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Overview of Thailand's Political History
Section 1 - History of the Kingdom

The early history of the Thai people is the subject of considerable debate.  In particular archaeological discoveries at Ban Chiang reveal clear evidence of sedentary agricultural civilization 5,000 years ago.

The people (Tai) who now populate the country of Thailand are believed to have arrived about 1,000 years ago from southern China.  These people originally settled in Northern Thailand and gradually spread southwards over the centuries to rest control of the area from the Khmer and Mon Empires.

The Kingdom of Dvaravati between the 6th and 9th Centuries established Buddhism in central Thailand.  This was the result of their contact with the Sri Lankan school of Theravada Buddhism and their strategic position in the central plains of the Chao Phraya river meant that they regular contact with Chinese traders en route to India.

From the 9th to 13th Centuries the plains area was dominated by the Khmer Kingdom of Angkor.  Angkor Wat was build in this time and is located in what is now western Cambodia.

By the end of the 13th Century we see the rise of a number of Tai Kingdoms in northern and southern Thailand.  The most powerful of these was the Kingdom of Sukhothai.  Its most well known ruler was King Ramkhamhaeng who extended Sukhotai's presence as far as the Andaman Sea in the east, parts of Laos in the north and the Isthmus of Kra in the south.  He is also introduced what we know today as the Thai alphabet in the year 1283.

By the middle of the 14th Century we saw the establishment of a new center of Tai power in the Kingdom of Ayudhaya.  Strategically better located on the head of Chao Phraya river where ocean going trading ships could still navigate, this Kingdom was to become the most powerful of all the Tai kingdoms to date.  By the middle of the 15th Century Ayudhaya had overcome both the Kingdom of Angkor and the kingdom of Sukhothai.

However, in 1569 the expansionist Kingdom of Burma overran Ayudhaya and the smaller kingdom of Lan Na to the north.  It installed a puppet ruler and imprisoned its heirs in Rangoon.  However, under the great soldier warrior King Naresuan, Ayudhaya was able to rise again and by 1590 defeated the Burmese and established the basis of what became known to the outside world as the kingdom of Siam.  The inspired Kingdom of Ayudhaya went on to establish links with the rest of the world through its successful trading with the great trading companies of Europe.

In 1760 the Burmese exasperated by Ayudhaya's successes, launched a determined and protracted war against the Kingdom of Ayudhaya.  After a siege that lasted more than two years the city of Ayudhaya finally fell into Burmese hands in 1767.

In the melee that followed another valiant Tai general King Thaksin (1767-1782) emerged as successor to the broken royal line and built an army to the south.  He would go onto establish a new seat of Tai power in Thonburi close to the mouth of the Chao Phraya river.  However, his autocratic ways eventually, lead to his overthrow by his chief lieutenant, the brilliant General Chakri.
Chakri Dynasty
Chakri became king in 1782 under the royal title of HE King Phraphuttayotfa (Rama I 1782-1809) and the first king of the Charki Dynasty that continues on to this day in the shape of the inspired modern King Rama IX, HE Bhumibol Adulyadej.  At the conclusion of Rama I's reign the Kingdom of Siam extended into northeast Burma, all of Laos, the western provinces of Cambodia, and northern sections of the Malay peninsula.

During the middle 19th Century when Britain, France and the United States vied aggressively to secure their colonial interests in Asia.  It fell to the Buddhist Monk and scholar King Mongkut (Rama IV 1851-1868) to negotiate treaties with the Western powers that would allow Thailand to remain free of colonial status, unlike all its neighbours.

His son, Chulalongkorn (Rama V 1868-1910) was a great visionary King.  Almost single handedly he created the modern Thai state.  He build railways, modern government administrative systems and a modern style education system.  He also encouraged contact with the West and fostered an understanding of western technology and values.  Embassies were established in Europe and Thailand's elite entered the Modern Age with enthusiasm and vigour.

