Globally Thickened Air of Change and the ‘June 24th, 1932/Siamese Revolution’
Assistant Professor Wararak Chalermpuntusak (Ph.D.), School of Political Science, Sukhothai Thammathirat Open University
Tracing back through times might help us clearly see that human-inspired changing (or revolutionary) events have never come out of the thin air. Rather they are mostly attributed to the interplaying processes between human’s ideas, or minds if you prefer, and decisive, or deliberative as I prefer, actions. Seeking and keeping a better, read here as: just, society for the general public is a much cited cause for change. The ‘June 24th, 1932/Siamese Revolution’ is no exception.
In order to shed more light on the Revolution, Constructivism is applied here due to its strong point guiding us to comprehend that the relationship between human’s ideas and actions could not be totally severed from its contexts. The social structure (as the existence of interplaying processes of political and socio-economic dimensions) plays a significant part to shape agents’ perceptions/ideas, actions and vice versa: the duality of structures or structuration, according to Giddens. Put simply, the social reality is socially constructed through the aforementioned processes, or the social construction of reality as Berger and Luckmann call it. That means it could be socially destroyed provided that socially conscious agents take (deliberative) actions to construct the new reality, read here as better living conditions and receiving recognition. The ‘June 24th, 1932/Siamese Revolution’ is an example for that. The keen and experienced eyes might wonder whether we have got trapped by the reproduction and repetition, perhaps sublimation, of some favoured partially constructed reality and agents going on since that decisive year that might obstruct the success of the Revolution.
My point is to briefly scrutinise what kind of global changes, particularly in terms of structural perceptions and experiences, led the leading agents for the ‘June 24th, 1932/Siamese Revolution’ not only question the established reality but plot and deliver the revolutionary plan to construct the new social reality. Said otherwise, globally changing phenomena and structures were accentuated as being not only nourishing foods for thoughts but also as functioning as observatories and learning-workshops for change in various territories including Siam. For the sake of analysis, the first quarter of the 20th century, entitled the Age of Extreme by Eric Hobsbawm, is highlighted.
Unable to cope with profound changes due to the spreading of anti- colonial movements and devastating impacts from the involvement with World War I, many traditional societies were turned upside down. The Turkish, the Chinese, and the Russian are apparent examples, not to mention our neighbouring Indo-Chinese territories. In the eyes of the 1932 changing agents, these experiences illustrated that coaxing reasons and diplomatic encouragement for change were futile unless supported by gun-barrels. Gramsci’s concept of winning two wars was relevant here. Winning the war of maneuver by military insurrection was essential to gain physical ground while winning the war of position, namely gaining power over social relation, was necessary to destroy (traditional) social reality and construct the new one. It is within the second realm that any social ideology could not only be observed but propagated and implemented. What should not be overlooked is that any social ideology per se is elusively responsive to constructed ideas, whether they are, particularly or universally, bound by politically conflictive interests as Eagleton observes.
Judging from their perspectives and experiences, it was no surprise to observe different favourable inclinations among the 1932 changing agents. Though socialist-driven economic policies were widely adopted even in the heartland of capitalism, ‘New Deal’ in F.D. Roosevelt’s America and John Maynard Keynes’s ‘Yellow Book’, they were not welcomed in Siam. Yet, Keynesian policies, not much different to that of the Socialist Republic in terms of broad procedures and investment but greatly different in terms of ownership, were aimed at mitigating economic hardships and social disparity. They were understood as root causes for accepting the USSR’s leadership in a radical social transformation. Unfortunately, the Siamese Yellow Book was perceived as accelerating, not mitigating, the surging of Communism. The 1932 changing agents also observed the rise of ultra-nationalism attached to socialist-inclined economic policies under the banners of Italian Fascism and German Nazism. It was the main force that won both the war of maneuver and the war of position in the Spanish Civil War (1936) that seemed to set the trend for alignment between authoritarian regime a la Fascism and economic assistance leading to development. Mass mobilisation played a decisive role as a means to an end for the Fascists while it was an end in itself for the Socialists.
