KINGS, GENERALS, AND COMMONERS
I doubt that very few of us have personally met royalty so we can discard any firsthand comments on that category. On the other hand, I have known generals both in Thailand and the U.S. as well as commoners functioning in politics in both countries as well. My Thai general acquaintance was deeply involved in the Vietnam war as some 4,000 Thai soldiers fought in Laos. There is a photograph of him in his office next to U.S. General Westmoreland. What our Thai friend gave up in height to the American, he made up in the fierceness of his squat posture and hands on hips. The two American generals I knew were on a bank holding company board of directors with me. The one-star general was a battlefield commissioned officer and the three-star gentleman was an effete West Pointer. Somehow, I always liked the “shoot-em-up” guy the best. When we came under some pressure from federal regulators on a banking issue, the one-star battlefield guy stood with us to defend the shareholders and the other one sought refuge.
The Thai commoner I knew was Deputy Prime Minister Surakiart who was a good guy though his career path was upended by a Thai military coup in 2014. My perspective of U.S. commoners in politics is dominated by Joey’s family with a Supreme Court Chief Justice and a Congressman grandfather. I had an uncle in the Georgia state legislature but that does not hold a candle to her heritage. I will say the past quality and integrity of historical U.S. politicians is a class, by far, above those of today.
The Thai military coup in 2014 was preceded by one in June 1932 by Thai western-educated commoners who fueled the revolution to end Siam’s centuries-long absolute monarchy under the Chakri dynasty. The result was the introduction of democracy, the first constitution and the creation of a National Assembly. Coup pressures were a byproduct of the economic crisis during the depression coupled with the lack of a competent government. The coup leaders are shown below driving through Bangkok handing out leaflets to describe what had happened.
Exactly one year later in June 1933, the military successfully overthrew the constitutional government. The People’s Committee of the National Assembly was split between the new democratic school led by Pridi versus the old Thai, monarchist and conservative Phraya Mano. The conservatives sided with the military and Phraya Mano, shown below, became the first Prime Minister of Thailand.
Since his time, there have been twelve coups by the military. The only coup to receive a passing grade by the Thai Inquirer was the original one in 1932 whereas all of them that followed have received failing grades by independent observers. Throughout this time, the monarchy has been bulletproof as the military view their first commandment is to protect the monarchy thereby providing them a divine cause. Interestingly, there are seventy different ethnic groups in Thailand and most of them have their own language, customs and beliefs. At the height of the Vietnam war, the U.S. decided to take the initiative to cause them to be a singular culture wrapped around the monarchy. A friend of mine at U.S.I.S. (U.S. Information Services) managed a program of going throughout Thailand and contributing to villagers if they would place a picture of the king and queen in their dwellings. Strangely, he always accused me of being a spook just because I went to Laos often though I think his activities were a bit more sinister. In any event, during the 13 years leading up to the height of warfare in Southeast Asia, there were no coups. However, the frequency of coups increased as the war wound down which might have been due to less U.S. influence. The last coup was in 2014 which is shown below unfolding under the leadership of General Prayut who has served as Prime Minister since that time. The military boys did not fare well in the May 14 election.
As we have previously covered, the Move Forward Party won the most seats in the May 14 election and have since formed a coalition of eight political parties to have a complete majority of the House seats with over 300 seats. In forming the coalition, the Move Forward Party leader Pita, shown below to the left of the pact signed by the coalition, said the new government’s action plan would not affect the constitutional monarchy and the monarch’s revered and inviolable status. They have a host of ambitious goals such as eliminating corruption and reforming the military.
Despite the clear and most convincing victory of the coalition, their seats still must be approved by the military-created senate. In that regard, The Bangkok Post reported that activists have taken their cause directly to the senators. It would seem that the genie is out of the bottle and there is nowhere to go for the morose military and the status quo establishment. You can feel the excitement and electricity in the air as it has been a long time since the first stab at a democracy was made in 1932. We should wish them well and, more importantly, stay out of their way which would include our own military as they meddled there a lot in the past.
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