Undermining the 1932 revolution
On 75th anniversary of uprising that brought democracy, many wonder if the spirit has been lost
Thailand will mark the 75th anniversary of the 1932 Revolution of Siam tomorrow under a military regime that staged the country's 11th successful coup d'etat since then.
Many political groups will mark the occasion by gathering at the Royal Plaza, where 75 years ago, in front of hundreds of military officers, Phraya Phahol-polpayuhasena stood and read the first declaration of the Promoters Revolution that ended absolute monarchy and brought Thailand, then Siam, into the era of democracy.
Phrya Phahol and 102 other members of the People's Party (Khana Ratsadorn) risked their lives to issue the first draft of constitutional monarchy, which was promulgated on June 27, 1932, three days after their historic revolution.
"My father took on the mission in order to bring a democratic regime to the country. But it depends whether society as a whole wants to live with it [democracy] or not," said Major Phutthanart Phahol-polpayuhasena, 68, a son of Phraya Phahol.
In the more than seven decades since, the place where Phraya Phahol risked his life by declaring an era of democracy in Siam has been used for political gatherings of all hues and the country has seen 12 failed coups and 17 constitutions become part of its democratic history.
Major Phuttanart confessed that he took part in many of the coups that destroyed the spirit of his father's 1932 Revolution.
"Many times I drove a tank on to the streets of Bangkok for a coup. As a soldier, I had to do what my superiors ordered, but no one came to ask me whether I wanted to live with democracy or a coup," said the major, who served in the Royal Thai Army from 1957-1986.
Whatever others may think, he believes the 1932 Siam Revolution has been the only the real revolution in Thailand.
The idea for the revolution was hatched in 1927 by a group of seven Thai students in Paris: Pridi Banomyong, Lieutenant Prayoon Phamornmontri, Lieutenant Plaek Phibunsongkhram, Sub-lieutenant Tassanai Mitrbhakdi, Tua Laphanukrom, Charoon Singkaseni and Naeb Phaholyotin (a brother of Phraya Phahol). These seven "Promoters", as they became known, later returned to Siam to form the People's Party. They got 102 people to join their historic movement, with Pridi heading the civilian faction and Phraya Phahol leading the military faction.
"It was done with the sincerity of people [People's Party members] who were ready to risk their life for the nation. If they failed, they would have got no amnesty and they and their families would have been persecuted for seven generations," said Major Putthanart.
Though three leaders of the People's Party - Phraya Phahol, Pridi and Plaek - later became prime ministers of Thailand, Pridi Banomyong and Field Marshal Phibun (Plaek Phibunsongkhram) were forced to leave the country following subsequent coups and died in exile.
Historian Charnvit Kasetsiri believes the spirit of the 1932 Revolution reached its turning point in 1946, the year King Ananda Mahidol (Rama VIII) was found dead with a gunshot wound and a military group took the great loss as a reason to stage a coup on November 8, 1947.
"This coup was the ancestor of [other military juntas] Sarit Thanarat, Thanom Kittikachorn, the National Peacekeeping Council [NPKC] and the Council for National Security [CNS]," said Charnvit, a co-editor of "The 1932 Revolution in Siam" published by the Foundation for the Promotion of Social Sciences and Humanities Textbooks Project.
"The 1932 Revolution sparked modern politics and the aspirations of the people, but people's aspirations are already being pushed back. Today's politics is bureaucratic and authoritarian under military generals," the historian said.
The current military regime, the CNS, is so much a part of the whole system that today's generation can't see them as any different from their predecessors, Charnvit warned.
The return of the Internal Security Operations Command (ISOC) and the appointment of rural administrators (kamnans and village heads) reflect how people's power is again being pushed back under the CNS, he added.
Political scientist Thanet Wongyannawa agreed.
"The 1932 Revolution mindset ended in 1946. Modern politics is a return of the political consciousness of military generals that people were seen nowhere in political history," he said.
Thai democracy is now very old and therefore needs some genetic engineering, he added.
Meanwhile, as various groups of political activists use the commemoration of the 1932 Revolution as an occasion to launch campaigns, children of the Promoters doubt whether Thai society really remembers the spirit of the 1932 Revolution.
"I am sorry that neither the government nor the media recognise the promoters and their role," said Chirawat Panyarachun, a daughter of Field Marshal Phibun.
Chirawat will join the children of other members of the 1932 Revolution for the annual religious rites at Wat Phrasri Mahathat tomorrow, to commemorate the event and pay tribute to those who brought democracy to the country.
Though the country's 18th constitution is being drafted under the current military regime and will be put to a referendum in the next few months, Charnvit sees it as being part of a vicious circle in the country's politics.
"It's a pity that this constitution will not be the last. We will see more coups and more constitution drafting - a waste of time, money and brains."
Tomorrow's commemorative activities
At Royal Plaza
5am-8am: A speech on "Going beyond electoral democracy" by Sulak Siwaraksa and reading of the People's Declaration by representatives of workers, farmers and students, while political activists hold symbolic actions to show that the Siam Revolution's spirit is still alive and should be sustained
At Phra Sri-mahathat Temple on Phaholyothin Road
9am: An annual religious ceremony held by families of members of the 1932 Revolution to observe the event and pay tribute to those who ushered in democracy
At Phranakhon Rajabhat University on Chaeng Wattana Road
1pm-5pm: A talk on "Stories behind the 1932 Revolution" led by children of the promoters including Suhprida Banomyong and Major Phuttanart Phaholyothin
The talk will be held at IT Sri-khanet meeting room (more info, call Prida Khaoboa at (081) 926 5749)
At Pridi Banomyong Institute on Sukhumvit Soi 55
1pm-5pm: A programme featuring physical theatre, performances and academic discussion on "Historical Status of the Siam Revolution" (more info, call (02) 381 3860-1)