Last but not least, the 1932 changing agents launched social learning processes, including the indirect one through social institutions and media with printed materials designated at generating a ‘public sphere’. It was within this dynamic sphere, quite close to Habermas’s original concept, that the learnt ones exchanged and shared their ideas leading to convergent deliberation for bringing social evolution. Yet, whether their project of bringing change based on their globally perceived ideas and experiences has finished or not is an open question, at least for me.
The 1932 Revolution
Chatichai Muksong, Department of History, Faculty of Social Science Srinakharinwirot University
1932 or 2475 B.E. is a crucial turning point in Thai history in the 20th century. The first thing that needs to be understood is the status of the incident on 24th June 1932. It was not only a “transformation”, as many voices in historiography tried to present it. It must be called a “revolution” because it changed the form of the state.
It was the end of the absolute monarchy, which had been invented in Thailand by King Rama V. and since had given the king an absolute power to rule over the country. It was a people’s victory to take part in governing the country by establishing the rule of law. The idea of constitutional monarchy was not new. Rather, it was known since 1865, since princes as well as nobles had suggested Rama V to try this form of government. Another turning point was the unsuccessful revolution of 1912, which was staged by young soldiers and young civilian officers. This incident could be considered as an inspiration for the 1932 revolution.
It was the beginning of the new (political) system in 1932. The revolution or the coup d’état was a nearly bloodless transition, in which the system of government in Siam was changed from an absolute monarchy to a constitutional monarchy. The revolution had been staged by a group of military and civilians, who later formed Siam’s first political party, Khana Ratsadon. The revolution also resulted in the people of Siam being granted their first constitution. Four main political institutions, namely the constitution, House of Representatives, the cabinet as well as the bureaucracy were firmly established.
In the first 15 years after the revolution, Khana Ratsadon tried to do a structural reform in politics, economics, social issues and culture. The clearest changes were the name of the country, costumes and way of living. But the political loss against Royalism also means the loss in terms of historiography. Thus, Khana Ratsadon is not responsible for the unsteady democracy in Thailand. Rather, the responsibility for being incapable to establish the heritage of Khana Ratsadon, or the democratic institutions, lies in the hands of all Thais.
24 June 1932: “Change” and “Hope” for Thailand
Col. Dr. Sorasak Ngamcachonkulkid, Department of History, Academic Division, Chulachomklao Royal Military Academy
The new regime that was set up to replace the absolutist monarchy in June 1932 was a constitutional system, but it gradually became a military government. The blame for the failure of constitutionalism cannot be laid upon the people. Rather, it should be placed at the feet of the elites. Interestingly, at the outset of the constitutional regime, the Bangkok elite groups had a common concern, despite their differences: that the low level of education will lead to difficulties in establishing a democracy in Thailand. However, this argument was later rejected by regional leaders. Indeed, the primary problem with democracy in the post-1932 order was not the failure of electoral politics, but rather the failure of the elite collective to work out an acceptable modus vivendi for Thai politics and society.
Naturally, each elite group wanted a self-governing system that fitted in with its power bases, experiences and ideas. In the course of Thai politics, there have been three dissimilar visions. The vision set by the absolutist monarchy; the military-bureaucracy; and the progressive reformists. Indeed, each of these visions has had their own conflicting ideas. The contest between these differing visions since 1932 has propelled Thailand into a new era of politics, which pitted the old elites against the new ones. Parallel to this struggle for power were the contest between local leaders (MPs), including several democratic forces, against the military’s dominance.
At the beginning of the constitutional regime, the democratic contest among the Thai elite was paramount. The new elite, given their foreign education background, had a basic understanding of the principles and theories of democracy. Yet only the more marginal local leaders (MPs) showed their willingness to put the democratic principle and process into practice for the people and desired a constitutional law to be implemented. Indeed, the Northeastern representatives requested the Assembly to implement the chief functions of the new structure. On the other hand, most of the elite groups from Bangkok were not in favor of a constitutional regime solely working for such a purpose. Instead, the Bangkok elite, both the established set (the senior princes and the nobility) and the 1932 Promoters (the military-bureaucracy), were inclined to retain power for the Monarch or for their own power cliques. As a result, there was a lack of consensus among the Thai elite, which led to the breakdown of the constitutional system in the post-1932 period.
