Rewind to the 1932 Siamese Revolution (1): the place of the monarchy in the new system

On 24 June 1932 at Thammasat University, Tha Prachan, the Thai Academic Network for Civil Rights (TANC) and the 24 June Democracy Group held a conference on “86 years since 1932: Branches and Fruit of Siam’s Great Revolution”
 
The conference had Assoc. Prof. Chaiyan Rajchagool, Faculty of Law, Chiang Mai University; Assoc. Prof. Anusorn Unno, Dean of the Faculty of Sociology and Anthropology, Thammasat University; Rawee Siri-issaranant (Wad Rawee), writer and owner of the Shine Publishing House; Assoc. Prof. Pichit Likitkijsomboon, Faculty of Economics, Thammasat University; and Somyot Prueksakasemsuk, core member of the 24 June Democracy Group, executive editor of Voice of Taksin magazine; with Phiengkham Pradabkhwam as a resource person.

A challenge in economics, politics and status of the monarchy that Khana Ratsadon failed to meet

 
Pichit stated that what was lacking when talking about the 1932 revolution is an assessment of Khana Ratsadon (People’s Party) and the 24 June incident from the perspective of Khana Ratsadon and its allies, as an interpretation by the royalist side. During the time that Khana Ratsadon was in power to the end of their power due to Sarit's coup d’état in 1957, a total of 25 years under Khana Ratsadon's unstable administration, how well did they answer the problem posed on 24 June?
 
Pichit assessed the problem of the Khana Ratsadon to be the Six Principles they established, which are a social contract that Khana Ratsadon made with the people. Today we will analyse the response to the principles.
 
Pichit stated that in 1921, Siam had a population of 14 million people, of which 6.8 million or 68% were illiterate. In 1960, the population had increased to 26 million and the literacy rate to 70%. During that time, the Khana Ratsadon government announced a new law in 1926, enforcing compulsory education to year 4 of primary school. In 1960 when the Khana Ratsadon era ended, compulsory education was 7 years. In the 25 years when Khana Ratsadon was in power, compulsory education made considerable progress, even if there are still people who can’t read or write.
 
The economic principle which was the intention of Khana Ratsadon was that the people would not starve to death. After announcing the constitution on 24 Dec 1932, Pridi Banomyong, a member of Khana Ratsadon, drafted his economic framework which was violently opposed. It was accused of being communist, especially in King Rama VII’s claim that it was like Stalin’s economic plan in the Soviet Union. It became the starting point of the first anti-communist wave even before the establishment of the Communist Party of Thailand (CPT).
 
It raised the spectre of communism which led to the enactment of the first Communist Prevention Act that was enforced even before the CPT was established. That economic framework was not brought into use again since that time and no one has studied the issue of it never being used. However, due to the failure of the framework, Khana Ratsadon had to find another economic framework as a replacement to create legitimacy for their administration. In the end, Khana Ratsadon’s economic approach turned right, i.e. into nationalism.
 
During P. Phibunsongkhram’s term as Prime Minister, a right-wing nationalist economic system was created. The government controlled the economic activities of the private sector with hundreds of state enterprises. This led to many economic problems. The economic structure we see these days is partly the fruit of failure of the framework in the beginning when Pridi’s approach could not be used.
 
When one reads the economic framework, one will find that it has the characteristics of a socialist economy. All people are under the control of the state. The framework stated that all citizens are government officials. The state will establish various types of cooperatives and have the people be in them, with the government paying their salary and collecting tax. The people in the cooperatives will work and receive rewards according to the work they do. It aims to create a self-reliant economy.
 
There will be as little trade as possible with other countries. Personal assets exist as land for habitation. The state is the owner of the land as an economic factor. Machinery is also the state’s, with the reason that private ownership of factories will create conflict between employers and employees, but private professions still exist.
 
However the framework emphasised in various places that this economic system is not communist, because the state is not taking away the people’s rights of ownership. There is an alternative for the people to sell their assets to the state with the state issuing a loan certificate, a bond, and the people can take the interest. At that time it was thought a progressive method.
 
The land reform when the US took over Japan after World War II to destroy the former landlord system and the land reform in Taiwan by Chiang Kai-shek also used this same method. It can be seen as a method used also by non-communist governments.
 
Another result Khana Ratsadon failed to deliver is the role and status of the monarchy in a democratic system. We are talking about the institution that is an organ of the state, with a political and governmental position where the head of state is an institution with legal and traditional power. The many revolutions around the world achieve complete success when they can answer the question of what the role, status and legal and traditional power should be, how much, and with what restrictions.
 
But in their 25 years, Khana Ratsadon did not answer this question clearly even when the Boworadet rebellion occurred. However, in the end this vagueness meant there was no pressure or challenge prompting Khana Ratsadon to clearly define where the monarchy should be under the constitutional system. There was none because King Rama VIII ascended the throne while still young and stayed overseas until the end of World War II before returning to Thailand.
 
