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Siamese revolution of 1932

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Siamese revolution of 1932
People gathering around a man standing on a possibly podium reading a declaration, all of them wearing soldier or related uniforms
Scene of a declaration of Siam as a democratic nation on 24 June 1932
Native name การปฏิวัติสยาม พ.ศ. 2475
Date24 June 1932
LocationBangkok, Siam
TargetEstablish constitutional monarchy in Siam
Organised byKhana Ratsadon

The Siamese revolution of 1932 or Siamese coup d'état of 1932 (Thai: การปฏิวัติสยาม พ.ศ. 2475 or การเปลี่ยนแปลงการปกครองสยาม พ.ศ. 2475) was a coup d'état that occurred in Thailand (Siam) on 24 June 1932.

The 1932 revolution was launched by the Khana Ratsadon ("Peoples' Party"), the first political party in Siam, and led by a comparatively small group of civilians and military headed by Pridi Banomyong and Plaek Phibunsongkhram. The Khana Ratsadon overthrew the government of King Prajadhipok of the Rattanakosin Kingdom in response to domestic issues as well as global political currents, ending almost 800 years of absolute monarchy under the Kings of Siam. The 1932 revolution resulted in a nearly-bloodless transition of Siam into a constitutional monarchy system of government, the introduction of democracy and the first constitution of Thailand, the creation of the National Assembly of Thailand, and the domination of the Khana Ratsadon in Thai politics until the 1950s.

The 1932 revolution is considered to be a major event in 20th century Thai history and beginning the civilian-military rivalry for control of the Government of Thailand that has caused political instability in modern Thailand.[citation needed]


Conventional perspectives

Unlike other states of Southeast Asia, Thailand was never formally colonised by colonial powers, although significant territory had been ceded under duress to Britain and France. Conventional perspectives attribute this to the efforts made by the monarchs of the Chakri Dynasty, particularly Rama IV and Rama V, to "modernise" the Siamese polity, and also to the relative cultural and ethnic homogeneity of the Thai nation. Rama IV (King Mongkut) opened Siam to European trade and began the process of modernisation. His son, Rama V (King Chulalongkorn), consolidated control over Thai vassal states, creating an absolute monarchy and a centralised state. The success of the Chakri monarchs would sow the seeds of the 1932 revolution and the end of the absolute monarchy. "Modernisation" mandated from above had, by the early-20th century, created a class of Western-educated Thais in the commoner and lower nobility classes, who staffed the middle and lower ranks of the nascent Siamese bureaucracy. They were influenced by the ideals of the French and Russian Revolutions.[1] This new faction would eventually form the People's Party, the nucleus of the 1932 revolution.

Alternative perspectives

Recent scholarship offers alternative perspectives that challenge conventional views of the 1932 Siamese revolution. Thongchai Winichakul's hypothesis on the emergence of the "geo-body" of Siam is widely accepted by scholars in Thai and Southeast Asian studies. Thongchai argues that the traditional Hindu-Buddhist paradigms of culture, space, governance, and power were challenged by a significantly different civilisation, arising mainly from Latin Christianity tempered by the humanism of the Enlightenment. The East became increasingly described as "barbaric", "ignorant", or "inferior". The mission to "civilise" the "barbaric Asiatics" became the raison d'être for colonialism and imperialism. The siwilai ('civilise') programme in 19th century Siam was part of a strategy the Chakri monarchy adopted to justify their country's continued existence as a legitimate independent state to fend off colonial intervention. Other components involved the spatial and political reorganisation of the Siamese polity along Western lines to strengthen the state and gain recognition from the Western powers. Thongchai argues that the tactics adopted by the Siamese state were similar to those adopted by Western colonial powers in administering their colonies. Space and power were essentially redefined by the Siamese state. Autonomous and semi-autonomous mueangs were brought under the direct control of the state by the beginning of the 20th century. Cartography was employed to define national borders, replacing the vague frontiers of the Mandala kingdoms. People were assigned to ethnic groups. To promote the new Western-inspired definitions of siwilai, the educated Siamese of the 19th century, mainly the aristocracy, began writing ethnographies and creating their own versions of the "other" to strengthen the identity of the Siamese nation by emphasising its superiority, in contrast to the barbarity of upland tribal peoples such as the Lue and the Lahu.[2]

These new perspectives created a politically dominant Siamese aristocracy that became increasingly powerful from the "modernisation/self-colonisation" process it initiated and directed. This seems to contradict conventional perspectives, which are based on the assumption that the Chakri absolute monarchy by the early-1930s was a relatively passive actor, due to the political weakness of Rama VI (King Vajiravudh) and Rama VII (King Prajadhipok) and crises such as the Great Depression. No longer in control of events and political developments in Siam, they were swept aside by adherents of democracy and nationalism.[3][4] Revisionists[who?] counter by noting that the weaknesses of an individual monarch does not necessarily mean that the resolve and power of the traditional landed aristocracy or the so-called Sakdina aristocracy in maintaining its preeminence through upholding the political prerogatives of the absolute monarchy was in any way lessened. In their view, attributing the outbreak of the 1932 revolution largely to the beliefs and ambitions of the Western-educated promoters of the People's Party obscures the role played by the Siamese monarchy and aristocracy.[5][6]