Thus, the difficulty establishing democracy should not always be blamed on the people or on electoral outcomes, but rather on the differences among the elite groups. Furthermore, the failure to shut the military out of politics can also be blamed on the disunity among the elite, civilian factions. Due to their sharp differences in socio-economic and ideological settings, the civilian faction’s internal discords prevented them from working together against military encroachment. This situation leads to an underlying political question: how can Thailand proceed toward the goal of an electoral system of government that is not only free from the interference of the military, but also from the self-damaging disharmony within the civilian elite factions, such as the red-shirts and the yellow shirts?
The Unrealized Potential of 1932: Political Equality for Thai Citizens
Dr. Michael Nelson, Senior Research Fellow, CPG, Faculty of Law, Thammasat University
Thai academics often claim that the coup of 1932 was the starting point of democracy (politically equal people governing themselves through a complex set of institutions) in Thailand. According to this view (that mixes up the concepts of democracy and constitutionalism, and overlooks the long periods of military rule), the Thai people have been enjoying democracy for 83 years. Yet, widely- used expressions such as “Thai-style democracy” indicate a seriously deficient form of democracy. Even Thailand’s present military dictator, Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha, has determined the creation of “full democracy” as a central goal of his rule. Indeed, equal citizens were a key point of reference in the First Announcement of the People’s Party in 1932. Addressing it to “All the people,” the announcement stated that, “The government of the king has treated the people as slaves (some called phrai, some kha) and as animals. It has not considered them as human beings.” The document then promised that, “Everyone will have equal rights and freedom from being serfs (phrai) and slaves (kha, that) of royalty.”
Importantly, the “equal people” had no part in the 1932 coup. Rather, it constituted the emancipation of the (military and civilian) bureaucracy from their superior, the monarch. The bureaucracy became its own boss. The die was cast when Pridi Banomyong’s anti-military “Grand Palace Rebellion” of 1949 did not succeed.
This failure did not only destroy much of the potential for a more people-oriented conception of rule, it also meant the unrivalled dominance of the military over Thai politics for the following almost two decades. The subordination of the people was first transferred from the king to the bureaucracy, and then ideologically justified by the symbolic re-entry of the king into the political order via a reinvigoration of the semi-sacred trinity of “Nation, Religion, and Monarchy.”
The student protests against a set of military dictators in 1973 did not signify the emancipation of the people from military suppression, but the beginning of claims to power by the newly emerging middle class. Anek Laothamatas later approvingly conceptualized this as a mixed political system comprising the monarchy and the elite (aphichon, i.e., military, civil servants, academics, mass media, middle class) that “balance” the people in the third component, “democracy” (politicians, political parties, voters, generally lower-class people in the provinces). Since the earlier 1980s, the elite discourse increasingly focused on the evilness of incapable and corrupt businessmen-cum-politicians, and the morally deficient mass of the voters, who were seen as politically ignorant and immature as well as irresponsible in selling their votes to community leaders acting as canvassers for election candidates.
From this perspective, general elections have lost their normative legitimacy as the only means of allocating positions of governmental power in Thailand, and the politically equal citizens have lost their normative place as the constituent political subject of the Thai polity. Both the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) and the People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC) aimed significantly to reduce the equal citizens’ fundamental political rights, and substantially to empower the aphichon, to which the members of PAD and PDRC belonged. After the military coup of May 2014, ideologically firm members of the aphichon, often with close links to PAD and PDRC, were appointed to the Constitution Drafting Committee. It might thus not come as a surprise that their draft constitution includes the seizure of a substantive part of decision-making state power by the aphichon. Essentially, the governmental structures that are based on the political equality of “All the people,” as expressed in general elections, are complemented (for five to ten years) by respective structures that are entirely aphichon-appointed (the National Reform Assembly competing with the House, the National Reform Strategy Committee competing with the Cabinet, and a Senate that will support both with their legislative initiatives). Based on an extensive and constitutionally compulsory policy agenda, these structures can, and probably will, bypass the elected structures in making far-reaching collectively binding decisions. Elite rule thus trumps the democratic principle of political equality.
