In a lengthy reply to Johpa’s statement that “Quite frankly, I thought that the comparison of the current coup leaders to Sarit to be at minimum a bit premature and, dare I say, perhaps politically naive”, regular New Mandala commentator Patiwat has put together a helpful summary that attempts to put this year’s events in a broader historical perspective.
Patiwat’s comment is well worth reading. I have pasted it into this new post in the hope it will be read more widely and that it might spark a fuller debate on the continuities and disjunctures of the coup in Thai history.
Johpa, on the contrary, the comparison of Sarit to Sonthi displays quite a bit of historical insight, even though there is a lot they’re not mentioning.
Sarit overthrew Marshal Por Phibulsongkhram. Marshal Por ruled at the expense of the palace. He sidelined the King and kept him a figurehead ruler, restricting his activities to harmless non-political roles. All those black and white photos you see of the King sailing, playing in jazz bands, partying with the Shah of Persia, meeting with Elvis, etc. – those are from the Por era. One of Por’s key allies was the police force, led by Phao Sriyanon. Por ruled under the 1952 Constitution, which was a copy of the 1932 Constitution: a relatively democratic instrument, allowing parliamentary elections, among other things. Por also ruled with strong support from the USA, which wanted Thailand’s support in the Cold War.
In 1957, right after parliamentary elections (which, as a footnote to history, Surayud’s father successfully contested), Sarit accused Por of lese majeste regarding Por’s management of the 2,500th anniversary of Buddhism. Por visited the King to seek support for his government – the King told him to resign to avoid a coup. Por resigned, and that evening Sarit seized power. Two hours after the coup, the King endorsed it and named Sarit “Champion of the Capital.” Por spent the rest of his life in exile in Japan.
Sarit ripped up the Constitution, declared martial law, and ruled via Revolutionary Council. He ruled with an iron fist, and even after he died, the Three Dictators continued his legacy. He replaced the democratic 1952 Constitution with the 1959 Charter – a travesty of constitutional law (it should have been called a р╕гр╕▒р╕Р-р╕нр╕Шр╕гр╕гр╕б-р╕Щр╕╣р╕Н “rule of the state with evil” instead of р╕гр╕▒р╕Рр╕Шр╕гр╕гр╕бр╕Щр╕╣р╕Н “rule of the state with dharma”). Sarit cracked down hard on all remnants of the “Por regime” (including Surayud’s father, who was hounded into the forest), branding anyone who contested his dictatorship a “communist.” Sarit also rebranded the King to the image which we are familiar with today: a development King who visits the provinces, a genius in all fields of knowledge, and a semi-holy man whose image is sacred. The royal image was boosted with a rebirth of tradition and ceremony: people again had to crawl before him during audiences (this was banned by R.5 as uncivilized), the royal barge procession was reinitiated for the first time in decades, etc. Sarit was also a very charming man – he had many many many wives. Sarit was a favorite of the King. After Sarit died, the King gave him the highest of honors during his funeral.
Where are the similarities between the Sarit and the current junta?
- Por Phibulsongkram = Thaksin Shinawatra
- Sidelining the King = “Finland Plot”
- Support from the US in the Cold War = Support from the US in the War on Terror
- Lese majeste accusastion over 2,500th anniversary of Buddhism = Lese majeste over caretaker committee for the Supreme Patriarch
- Por’s support from the police = Thaksin’s support from the police
- Phao Sriyanon’s death squads = Thaksin’s War on Drugs
- Sarit Thanarat = Sonthi/Prem/Surayud
- The 1957 Coup = The 2006 Coup
- Por’s exile in Japan = Thaksin’s exile in the UK
- Relatively democratic 1932/1957 Constitutions = Relatively democratic 1997 Constitution
- Undemocratic 1959 Charter = Undemocratic 2006 Constitution
- Sarit as a favorite of the King = Prem/Surayud as favorites of the King
- Sarit makes pomp and celebration of the King his no. 1 priority = Sonthi makes pomp and celebration of the King his no. 1 priority
- Sarit’s charm with the ladies = Surayud’s charm with the ladies
- “Communists” = “undercurrents”