Siam before 1932

King Prajadhipok wearing khrui and chang kben, armed with krabi
King Prajadhipok wearing khrui and chang kben, armed with krabi

Since 1782 the Kingdom of Siam had been ruled by the Chakri Dynasty, founded by King Buddha Yodfa Chulaloke, who declared the Rattanakosin Kingdom with himself as the King "Rama" (or Rama I). The capital city, Bangkok (built on Rattanakosin Island), was also founded by King Rama I.[7] For over a century, the kings of Siam were able to protect the nation from neighbours (such as Burma) and other foreign nations, escaping colonialism from European powers such as Britain and France. In 1932 Siam, together with China and Japan, were the only independent countries remaining in East Asia.[8]

King Chulalongkorn (Rama V) came to the throne in 1868, eager to modernise and reform his medieval kingdom, and he introduced many reforms and inventions to his country. He openly welcomed Europeans as well as European thought on many matters, chiefly law, politics, philosophy, commercialism, education, and medicine. He reformed the administration as well as the military system.[9][10] At the same time he successfully maintained the country's fragile independence, perched as it was between aggressive colonialists: the British Raj (Burma) and French Indochina (Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia). The King, who understood the importance of foreign education, not only sent his many sons to European schools and academies, but also sent thousands of commoners and scholarship students, reasoning that the kingdom's survival rested on modernisation.[9]

He was succeeded on the throne by his son, King Vajiravudh (Rama VI) (1910–1925), a Sandhurst and Oxford graduate. Vajiravudh continued most of his father's efforts in modernising the infrastructure and other institutions, including appointing able commoners to the government. The founding of Vajiravudh College (a school founded on the model of an English public school) and Chulalongkorn University (Siam's first), were part of his educational reforms. He also encouraged European fashion and the adoption of surnames.[11] His reforms stoked anger in many quarters, especially from older, reactionary members of the aristocracy and nobility, whose influence was slowly being eroded. The speed of his constitutional reforms also resulted in dissatisfaction from an entirely different faction: progressives and radicals.[12]

In 1912, a palace revolt, plotted by young military officers, tried unsuccessfully to overthrow and replace the king.[13] Their goal was to change the system of government, overthrowing the ancien régime and replace it with a modern, Westernised constitutional system, and perhaps to replace Rama VI with a prince more sympathetic to their beliefs.[10]: 155  The revolt failed and the participants were imprisoned. In reaction, Vajiravudh largely abandoned his attempts at constitutional reform and continued with his absolutist rule, with the minor exception of appointing some able commoners to his privy council and government.[8]

In 1914, Vajiravudh promulgated a new martial law act that, with minor amendments, remained in force for over a century.[14]

King Vajiravudh died in 1925, and was succeeded by his younger brother, King Prajadhipok (Rama VII).[13]

Siam in 1932

HRH Prince of Nakorn Sawan, the minister of interior and most powerful member in the government
HRH Prince of Nakorn Sawan, the minister of interior and most powerful member in the government

Prince Prajadhipok Sakdidej, the Prince of Sukhothai, was the youngest son of King Chulalongkorn (the 33rd son and the 76th child of 77).[15] He was educated at Eton and the Woolwich Academy. King Prajadhipok inherited a country in crisis. His brother King Vajiravudh had left the state on the verge of bankruptcy, often using the treasury to hide the deficits of the privy purse, and the fact that the state and the people were forced to subsidise the many princes and their lavish lifestyles.[9]

After his coronation, the new king quickly created the Supreme Council of State (which became the main organ of state), to try to solve the many problems facing the nation. The council was composed of experienced senior princes who had held ministerial positions in previous administrations. They were quick to replace the commoners appointed by Vajiravudh in the civil service and military with many of their own.[12][13] The council was dominated by the Minister of the Interior, German-educated Prince Paribatra Sukhumbandhu, Prince of Nakhon Sawan, who was Prajadhipok's older half brother. Due to the complicated succession law of the Chakri Dynasty, he was also heir to the throne.[12] Prajadhipok turned out to be a sympathetic monarch. He immediately ordered a cut in palace expenditure and travelled extensively around the country to learn of his subjects' lives. He made himself more accessible and visible to the ever-growing Bangkok elite and middle class by carrying out many civic duties. By this time, students sent to study abroad had started to return. Faced with lack of opportunity, the entrenchment of the princes, and the comparative backwardness of the country, most became disillusioned with the status quo.[9]