When Sulak Sivaraksa gave a speech during the high time of the PDRC protests, he thought that this “may also be an excellent time to stimulate the unrealized potentials of the 1932 Revolution. The best way to be faithful to the 1932 Revolution is to repeat it.” In a wider sense, the latter might still be true, and be it because the assumption of an opportunity “to stimulate the unrealized potentials of the 1932 Revolution” was unrealistic.
24 June 1932 and its Significance for Thailand Today
Dr. Paul Chambers, Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, Chiang Mai, and Research Fellow, CPG, Faculty of Law, Thammasat University
Though today it is hardly celebrated in Thailand at all, 24 June 1932 has enormous significance for contemporary Thailand. On that day, Siam’s absolute monarchy – as a formalized authoritarian political structure – was overthrown. As the ultimate result of socioeconomic reforms brought about under Kings Rama IV and V, 1932 represented a critical juncture of Thailand’s state formation whereby a dynastic-patrimonial power bloc was replaced by a bureaucratic polity practicing state-led capitalism.
With regard to factors which caused the overthrow, in 1929, Siam’s economy was weak and many felt that the dynasty had mismanaged the economy. Also, there was growing dissatisfaction with the allocation of senior bureaucratic promotions to princes. Many “commoner” elite were becoming attracted to Western ideologies. However, they realized that monarchical absolutism was not going to disappear without a fight. Already, earlier attempts at change such as the 1885 proposal for a constitution by Prince Prisdang and the 1912 coup attempt had gone awry.
As such, the “Promoters” (led initially by Pridi Panomyong but including Plaek Phibulsongkram) sought to use adequate military muscle to affect the transition. Ensuring sufficient military support to remove the absolute monarchy was crucial. In late 1931, four colonels decided to join the plot given their dissatisfaction with military budget cuts, among other reasons. With these four officers in charge, the 1932 “revolution” became modern Thailand’s first successful military coup d’état. But it also made “coup” Thailand’s primary means of affecting or resisting change, while giving the military a crucial role in Thai society.
Besides accomplishing the overthrow of absolute monarchy, the post-1932 regime, led successively by Phraya Phahol Pholpayuhasena and then Phibul, emphasized constitutionalism, utilized limited elections and included civilians such as Pridi. Yet the years 1932-1944 were dominated by the military. Though the 1944-1947 years of Pridi-led civilian control diverted Thailand from military domination, armed forces leaders, in 1947, reached back to 1932 for the “coup” method of once again affecting regime change. The 1947 putsch reflected the military’s continuing clout. Realizing this, Thailand’s monarchic institution allied with military leaders first, from 1947 until 1951, during which time monarchy was comparatively weak. Then, beginning in 1957, the alliance resumed again, and the two institutions entrenched their joint control over Thai society, with the military by 1980 becoming the junior partner. As pressures for political space have grown in Thailand (especially since 1973), the sovereign and military have collaborated to sustain their power. This has included the use of coups to resist efforts by elected civilians perceived to be challenging the system.
Ultimately, 24 June 1932 today tends to be glorified for terminating monarchical absolutism. While this may be true, the resurrected paramount influence today of Thailand’s traditional institution has to some extent extinguished the effects of 1932. Moreover, 1932 opened a “pandora’s box” whereby coups would be used time and again to produce political change by a military which since 1932 has exercised phenomenal power on Thailand’s political stage.
A Significant Transformation in Modern Thai Politics
Kittisak Jermsittiparsert, Faculty of Political Science, College of Government, Rangsit University
As one of the most significant transformations in modern Thai politics, the revolution on the 24th of June 1932 was a milestone, an inspiration for democrats to talk about and to use to rouse, especially when this very nation has been dragged down to undemocratic states over the past eighty-three years.
