The First Coup and the Last Absolute King

The first coup and the last absolute king- The Nation, June 24, 2004

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“On that morning, we heard about the coup at the golf course,” Queen Rambai Barni said, recalling the revolution that ended the Siamese Monarchy on June 24, 1932.

At the time, King Prajadhipok – ruler of Siam between 1925 and 1935, who also loved tennis and squash – was playing golf with the queen and his entourage at Hua Hin, where he spent his leisure time at Klai Kangwon Palace.

As the king was about to play the eighth hole, Chan Phansung, a special messenger, rushed to inform him about the bad news.

“There is turmoil in Bangkok,” Chan said with a shaky voice while handing a telegram to the head of the Royal Guard.

The telegram repeated his words and followed, “…please take good care of yourself”.

“I knew that someone would stage a coup, but I never expected that it would come this soon,” King Prajadhipok said, upon reading the message.

The seeds had been sown long before the revolution came to topple the Siamese Monarchy. Siam had been suffering under a severe economic slump that had flowed from the Great Depression.

King Prajadhipok had needed to cut back on government spending, reduce staff and make other sacrifices, which had aroused dissatisfaction, especially among civil servants and young military officers who wanted a greater say in government.

He had been hearing rumours of a coup attempt for a long time, but had not taken them seriously.

In fact, he had been thinking about granting a constitution.

The youngest child of King Chulalongkorn and Queen Saowabha, the last ruler of Siam had never felt prepared to ascend the throne, although he attended Eton College – an elite secondary school in England – and took up military studies, hoping to return home to help his father strengthen the army.

When King Vajiravudh died, he succeeded as the seventh king of the Chakri Dynasty.

King Prajadhipok presided over the 150th anniversary of Bangkok with great pomp and ceremony, despite rumours of a coup. The opening of the Rama I Bridge went smoothly. Dissidents also spread rumours over the alleged prophecy of King Rama I that his line would only last for 150 years.

The year 1932 would not, of course, mark the end of the Chakri line, but it would haunt the dynasty and royalists for years to come.

On June 24, 1932, a group of less than 100 promoters – including coup leaders Pridi Phanomyong and Captain Luang Pibulsongkhram – succeeded in overthrowing the king within a few hours.

King Prajadhipok said he had surrendered for fear of loss of life among his subjects and for concern about the potential damage to the nation.

He then granted Thailand’s first constitution later in the year.

But subsequent wrangling for power among the military hurt his feelings immensely. He felt the power of the monarchy was supposed to have been transferred to the people, yet the martial infighting prevented any real democracy from emerging at that stage.

This led the king to abdicate the throne on March 2, 1935. Shortly after that he went overseas, never to return, for treatment to his eyes and deteriorating health. He and the queen lived in England for six years before he died on May 1, 1941.

Thanong Khanthong

The Nation
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