By 1930, the events of the world were too much for the kingdom to bear, as the Wall Street Crash and the economic meltdown that came with it finally reached Siam. The King proposed the levying of general income taxes and property taxes to help alleviate the sufferings of the poor. These were roundly rejected by the council, who feared their fortunes would be reduced. Instead, they cut civil service payrolls and reduced the military budget, angering most of the country's educated elite.[16] The officer corps was especially disgruntled, and in 1931 Phra Ong Chao (lower class of prince) Boworadet, a minor member of the royal family and Minister of Defence, resigned.[17] Prince Boworadet was not a member of the supreme council, and it was suspected that disagreement with the council over budget cuts led to his resignation.[16] The King, who openly confessed his own lack of financial knowledge, stating he was just a simple soldier, tried with little success to battle the senior princes over the issue.[16]

Meanwhile, the King put his efforts into the drafting of a constitution (which for the first time was to introduce democracy to Siam), with the help of two princes and an American foreign policy advisor, Raymond Bartlett Stevens.[18] Despite being advised that his people were not yet ready for democracy, the King was undeterred and was determined to implement a constitution before his dynasty's 150th anniversary in 1932.[19] The document was rejected by the princes in the supreme council.[19]

On 6 April 1932, when the Chakri Dynasty celebrated its 150th anniversary of rule over Siam, the King opened a bridge across the Chao Phraya River. The celebration was somewhat muted due to fears stemming from an alleged prophecy dating back to the days of King Rama I, which predicted the end of the dynasty on its 150th anniversary.[17] At the end of April, Prajadhipok left Bangkok for his summer holidays, leaving Prince Paribatra in charge as regent. The King went to the beach resort town of Hua Hin in Prachuap Khiri Khan Province to his summer villa, Klai Kangwon (วังไกลกังวล: translated as 'far from worries').[20]

Causes of the 1932 Siamese revolution

Conventional perspectives

Thai political history was little researched by Western Southeast Asian scholars in the 1950s and 1960s. Thailand, as the only nominally "native" Southeast Asian polity to escape colonial conquest, was deemed to be relatively more stable as compared with other newly independent states in Southeast Asia.[21] It was perceived to have retained enough continuity from its "traditions", such as the institution of the monarchy, to have escaped from the chaos and troubles caused by decolonisation and to resist the encroachment of revolutionary communism.[21] By implication, this line of argument suggests the 1932 revolution was nothing more than a coup that simply replaced the absolute monarchy and its aristocracy with a commoner elite class made up of Western-educated generals and civilian bureaucrats and essentially that there was little that was revolutionary about this event. David K. Wyatt, for instance, described the period of Thai history from 1910-1941 as "essentially the political working out of the social consequences of the reforms of Chulalongkorn's reign".[22] The 1932 revolution was generally characterised as the inevitable outcome of "natural consequences of forces set in motion by Rama IV and Rama V".[23]

Effects of Rama VI's (King Vajiravudh) mismanagement

Rama VI was the first Chakri monarch to have been educated overseas (in Great Britain) and he basically sought to legitimise absolutism through the promotion of Thai nationalism, using a secular, Western approach.[24] He was determined to maintain the absolute monarchy and carried out many unpopular policies and decisions that lowered the prestige and influence of the Chakri Dynasty.[25] Vajiravudh was blamed for the rapid deterioration of the Siamese government’s fiscal health. His lavish spending on his court, his inability to control the corruption of his inner circle, and his creation of the Wild Tiger Corps to promote modern-style Siamese nationalism were widely deemed as wasteful and unproductive.[12] By 1920, fiscal mismanagement under Rama VI and the global economic downturn took the Siamese state budget into deficit.[26] In 1925, even the most senior princes decided to demand large cuts in expenditures, especially the royal household.[26] This represented a bold challenge to the authority of the absolute monarch and reflected the severity of the fiscal malaise in Siam.[26]

His creation of the paramilitary Wild Tiger Corps alienated many regular military officers, who resented the privileges granted to the corps while their own political and economic interests were being neglected.[27] Rama VI also caused resentment among the aristocracy, as he surrounded himself with commoner courtiers instead of high-ranking life peers.[27] The critique was thus that Rama VI was not a competent absolute monarch, and that he squandered the massive political capital he inherited from his father, Rama V. This set the stage for the 1932 revolution, in which a group of disgruntled military officers and bureaucrats seized power.