Apart from the symbolic function, the reality in a systemic context is that the revolution has shifted the whole set of Thai politics and government from a system that imposed a single supreme ruler who had absolute power, able to decide the fate of all (called “absolute monarchy”), to a system of de-centralization where all persons have equal rights to choose their own political path through elections from the national level down to the community level (called “democracy”).
Even though a group of political historians has tried to establish that the overthrow of monarchy was “premature”, i.e., the internal elements were unready, particularly “the people”, leading to chronic defects of the democracy in modern days, those who are interested in Thai political history have essentially believed that the revolutionary transformation was a start of major changes in other constituents of Thai politics, affecting the system as a whole, up to the modern time.
From the days when the majority of Thai people did not participate in choosing their own government regime and were deemed lacking a basic understanding to the day that “the Constitution is the offspring of Phraya Phahon Phonphayuhasena (Phot Phahonyothin)”, it has been over eight decades during which we have been learning together under this new regime of government. Even though Thai people, overall, have been under the ruling of dictatorships for a longer time than under a legitimate authority, and the number of graduates from Chulachomklao Royal Military Academy is proportionally higher than that of graduates from civil educational institutes, the turning points on the path of political development, from demanding a constitution, which initiated the incidents on the 14th of October 1973, protesting against the ruling of a junta, to demanding that the prime minister must come from an election, which was the root cause of the Black May in 1992, are the perfect evidence that Thai politics are at least “not the same”. The composition of the political landscape, interactions between elements, and even the orientation of the system after the fall of the first domino are totally different from those of the time before.
Therefore, my opinion on the political conflicts of the last decade does not dwell on a complex reflection of competitive mechanisms to see if someone deserves something, and if so, when, how, and how much they would get, the kind of conflict that has been going on since the first second after the revolution and which is still swinging in a major transition period of the system.
Be that as it may, it may not happen quickly enough, but the rise of “commoners” at this rate might be able to reflect the light at the end of the democracy tunnel. From the experience of the people and the orientation of global politics, at least the intervention in politics by the military at their will, which admittedly would happen again, might not be that easy because it might encounter resistance from other sections of the society. In the past, many rules of the power relationship have never, or could never, been brought up to discussion, but in the present, we are able to see openings for debates at the least.
24 June 1932
Prof. Dr. Andrew James Harding, Director, Centre for Asian Legal Studies, Faculty of Law, National University of Singapore
On 24 June 1932 a momentous event occurred in Thai history when a military coup overthrew the absolute monarchy of Siam in an attempt to modernise the country and deal with fundamental economic and political problems. This process of modernisation had begun under King Rama V, and even under his father Rama IV several decades earlier. Ironically it was this very process of reform, in which an attempt was made to keep at bay the issues of political and constitutional reform, that led (inevitably in retrospect) to these very issues toppling the traditional absolute monarchy that had initiated the reforms.
However, the coup of 24 June 1932 was not a popular uprising but rather an intra-elite event promoted by young officers (we get the commonly-used expression ‘young Turks’ from this revolution in an echo of Kemal Ataturk’s revolution in Turkey) and intellectuals. In retrospect it can be seen that these two groups represented a motley crew who agreed on little except the need to overthrow the absolute monarchy. The timing of the coup is interesting. The world was in the midst of a deep economic crisis which, on Rama VII’s own admission, his administration was ill-equipped to deal with – but then who was?
Instead of carrying their revolution to a republican conclusion, the coup-makers apologised to the King for their disrespect of the monarchy and his person, and presented the first of the 20 constitutions which have resulted from the coup. You cannot of course have a constitutional monarchy without a constitution, unless like England you evolve the necessary constitutional constraints over centuries as matter of customary constitutionalism. There was no time for such evolution, and this was after all an age of revolution. The fact that the King chose to add the word ‘provisional’ before ‘constitution’ in the draft document is a highly significant legacy of 24 June 1932. In a real sense one might say that Siam/ Thailand has been in a state of ‘provisional’ constitutionalism ever since then. The provisional nature of the Constitution of 1932, in spite of its lasting longer than most of the subsequent 19 constitutions, and being the only Thai constitution to be brought back into force, has provided an unfortunate basis for the continuing problems in resolving Thailand’s constitution on anything like a permanent basis. Perhaps Rama V was right, when confronted with a petition from the princes on parliamentary democracy, to shelve the issue of constitutional reform and concentrate on other issues such as public administration and judicial reform. At the same time shelving the issue was not the same as resolving it.
