Siamese revolution of 1932

The Siamese Revolution was a crucial turning point in 20th century Thai history. The revolution, a coup d’état, was a nearly bloodless transition on 24 June 1932, which changed the system of government in Siam from an absolute monarchy to a constitutional monarchy. The “revolution” was brought about by a comparatively small group of military and civilians, who formed Siam’s first political party, theKhana Ratsadon (Peoples’ Party). It ended 150 years of absolutism under the Chakri Dynasty and almost 700 years of absolute rule of kings over Thai history. It was a product of global historical change as well as domestic social and political changes. It also resulted in the people of Siam being granted their first constitution.

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Despite their precautions and preparation, 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.The prince, recognising many 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

(L to R): Phraya Songsuradet. Phraya Phaholpholphayuhasena, Phraya Ritthiakhaney and Phra Phrasasphithayayut, the Four Musketeers or the Four Tiger Soldiers
(L to R): Phraya Songsuradet. Phraya Phaholpholphayuhasena, Phraya Ritthiakhaney and Phra Phrasasphithayayut, the Four Musketeers or the Four Tiger Soldiers
“Promoter” and one of the founders of the Khana Ratsadon, Pridi Panomyong, leader of civilian faction

On 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. 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 telegram 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.All their houses were also under surveillance and guarded by both civilian and military party members.

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, 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 all the troops. The ruse worked, and through all the confusion and panic, Phraya Prasan was able to arrest the commander of the regiment and put him into custody. Luang Phibul was ordered to guard him.The armoured vehicles, including some tanks, were commandeered and all were 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 towards the Throne Hall.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. Other units loyal to the monarch decided to take a passive role by shutting themselves in their barracks.

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.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.

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 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. Prince Paribatra was apparently in his pajamas when he was arrested.[51] 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.  By 08:00 the operation was over and the Promoters had won the day.

By the evening of the 24th 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, unless the semblance of confusion would lead to foreign intervention.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.King Prajadhipok returned to Bangkok on 26 June. His first immediate action was to give 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 an extremely significant gesture, as in Siamese culture the king always remains seated when their subjects offer homage, not the reverse. This led to Pridi apologizing 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.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. Other princes went into voluntary exile in other Southeast Asian countries, and some others in Europe. 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. The constitution began by announcing that: “the highest power in the land belongs to all people.” 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 actually abolishing the office itself.The constitution created a People’s Committee (and an Assembly of People’s Representatives  made up of 70 appointed Members.

The Democracy Monument, Bangkok
– The Democracy Monument, Bangkok

“Democracy” for Siam was, however, to be given to the people in installments, three to be precise. First, assembly members were to be appointed by no other than the Four Musketeers (the military). They would exercise power on behalf of the people, and their first session was to last six months.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, and finally, 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. The first session of the People’s Assembly convened in the Ananta Samakhom Throne Hall on 28 June 1932. The charter however did not last long. By the end of the year a new more moderate permanent constitution[63] would be signed, on 10 December. This constitution eventually gave back to monarch many powers it had lost in the previous charter, the monarchy was once again held “sacred and inviolable”. The Assembly of People’s Representatives was expanded to include 156 members, 76 elected and 76 appointed. The democratic restrictions were removed and the government scheduled Siam’s first election in October 1933.

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