Rise of the Western-educated "commoner" elites

Western education became popular in the reign of Rama V.[28] Although this was still largely limited to the Siamese nobility and the wealthy, new avenues of social mobility were now available to commoners and members of the lower nobility.[27] The best example of these commoner beneficiaries is Pibul Songkram who was from a peasant background. Many of the brightest Siamese students, both commoners and the nobility, were sent abroad to study in Europe. These include Pridi Banomyong, who was of Sino-Thai descent, and Prayoon Pamornmontri, the half-German son of a junior Thai official at the Siamese legation in Berlin and later a page to the crown prince who would become Rama VI.[29] They were to become prominent members of the "promoters". These Western-educated commoner elites were exposed not just to the latest scientific and technical knowledge in Europe, but also to the ideals of Western democracy, nationalism, and communism.[30]

During the reign of Rama VII (King Prajadhipok), however, high-ranking Chakri princes had regained dominance of the government and only four of the twelve ministries were administered by commoners or members of the lower nobility.[31] The royal government was struggling with the fiscal malaise created by Rama VI's administration, and the situation was made much worse by the onset of the Great Depression.[32] Subsequent governmental measures to lay off many low-ranking bureaucrats and soldiers and reduce the pay of those still in government service caused great resentment among the commoner elites, who were those most greatly affected, particularly as the high aristocracy continue to enjoy considerable wealth and privileges accorded to them by the absolute monarchical system.[31] The resulting unhappiness at the status quo due to the awareness of the ideals of Western democracy, nationalism, and communism, coupled with the mismanagement by the absolute monarchy and the deteriorating economic conditions caused by the Great Depression, triggered the 1932 revolution. The onus of the outbreak of the 1932 revolution from this perspective thus lies with the disgruntled commoner elites. who wanted radical change and were generally unwilling to compromise with the monarchy and the aristocracy, in particular with Rama VII, who was supposedly in favour of a constitutional monarchy.

Alternative perspectives

More recent scholarship does not disagree with the macro-causes raised by conventional interpretations, but it tends to delve more into the power struggles between various factions in the labyrinthine world of Siamese politics.[6] They argue that conventional perspectives overemphasise the role of abstract political and social forces, and essentially assume the Western experience of revolution as the model by which all socio-political upheavals are judged and thus ignores the specific historical circumstances in Thailand in 1932. They fail to consider that the 1932 revolution took place in an era when most of the population was kept out of politics and that the political sphere was the domain of military and bureaucratic elites.[6][33] For example, Benjamin Batson's influential 1984 study of the end of the absolute monarchy in Siam and Judith Stowe's 1991 study both emphasise the actions of prominent individuals such as Pridi Banomyong and Pibul Songkram and their political intrigues. A more recent and controversial study by Paul Handley suggests that the root cause of the 1932 revolution was the steadfast refusal of the Chakri monarchs (both Rama VI and VII) and aristocracy to share power with the new "commoner" elites.[34] He argues that the insistence of both Chakri monarchs that protecting the powers of the absolute monarchy was equivalent to protecting the sacred royal prerogatives of the Chakri dharmaraja kingship forced the "commoner" elites and some high-ranking nobility to support or acquiesce in the Promoters' bid to seize power through military force in 1932.

Khana Ratsadon

The "Promoters"

Pridi Panomyong, leader of the civilian faction
Pridi Panomyong, leader of the civilian faction
Major Phibulsonggram, leader of the young army faction
Major Phibulsonggram, leader of the young army faction

In February 1927, in a hotel on the Rue du Sommerard in Paris, France, a small group of seven military and civilian students assembled to debate the founding of a party to try to bring change to Siam.[35] Intent on not wanting to repeat the failure of the 1912 plot, they laid out a clear and coherent plan to change Siam. This group included two young students: one a soldier and an artilleryman Plaek Khittasangkha, the other a law student and radical Pridi Panomyong.[36][37] The group called themselves the "Promoters" (ผู้ก่อการ), hoping to return home to try to promote change. The Promoters realised, ironically, as the king's advisors had done, that the Siamese people were not yet ready for democracy, and most were illiterate peasants with little concern for affairs in Bangkok.[35] In Bangkok itself, the new and emerging middle class was dependent on the patronage of the aristocracy for jobs and positions. As a result, they realised that a "mass revolution" was not possible and only a military-led coup d'état was possible. For this purpose a vanguard party was formed and it was named the Khana Ratsadon (คณะราษฎร) (or the People's Party).

When the Promoters eventually returned to Siam by the end of the 1920s, they quietly expanded their lists of contacts and party membership. Pridi became a teacher at Chulalongkorn University, where he gathered the support of about fifty like-minded men (mostly civilians and civil servants) who also wanted to see the end of absolute monarchy.[38] It was the job of the others, such as Plaek, who had by then received his title Luang Phibulsonggram, to try to gather supporters within the army.[38] A young naval captain, Luang Sinthusongkhramchai, was doing the same for the navy.[35] The numbers of the party increased, and by the end of 1931 it reached 102 members, separated into two branches, the civilian and the military.