The fact is that, comparatively speaking, effecting a smooth transition from an absolute or executive monarchy to a constitutional monarchy has not been easy in any context. In France, Germany, Mexico and Russia it was highly problematic. All of these countries became republics eventually. In England, and therefore in its colonies dominions, it took around five or six centuries to accomplish (that is why the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta is being celebrated). American, Indian and Indonesian constitutional development also avoided the issue by instituting a republic. In Burma the monarchy was not revived on independence. Cambodia lurched between several positions, catastrophically, until constitutional monarchy was finally achieved but only very recently. In Malaysia the system of constitutional monarchy with its nine state and one federal Ruler was retained with ingenuity, but has proved problematical in practice. Only in Scandinavia and the Netherlands, it seems, has constitutional monarchy settled in without controversy. Was 24 June 1932 a good thing? As Zhou En-lai reportedly said about the French Revolution, perhaps it is too early to say.
What Zhou En-lai said about the French Revolution (whether it was a good thing it is too early to say), seems eminently applicable too to Siam’s revolution of 1932. We do not know where this story will finish up.
Historical Film on 24 June 1932: The Lost Evidence
Sakdina Chatkul na Ayuthya, Faculty of Fine Arts, Mahidol University
The date 24 June 1932 is the revolution day. On that day, an absolute monarchy regime which centralized power to kings and very few feudal lords was abolished by Khana Ratsadon (People’s Party). It was replaced by a “Rule of Law” regime and Khana Ratsadon promulgated the first constitution in 27 June 1932 to rule our country.
Therefore, 24 June 1932 is the origin of the democratic regime in Thailand. Unfortunately, some people try to decrease its importance and remove it from Thai history. They try to make people understand that the day was just an early and unnecessary change when the country was not ready. They also try to set the date of 10 December 1932 when King Rama VII gave the first permanent constitution to be the national day instead. Even though the Phraya Phahon Phonphayuhasena government tried to change the national day back to the 24 of June, Field Marshal Sarit Tanarat canceled it on 21 May 1960.
The 24 June 1932 incident has been dissolved from the people’s memory. The significance of that day has vanished over time. The pieces of evidence of that day have disappeared. The history of that day was written in a way that the writers intend it to be. They choose the evidence in accordance with their belief or perception.
Amongst all evidence relating to the revolution day, nothing is more clear and better than a strip which recorded the incident at the dawn of the day on a 35 millimeter film and has 3,000 millimeter length. The film belongs to Sri Krung Sound Film Studio which was asked to join the revolution with Khana Ratsadon. The film was used to advertise and describe the revolution day for the people.
An effort was made by some anti-revolutionists to conceal and destroy the film. Phraya Manopakorn Nititada, the first prime minister who was a representative of conservatism, ordered to seize and prohibit the distribution of the film.
The evidence indicates that, after the revolution, Sri Krung Sound Film Studio sent two copies of that film to two American film companies that ordered the film to be distributed within the United States. They were disappointed that the film did not have armed-conflict scenes like they hoped it to have. The copies of the film were left behind in the United States and their fate is unknown. The original film which was distributed in Thailand was not treated as important national heritage. The material of the film is nitrate. So it is inflammable and susceptible to ignition. If the film has not been conserved well, the film has been deteriorated or burnt.
It is very unfortunate that the most important evidence of the revolution day is totally lost.
There is no trace for the younger generation to study the history of that day.