During that time there had to be a regent and the regents at that time cooperated well with Khana Ratsadon, so there was no conflict. The conflict over legal and traditional power therefore was not clearly resolved because there were no clashes.
 
In addition, there was the arrest of political prisoners. These were a pro-monarchy group during P. Phibunsongkhram’s term who were placed on Ko Tarutao. After World War II ended, it was clear that Khana Ratsadon’s military faction lost because they had allied themselves with Japan while the pro-monarchy group were still the political prisoners that were arrested earlier, so only the civilian faction, which is Pridi, was left. He desired national reconciliation; solutions, not vengeance. 
 
After being occupied by Japan for 3-4 years, we changed from a country that lost the war to one that won through diplomatic methods, so all political prisoners and prisoners of war were amnestied. The monarchists and former prisoners of war joined hands to seize power from Pridi in 1947. Eventually, only the monarchists, P. Phibunsongkhram and the Democrat Party established by the monarchists were left.
 
By 1957, a new generation of soldiers, who had grown up under a military system, a true warrior system, with no influence from the ideas of Khana Ratsadon, led a revival of royal traditions and royal power. The role and status of the monarchical prestige has lasted from then on.

Article 112: hiding the sky with one’s hands: creating a thought vacuum

 
Wad stated that the main theme he would speak on was what resulted from seizing power from the king, and how did it end. The change in the system of government in 1932 did not happen in a few days or a few months, but there was continuous opposition from the monarchist side until the eventual amnesty and reconciliation; the monarchist side returned to power and overthrew Khana Ratsadon.
 
However a topic that is not often spoken of was that Khana Ratsadon lacked unity. It was divided into factions between P. Phibunsongkhram and Pridi. This situation appeared since the time of World War II when P. Phibunsongkhram lost power after Japan lost the war, causing the Pridi faction, which was the Free Thai movement, that was allied to the monarchists, to side with the Allied Powers and take power.
 
This is equivalent to the monarchist faction becoming stronger. After the death of King Rama VIII, the monarchist faction turned to attack Pridi until he had to flee the country, so P. Phibunsongkhram’s faction was able to come back into power again. P. Phibunsongkhram fought the monarchists until he was overthrown in 1957. All of this took 25 years since the coup in 1932 and the scene ended with the defeat of Khana Ratsadon.
 
Before this the topic of Khana Ratsadon has never come back as a topic in Thai politics, whether at the time of the 14 Oct incident, the 6 Oct incident or May 91-92. There was the revival of the importance of Khana Ratsadon aiming to restore Pridi’s honour, but it was done in a way that did not conflict with the royal institution.
 
Wad continued saying that in the early stages when Khana Ratsadon argued with King Rama VII, the two sides directly argued on the issues; their approach to the argument was the same, and they each knew what the other was thinking. The issue was how to deal with the power of the monarchy in the constitution. When we cut back to the situation before the crisis during Thaksin’s term, the political situation then did not have any concepts about the monarchy.
 
The focus of politics was on the military, police and politicians. Nobody saw the royal institution in the political system; nobody saw that they were related. There were words of Thaksin from long ago in an interview with foreign reporters that the king in his idea was like a god, not a person. The monarchy was not something with power in the political system, but was floating outside the system.
 
After the political crisis in 2006-2010, political paradigms that Thai people had recognized changed. People started to see a truth that they cannot go back and not see, no matter if they are conservatives or progressives. They can no longer look at politics and not see the issue of the monarchy any more. This is the issue that is a problem, because this is the difference from the time when Khana Ratsadon argued openly. Before the political crisis, they could not see, but once the crisis happened, they could see but could not express their thoughts.
 
Wad thought that the important returning issue of Khana Ratsadon was the problem of the power of the monarchy, where not only Article 112 of the Criminal Code violates human rights but the problem is that silencing people by using the law cannot change people’s thinking back to when they could not see this issue.
 
If there is no obstruction, the people who see the phenomenon will express themselves differently and when the reaction is apparent, a point is reached where their perception will change. They see the expression of opinion of other people, and arguments will occur and perception will be adjusted. This shows people the boundaries of the issue, without being confused about what the issue is about.
 
But when there are efforts to change people’s perceptions, political management with the power of the monarchy as its centre becomes impossible.  Each person keeps their thoughts inside their heads and it becomes a case of guessing what each person, each side is thinking. When thoughts are imprisoned, thoughts do not get established, turmoil arises from being prohibited.
 
But prohibition can’t be complete because thoughts spread in the era of the internet. But there are people who cannot access the internet who listen only to the NCPO at home. Therefore a vacuum is caused in society by obstruction, there is a lack of common ideas, and consensus in society is not created. Consensus cannot be created if people cannot express the ideas in their heads. The solution is to adjust people’s perceptions so that they are at the same level.
 
 
The panel speakers (from left to right): Chaiyan Rajchagool, Rawee Siri-issaranant (Wad Rawee), Pichit Likitkijsomboon, Somyot Prueksakasemsuk and Phiengkham Pradabkhwam