Four Musketeers

Prayoon Pamornmontri, one of the seven Promoters, himself an army officer, and former Royal Page of King Vajiravudh, took it upon himself to try to recruit for the party influential and powerful members who also wanted to see the end of absolute monarchy and power of the princes.[35] One officer he had a connection with was the Deputy Inspector of Artillery, Colonel Phraya Phahol Pholpayuhasena. An affable man and popular within the army, he immediately joined the party and gave it his support.[35] The second senior officer was Colonel Phraya Songsuradet. Considered one of the best minds of his generation, he was the Director of Education at the Military Academy. Both had studied abroad and were eager for change.[35] Songsuradet instantly became the party's tactician, advising it should first secure Bangkok militarily and eventually the country would follow. He also advised the Promoters to be more secretive to avoid official and police detection.[39] Eventually, he approached his friend Colonel Phraya Ritthiakhaney, commander of the Bangkok Artillery, who shared his concerns about the princes' domination over the army and eventually he, too, joined the party. Finally, they were joined by Phra Phrasasphithayayut, another discontented officer.[20] Forming what was known within the party as the "Four Musketeers" (4 ทหารเสือ, Four Tiger Soldiers), the most senior members of the party they eventually became its leaders.

(L to R): Colonel Phraya Songsuradej, Lieutenant Colonel Phra Phrasasphithayayut, Colonel Phraya Phahonphonphayuhasena and Colonel Phraya Ritthiakhaney, the revolutionary four musketeers.
(L to R): Colonel Phraya Songsuradej, Lieutenant Colonel Phra Phrasasphithayayut, Colonel Phraya Phahonphonphayuhasena and Colonel Phraya Ritthiakhaney, the revolutionary four musketeers.

24 June 1932

Soldiers assembled in front of the Throne Hall, 24 June 1932
Soldiers assembled in front of the Throne Hall, 24 June 1932

Despite their precautions, word of the plan's existence eventually leaked to the police. On the evening of 23 June 1932, the director general of the police made a call to Prince Paribatra, asking for his authorisation to arrest and imprison all involved in the plot.[20] The prince, recognising names on the list that included many influential and powerful individuals, decided to delay the order for the next day, a delay that would be crucial for the plotters.[40]

Troops on the street during the revolution.
Troops on the street during the revolution.

That same evening, one of Luang Sinthu's supporters in the navy commandeered a gunboat from its dock on the Chao Phraya River, and by morning was aiming its guns directly at Prince Paribatra's palace in Bangkok.[40] Luang Sinthu himself mobilised 500 armed sailors ready to take the Ananta Samakhom Throne Hall, at the centre of the capital and part of Dusit Palace. Following them was Prayoon, who later that night took command of a cadre of young officers to seize the post and telegraph offices around the capital. One of the officers was Khuang Abhaiwongse. All communications between the princes and senior members of the administration were thus disabled.[40] Their houses were also under surveillance and guarded by both civilian and military party members.[40]

At about 04:00 on the morning of 24 June, Phraya Phahol and Songsuradet were already carrying out their part of the plan. Phraya Phahol and some supporters gathered near the Throne Hall waiting for the signal,[41] while Phraya Songsuradet went with a couple of the conspirators to the barracks of the First Cavalry Regiment of the Royal Guards, where most of the armoured vehicles in Bangkok were kept. On arrival, Phraya Songsuradet reprimanded the officer in charge of the barracks for sleeping while there was a Chinese uprising taking place elsewhere in the city—all the while opening the gates of the barracks and mobilising the troops. The ruse worked, and through all the confusion and panic, Phraya Prasan was able to arrest the commander of the regiment and place him in custody. Luang Phibul was ordered to guard him.[41] Armoured vehicles, including some tanks, were commandeered and ordered to head toward the Throne Hall. Phraya Ritthi, after hearing of the success of Phraya Songsuradet, went to the barracks of the First Infantry Regiment. After successfully mobilising the infantry, he too headed to Throne Hall.[41] Having been told weeks before that a military exercise was happening, other troops in the vicinity of Bangkok joined the plotters, thus unknowingly participating in a revolution.[41] Units loyal to the monarch shut themselves in their barracks.[42]

By the time the infantry and cavalry arrived in the Royal Plaza in front of the Throne Hall at about 06:00, there was already a throng watching the assembled military.[41] Confusion gripped the plaza, many not completely sure if the Chinese uprising was real, or if the military were only at the square to exercise. Phraya Phahol climbed onto one of the tanks and read the Khana Ratsadon Manifesto, a declaration proclaiming the end of the absolute monarchy and the establishment of a new constitutional state in Siam. The Promoters cheered, followed by the military, probably more out of deference than full comprehension of what has actually happened.[43]

In truth, Phraya Phahol was bluffing. The success of the revolution still depended on events elsewhere in Bangkok. Phraya Prasan was sent to the house of Prince Paribatra, and to other high-ranking members of the government and princes.[43] Prince Paribatra was apparently in his pajamas when he was arrested.[44] None, except the commander of the First Army Corps, offered any resistance. He put up a fight and was slightly wounded, but was eventually taken into custody, becoming the revolution's only casualty. All in all, about 40 officials were arrested and detained in the Throne Hall. One exception was the Minister of Commerce and Communications, Prince Purachatra Jayakara, Prince of Kamphaeng Phet, who escaped in a detached railway engine to warn the King in Hua Hin.[42] By 08:00 the operation was over and the Promoters had won the day.[43]

