prelude[edit]

Thamrong (L) and Khuang (R), at the Thai Press Association.

Rear Admiral Thamrong’s government was soon engulfed in scandals.

Thamrong privately confided to US Ambassador Edwin F. Stanton that the evidence gathered during investigations of the regicide implicated King Bhumibol in his late King's murder.[18] In a declassified US State Department memo, Ambassador Stanton noted:

Luang Thamrong said speaking quite confidentially the evidence which was accumulated while he was Prime Minister tended to implicate the present young King, but that he would never have dared to hint by any official action that such was the case.

Luang Thamrong noted that Bhumibol would probably abdicate if it was revealed that he was involved in the regicide and that this would cause "confusion and wild intrigue". Those next in the line of succession to the throne, Prince Chumphot Paribatra and Prince Phanuphan Yukhon, were both unpopular and he thought they would probably not be able to ascend to the throne. Luang Thamrong doubted whether the murder would ever be cleared up inasmuch as he felt Siam could not dispense with the monarchy.

Thamrong's government was also faced with charges of corruption, stemming from a government program to hand out free shovels and spades to rural farmers. The farming equipment brought and handed out was sub-standard; leading to charges of corruption and embezzlement by the public. The scandal became known as the “Eating from shovels Scandal” (Thai:กินจอบกินเสียม). This many other scandals led to the debate (which lasted for seven days and seven nights) and a vote of no confidence, all called for by the Democrats, Thamrong survived it.

When asked by a journalist the Prime Minister joked that he was: “already sleeping for a coup” (Thai: "ก็นอนรอการปฏิวัติอยู่แล้ว"), confident at the time that he had the backing of the Military: especially the entire Army behind him, he was wrong.

The Plotters[edit]

The coup was led by Lieutenant General Phin Choonhavan and Colonel Kard Kardsonggram. Other members of the group were: Police General Phao Sriyanond (Thai: เผ่า ศรียานนท์), Colonel Sarit Dhanarajata (Thai: สฤษดิ์ ธนะรัชต์), Colonel Thanom Kittikachorn (Thai: ถนอม กิตติขจร), and Lieutenant Colonel Praphas Charusathien (Thai: ประภาส จารุเสถียร), Captain Chatichai Choonhavan (Thai: ชาติชาย ชุณหะวัณ) (the leader’s son). They called themselves the National Soldier’s Committee (Thai: คณะทหารแห่งชาติ).

The Coup[edit]

The plotters planned the coup to begin at 5:00 a.m. on the 8 November, however their plot was discovered days earlier by the Commander-in-Chief of the Army. Who in an effort to thwart the attempt ordered all senior officers to report for duty at the Army Headquarters instantly. The plotters therefore changed their plans decided to begin their operations at about 11:00 p.m. on the 7 November instead.

They started by sending a squadron of tanks to Amphorn Gardens (Thai: สวนอัมพร) near the centre of government. They immediately arrested Prime Minister Thamrong and held him hostage. Another tank squadron went to search for Pridi. After arriving at his riverside residence they found that he has escaped (he was told of the plot beforehand by an informant), and all that was left were his wife and children, they were all arrested. Unbeknownst to them, Pridi was hiding under the protection of Admiral Luang Sinthusongkramchai (Thai: หลวงสินธุสงครามชัย) the C-in-C of the Navy at his base.

On the morning of the 8 November, General Choonhavan read out a declaration to the press and broadcast by radio; laying out to the people the plotter’s reasoning. They stated they were right to remove the government due to: the fact that the people were suffering under high prices and the general lack of foods and goods. This they considered a grievous lack of morals on the government’s behalf. Finally they reckoned that the government was unable to solve the problem and must be removed by force. During the speech he cried profusely and was dubbed sarcastically by the press as the “Hero of tears” (Thai: วีรบุรุษเจ้าน้ำตา), or the “Crying patriot” (Thai: บุรุษผู้รักชาติจนน้ำตาไหล).

The National Soldier’s Committee then called out Khuang, the Leader of the Opposition to take over as Prime Minister; he took the position on 12 November (He became Prime Minister for the 3rd time). The Committee on the other hand set up their own legislative assembly called the Council of Ministers of the Assembly (Thai: คณะรัฐมนตรีสภา), they made a deal with Khaung that as longs as he stayed out of their business, they would stay out of his.

On the 25 November 1947, Prince Rangsit of Chainant the Regent of Siam signed a provisional charter or the Constitution of 1947. King Bhumibol, who was studying in Lausanne, Switzerland at the time endorsed him.

On the 29 January 1948 elections were held in which Khuang and his party won the majority of the votes and seats in the new Assembly, later Khuang was confirmed as Prime Minister. However on the 6 April, the Committee under the leadership of Kardsonggram forced Khuang to resign his post. They instead invited Field Marshal Phibul to return to the post. He became Prime Minister for the second time on 8 April 1948.

Legacy[edit]

Pridi, escaped the plotters, later went in exile, never to return.

The most obvious legacy of the coup was of course the reinstatement of Field Marshal Phibul and his dictatorship. The coup also increased the role of the Army, and gave them a perfect example of how to carry out coups in the future. For from now under the pretext of saving the nation the Military was allowed, using the same or similar excuses to topple any democratic government they please. Like so many coups before or since the event elicited little response from the populace. The Democrat Party remained in opposition till 1975. While Phibul would resume his dictatorship, and rule until 1957. The plotters from then on were known as; the Coup Group.

The coup inadvertently led to the draft and signing of the 1949 Constitution. The most Royalist constitution to date, it gave the monarchy back almost all of its powers that were taken away by the 1932 Revolution.

The coup also brought an end to Pridi’s career and any dreams his supporters might have of him resuming the Premiership. On the 20 November 1948 Pridi was spirited out of the country by British and American agents never to return to Thailand, he died in Paris, France in 1983,aged 83.

The coup was also a stepping-stone for many individuals, whose names would later become common in the politics of Thailand as a result of their participation in the coup. They would all become Prime Ministers and two of them would go on to one day lead a coup of their own. They were: Sarit Dhanarajata, Thanom Kittikachorn, and Chatichai Choonhavan.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Daniel Fineman. A Special Relationship: The United States and Military Government in Thailand. Hawaii University Press (1997). 
  2. ^ ibid.
  3. ^ Thak Chaloemtiarana. Thailand: The Politics of Despotic Paternalism. Silkworm Books (2007). 
  4. ^ Royal Thai Government Gazette, Vol. 62, October 11, 1945
  5. ^ Thak
  6. ^ E. Bruce Reynolds. Thailand's Secret War. Cambridge University Press (2005). 
  7. ^ Fineman
  8. ^ Judith A. Stowe. Siam becomes Thailand: A Story of Intrigue. C. Hurst & Co. Publishers (1991). 
  9. ^ Fineman
  10. ^ Fineman
  11. ^ Stowe
  12. ^ Fineman
  13. ^ Paul M. Handley. The King Never Smiles. Yale University Press (2006). 
  14. ^ Reynolds
  15. ^ Stowe
  16. ^ Fineman
  17. ^ Thak
  18. ^ American Embassy Bangkok, "Confidential Memorandum of Discussion between Prime Minister Luang Thamrong Nawasawat and Ambassador Edwin F. Stanton", [1], 31 March 1948