83 Years of Thai Democracy
Ukrist Pathmanand, Deputy Director for Research Affairs, Institute of Asian Studies, Chulalongkorn University
On June 24, 1932, a group of people who called themselves “the People’s Party” (Khana Rasadorn) heralded a new era for Siam when absolute monarchy was brought to an end and a form of government introduced with a constitution that placed all citizens, for the first time, under the law installing a democratic system for the country. On the occasion of the 83rd anniversary of this transition to democratic rule I wish to briefly express my opinions to commemorate 83 years of Thailand’s politics in the following points.
The tumultuous years that followed the revolution of 1932 meant that in its infancy Thailand’s democracy was faced with severe obstacles when conflicts occurred amongst its social leaders at the time pitting revolutionists and pro-monarchy against each other. The two sides were engaged in various forms of battles with a diminished role for the old elite, on one side, and increased power for the new elite, on the other. This took place when the latter group assumed government positions, introducing new laws regarding tax collection, assuming military power in both the navy and army, introducing cultural campaigns that attacked the leaders of the old regime and extolling the virtues of the new, abolishing rituals and ceremonies that emphasized reverence towards the monarchy, constructing Wat Phra Sri Mahathat, a temple situated in Laksi, Bang Khen district where one can find niches where the ashes of deceased members of the Khana Rasadorn People’s Party have been interred making it the second Wat Phra Sri Mahathat in Bangkok – something unprecedented in Thai society. Reverence for the constitution could be seen in the manner in which it was publicized, the organization of Constitution Day festivities and the writing of text books that underscored such matters as civic duties and responsibilities in a democracy.
However, the new elite would also use special powers to legally impose crackdowns on opposing forces labeled as rebels. At the same time, discord prevailed among the new elite who fought for political power and economic support from various groups including Chinese vendors and businessmen.
Fighting also took place in the constitution-drafting process to determine, in terms of political regulations, which side would be more powerful. It is obvious that the 1948 constitution placed great significance on the fact that its members should be able to be re-elected. Some have said that this constitution showed that Thailand was at its peak as a democracy and yet, despite the fact that elected politicians could return to power, the role of political figures was also weakened in terms of their proportion, roles or functions with other groups of politicians, who might have gone by a glorified name, derived from being appointed along with numerous organizations.
Today it is true that political conflict in the Thai society has acquired several more dimensions, for example the power of the middle classes, demonstration of rights and protection of benefits of various stakeholders such as farmers, but most outstanding of all is the formation initiated by villagers themselves as those who have suffered from environmental impacts and who demand their rights as communities that have faced harassment by the state or by capitalist groups. At the same time, with more opportunities resulting from a society that is now more open to opportunities from the outside world as well as with technological advancement and better access to news and information, the role of the media is far more crucial than it was during the time when the political changes took place in 1932.
Nevertheless, issues surrounding the role played by the elite in Thailand’s political arena still merit much discussion. Numerous research written in both English and Thai serve to demonstrate that the elite in Thailand might have emerged as the new class of business entrepreneurs who amount to less than 2% of the Thai population and yet they monopolize most of this country’s wealth and assets, i.e. financial riches, resources with increasing values such as property as well as stocks and shares whose value has been steadily increasing. At the same time, the implementation of rules and regulations with regard to the management of assets, economic as well as political rights have prevailed even up until the present. This can be seen in the drafting of the current constitution which is derived from lopsided forms of power that manifested itself in the past two military takeovers, i.e. the coup d’etat of September 2006 and the more recent one in May 2014 staged by military officers from within the same group. This means that the power struggles in the past decade still remain a matter of concern between the political elite from over eighty years ago. The only difference lies in the fact that the political elite now comprises a more complicated structure. Disputes arise between the business elite, politicians and high ranking government officials who might be a different group altogether.
Yet one cannot deny that the two military take overs and the drafting once again of yet another constitution is an indicator that while political involvement on the part of the general public might have risen, the group in control of regulating politics remains small. It is this small group of people which is involved in major conflicts of interests that currently cannot be compromised in much the same way as what this country experienced over eighty years ago.