Hours after

Most of the military and civil administrations offered little resistance. Accustomed to taking orders and with all lines of communication shut down, they were unable to act. The next stage of the revolution was left to the civilian side of the party. Pridi, its leader, with the help of his supporters, blanketed the capital in the Khana Ratsadon's propaganda leaflets, pamphlets and radio broadcasts, all supporting the revolution.[43] The text of manifesto of the Khana Ratsadon (written by Pridi) criticised the monarch in harsh terms:

All the People,

When this king succeeded his elder brother, people at first had hoped that he would govern protectively. But… the king maintains his power above the law as before. He appoints court relatives and toadies without merit or knowledge to important positions without listening to the voice of the people. He allows officials to use the power of their office dishonestly… he elevates those of royal blood to have special rights more than the people. He governs without principle. The country's affairs are left to the mercy of fate, as can be seen from the depression of the economy and hardships… the government of the king has treated the people as slaves… it can be seen that from the taxes that are squeezed from the people, the king carries off many millions for personal use… The People's Party has no wish to snatch the throne. Hence it invites this king to retain the position. But he must be under the law of the constitution for the governing the country, and cannot do anything independently without the approval of the assembly of the people's representatives… If the king replies with a refusal or does not reply within the time set… it will be regarded as treason to the nation, and it will be necessary for the country to have a republican form of government.[45]

The tone of the manifesto differed greatly from that of the telegram sent to the King signed by the three full colonels and musketeers: Phraya Pahol, Phraya Songsuradet, and Phraya Ritthi. The telegram stated, using royal language (Rachasap: ราชาศัพท์), that if the King did not wish to remain as a monarch under a constitution, the party was willing to replace him with another royal prince.[46] Despite the language, the telegram warned the monarch in strong terms that if any member of the Khana Ratsadon was hurt, the princes in custody would suffer.[46]

Royalty reaction

Siam Ratsadon Newspaper, headline reads: "A change of government for Siamese King to be under law"
Siam Ratsadon Newspaper, headline reads: "A change of government for Siamese King to be under law"

Even before the arrival of the Musketeers' telegram the King was aware of something going on in Bangkok. He was playing a game of golf at the summer villa's course with the queen, two princely ministers, and some courtiers, when an urgent message arrived (reportedly at the eighth hole). Later, Prince Purachatra arrived to report to the King what had been going on in the capital.[46]

The King and the princes discussed many options, which included fleeing the country, staging a counter-coup or full surrender.[46] However, by the time the telegram arrived from the Khana Ratsadon, the King had already decided. He quickly replied he was willing to remain on the throne as a constitutional monarch and that he had always favoured granting the people a constitution.[47] The King, later, wrote of his decision of refusing to fight, "I could not sit on a throne besmirched by blood."[48] One point which the King did not concede was when the party sent a gunboat to carry him to Bangkok. He refused and, instead, travelled back to the capital by royal train, stating that he was not a captive of the Khana Ratsadon.[47]

Meanwhile, the Promoters forced the princes to sign a document proclaiming their commitment to peace and to avoidance of any bloodshed.[47] In Bangkok, the coup elicited almost no response from the populace, and the day-to-day life of the people returned to normal even before the end of the day. The rest of the country was also similarly disaffected,[47] prompting The Times in London to report that the revolution merely was "a simple re-adjustment".[49]

New administration

The granting of Siam's 'permanent' constitution on 10 December 1932 at the Ananta Samakhom Throne Hall
The granting of Siam's 'permanent' constitution on 10 December 1932 at the Ananta Samakhom Throne Hall

By the evening of 24 June the Promoters were confident enough to call a senior ministerial meeting. In the meeting Pridi tried to persuade senior civil servants to support the Khana Ratsadon, asking them for support and telling them to remain united, lest the semblance of confusion lead to foreign intervention.[50] Pridi asked the foreign ministry to dispatch to all foreign missions a document stating that the party was committed to protecting foreign lives and business and to fulfilling Siam's treaty obligations.[50]

King Prajadhipok returned to Bangkok on 26 June. His first action was to grant a royal audience to the Promoters. As the members entered the room the King rose and greeted them by saying: "I rise in honour of the Khana Ratsadon". It was a significant gesture, as in Siamese culture the king always remains seated when their subjects offer homage, not the reverse.[49] This led to Pridi apologising to the monarch for defaming him in the manifesto; subsequently, all known copies were pulled from circulation. The King responded to this act by affixing his royal seal on a document exonerating all members of the Khana Ratsadon for the coup.[49]

The Khana Ratsadon then released all their hostages with the exception of Prince Paribatra, whom they considered too powerful. They asked him to leave the country instead. He later left for Java, never to return and died in Bandung in 1944. Other princes went into voluntary exile in other Southeast Asian countries, and some others in Europe.[49][51]

King Prajadhipok signing the Permanent Constitution of Siam on 10 December 1932
King Prajadhipok signing the Permanent Constitution of Siam on 10 December 1932

In the immediate aftermath of the revolution, Prajadhipok and the Khana Ratsadon immediately set about granting the Siamese people their first constitution. The temporary charter was signed on 27 June 1932 at 17:00. It was a draft document written by Pridi in advance.[52] The constitution began by announcing that: "the highest power in the land belongs to all people."[53] The constitution basically stripped the king of all of his ancient powers such as his power of veto, power of pardon, and the right to even confirm his own successor and heir. The constitution removed the monarchy's powers, without abolishing the office itself.[54] The constitution created a People's Committee (คณะกรรมการราษฎร, the executive) and an Assembly of People's Representatives (รัฐสภาผู้แทนราษฎร) made up of 70 appointed members.

"Democracy" for Siam was, however, to be given to the people in three installments. First, assembly members were to be appointed by the Four Musketeers (the military). They would exercise power on behalf of the people, and their first session was to last six months.[54] Second, a period when the mostly ignorant populace would learn about democracy and elections; the assembly would then be changed to be composed of half appointed members (again by the Musketeers) and the other half through indirect representation. These candidates must, of course, have been examined by the Khana Ratsadon before any election. Third, the charter stated that full democratic representation in the assembly could only be achieved at the end of ten years or when more than half of the populace had gone through primary education, whichever was achieved first.[54]

The first session of the People's Assembly convened in the Ananta Samakhom Throne Hall on 28 June 1932.[55] The charter however did not last long. By the end of the year a new more moderate permanent constitution[56] would be signed, on 10 December. This constitution eventually gave back to the monarchy many powers it had lost in the previous charter, and the monarchy was once again held "sacred and inviolable". The Assembly of People's Representatives was expanded to include 156 members, 78 elected and 78 appointed. The democratic restrictions were removed and the government scheduled Siam's first election in October 1933.[57]


Phraya Manopakorn Nititada addressing the crowd at Ananta Samakhom Throne Hall.
Phraya Manopakorn Nititada addressing the crowd at Ananta Samakhom Throne Hall.

The revolution was a product of many events, including for the most part what the Khana Ratsadon considered misrule under Prajadhipok and the princes. Others included the dire economic situation the country faced in the 1930s and the rapid social development at the time.

Despite his lofty ideals and Western education, Pridi's version of democracy faced the same dilemma that Prajadhipok's version did: the notion simply that the country, especially the rural populace were not yet ready for it.[54] Within days, the Khana Ratsadon had turned Siam into a one-party state with communistic sounding institutions such as the "People's Assembly" and the position of "President of the People's Committee".[58] However, Khana Ratsadon showed their bipartisanship when they recommended the appointment of lawyer and Privy Councillor Phraya Manopakorn Nititada as the first President of the People's Committee and in effect the first Prime Minister of Siam, more probably out of pragmatism and shrewdness rather than any honourable intention.[55] However, infighting within the government and the actions of the conservative prime minister would eventually lead to another coup d'état only one year later, in June 1933, resulting in the appointment of Phraya Phahol as Siam's second prime minister.

Sesquicentennial celebrations.
Sesquicentennial celebrations.

The revolution was a huge blow to Prajadhipok and the monarchy, for it stripped him of all of his ancient powers and privileges. Despite the cordial words, the King lived in constant fear and felt the next time a confrontation between him and the party occurred, he and his queen both might be killed. In late 1932, the King wrote to his nephew Prince Chula Chakrabongse about his decision to return to Bangkok: "...we were all quite aware that we were probably going to our death."[48] The many unsettled constitutional roles of the crown and the dissatisfaction of Phraya Phahol's seizure of power culminated in October 1933 in a counter-coup, the Boworadet Rebellion staged by royalist factions. The royalists were led by Prince Boworadet and the many others who had permanently lost their influence and positions because of the seizure of power by the Khana Ratsadon. The rebellion was a failure, and although there is no evidence whatsoever that Prajadhipok was involved, his neutrality and indecisiveness during the brief conflict led to the loss of his credibility and prestige. Three years after the revolution, King Prajadhipok abdicated the throne and left Siam never to return. He died in England in 1941, during World War II.[59] He was replaced as king by his nine-year-old nephew Prince Ananda Mahidol (King Rama VIII), who at that time was attending school in Lausanne, Switzerland.

Not only did Prajadhipok fail where the Khana Ratsadon succeeded, they accomplished it because of the military. Without the support of the army faction, the coup would never have happened and the system of absolute monarchy might have lasted years longer. Despite the great socio-economic changes in Bangkok, rural Thais were still uneducated and almost completely uninterested in what went on in the nation's capital.[citation needed] The revolution gave the military a sense of power which it would exercise 16 more times through the end of the 20th century, toppling civilian governments whenever they saw fit.


Public perception and discourse over the 1932 revolution has fluctuated over time. With the revival of the role of the monarchy initiated by the government of Sarit Thanarat in the 1960s, the state began downplaying the significance of 1932. Public observation of 24 June as National Day was abandoned in favour of King Bhumibol's birthday on 5 December. The events were glossed over by school textbooks, while views describing the actions of the People's Party as premature, and idea that Vajiravudh and Prajadhipok had been making their own preparations for giving democracy to the people when ready, were popularized.[60]


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  2. ^ Thongchai (2000), p. 534
  3. ^ Landon (1939), pp. 20–26
  4. ^ Van Praagh (1996), pp. 38–41
  5. ^ Handley (2006)
  6. ^ a b c Stowe (1991)
  7. ^ Baker & Phongpaichit (2005), p. 27
  8. ^ a b Stowe (1991), p. 7
  9. ^ a b c d Stowe (1991), p. 3
  10. ^ a b Kesboonchoo Mead (2004), pp. 38–66
  11. ^ Vella, Walter Francis; Vella, Dorothy B (1974). Chaiyo!: King Vajiravudh and the development of Thai nationalism. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press. pp. 126–175.
  12. ^ a b c d Stowe (1991), p. 4
  13. ^ a b c Baker & Phongpaichit (2005), p. 112
  14. ^ Pakorn Nilprapunt (2 April 2012) [1914]. "Martial Law, B.E. 2457 (1914) unofficial translation" (PDF). Thailand Law Forum. Office of the Council of State (Thailand). Archived from the original (PDF) on 30 May 2014. Retrieved 30 May 2014. Reference to Thai legislation in any jurisdiction shall be to the Thai version only. This translation has been made so as to establish correct understanding about this Act to the foreigners.
  15. ^ Soravij: Siamese Royalty. The Descendants of King Rama V of Siam. Retrieved on 14 March 2009
  16. ^ a b c Stowe (1991), p. 2
  17. ^ a b Stowe (1991), p. 1
  18. ^ "The Last Chance for Political Reform" (PDF). Modern Thai politics. Department of Government, Faculty of Political Science, Chulalongkorn University. 2007. Archived from the original (PDF) on 5 October 2011. Retrieved 14 March 2009. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  19. ^ a b Stowe (1991), p. 5
  20. ^ a b c Stowe (1991), p. 15
  21. ^ a b Van Praagh (1996), pp. 16–21
  22. ^ Steinberg (1971), p. 313
  23. ^ Batson (1984), p. 136
  24. ^ Kesboonchoo Mead (2004)
  25. ^ Kesboonchoo Mead (2004), pp. 85–92
  26. ^ a b c Handley (2006), p. 37
  27. ^ a b c Kesboonchoo Mead (2004), pp. 126–153
  28. ^ Kesboonchoo Mead (2004), pp. 66–69
  29. ^ Stowe (1991), pp. 9–11
  30. ^ Stowe (1991), pp. 9–22
  31. ^ a b Landon (1939), pp. 20–27
  32. ^ Batson (1984), pp. 187–235
  33. ^ Batson (1984)
  34. ^ Handley (2006), pp. 35–43
  35. ^ a b c d e f Stowe (1991), p. 12
  36. ^ Baker & Phongpaichit (2005), p. 116
  37. ^ Stowe (1991), p. 11
  38. ^ a b Stowe (1991), p. 13
  39. ^ Stowe (1991), p. 14
  40. ^ a b c d Stowe (1991), p. 16
  41. ^ a b c d e Stowe (1991), p. 17
  42. ^ a b Chakrabongse (1957), p. 160
  43. ^ a b c d Stowe (1991), p. 18
  44. ^ Chakrabongse (1957), p. 159
  45. ^ Pridi (2000), Part II Chapter 7
  46. ^ a b c d Stowe (1991), p. 19
  47. ^ a b c d Stowe (1991), p. 20
  48. ^ a b Chakrabongse (1957), p. 161
  49. ^ a b c d Stowe (1991), p. 22
  50. ^ a b Stowe (1991), p. 21
  51. ^ Baker & Phongpaichit (2005), p. 119
  52. ^ Stowe (1991), p. 25
  53. ^ Pridi (2000), Part II Chapter 8
  54. ^ a b c d Stowe (1991), p. 26
  55. ^ a b Stowe (1991), p. 27
  56. ^ Stowe (1991), p. 33
  57. ^ Stowe (1991), p. 34
  58. ^ Chakrabongse (1957), p. 162
  59. ^ Stowe (1991), p. 75
  60. ^ Mark, Eugene (29 June 2017). "Time to Truly Understand Thailand's 1932 Revolution". The Diplomat. Retrieved 16 October 2020.


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