Unfortunately his son, Vajiravudh (Rama VI 1910-1925) while securing Siam's release from a number of inequitable treaties with the western powers left his youngest brother and successor King Prajadhipok (Rama VII 1925-1935) close to bankruptcy.  He lost support within the elite and despite his own vision for introduction of democracy in Thailand he lost political control.
Modern Era
So it was that on 24th June 1932 a group of European educated civilians and disgruntled Army officers lead a bloodless coup against the monarchy and established the modern state of Thailand with a National Assembly and a constitutional monarchy.

The embattled King Rama VII abdicated in March 1935 and the relatively new National Assembly, invited Prajadhipok's young nephew, 10 year old Ananda Mahidol to become King.  The young prince was still at school in Switzerland so a Regency of two senior princes and Pan Sukhum filled the interregnum.

The Coup of 1932 ushered in a period of military dominated governments epitomized by the rule of coup leaders such as  Phot Phahonyothin (June 1933 - Dec 1938) and Pibul Songkram (Dec 1938 - July 1944).  It was Pibul who changed the country's name from Siam to Thailand.

The long-standing tradition of Thai military statesmen and intellectuals had been re-established at the center of Thailand's modern political elite.  Despite a number of successive attempts to dislodge them the successors to this group remain influential today.

Pibul Songkram's government led the country through the war years.  To ensure Thailand's independence, PM Pibul negotiated an alliance agreement with the occupying Japanese forces while his civilian coup colleagues as senior  government officials organized support for the Free Thai Movement from outside the country.

While the Pibul government had made a precipitate declaration of war on the USA & Great Britain on 25th Jan 1942, the declaration was never actually delivered by US Ambassador Seni Pramoj.  Seni and his left leaning colleague from the 1932 coup, Pridi Phanomyong who had been appointed Regent, in King Ananda's absence, by PM Pibul were in fact the principal organizers of the Free Thai movement during the war.

Importantly, it was these Free Thai movement leaders and the democrat Khuang Aphaiwong who followed Field Marshall Pibul in a succession of short-lived civilian governments after WW II ended.  They promptly handed back to Great Britain and France territory awarded to Thailand by the Japanese during the war and thus avoided any sanction or reparation that might have been sought by the Allies.  However, they were not to last long.

King Ananda (Rama VIII) finally returned from Switzerland after WW II in late December 1945.  Tragically, on 9th June 1946, an unknown assailant murdered King Ananda under mysterious circumstances.  The resulting furor, incompetent handling of the inquiry and government infighting lead to a military Coup in Nov 1947 and the eventual reinstatement of Field Marshall Pibul as PM in April 1948.  He would remain there until 1957 becoming Thailand's longest serving PM ever.

In Feb 1949, supporters of former civilian PM Pridi in the Navy and Marines did try to overthrow Pibul in a bloody three day Coup attempt.  They failed.  And again, in June 1951 Navy and Marines tried again in what became known as the Manhattan Coup when they kidnapped Pibul while he was on board the HMSS Mahattan.

Needless to say Pibul survived these and other attempts until he too was finally removed by a military coup mounted by one of his own military subordinates Field Marshal Sarit Thanarat together with his two deputies Gen. Thanom and Gen. Praphas in September 1957.  Between them they would hold the reigns of military governments for another 16 years (1973) when the second great sea-change would occur in the politics of the modern era.  The first occurred in 1932 with the establishment of the new constitution.  The second would establish the modern democratic polity.

King Ananda's successor was his younger brother Bhumipol Adulyadej who was only 19 years old at the time.  He did not assume the duties of King until late 1951 and again a regent was appointed in his absence.

King Bhumipol (Rama IX) is still King, making him the longest serving monarch in the world today.  His reign has been remarkable.  While most countries in the world saw a decline in respect and relevance of the monarchy, King Bhumipol has been able to not only re-establish the pre-eminent position of the King in Thai society but to gain international respect for his efforts.

The new era of Thai military governments was lead by Thai nationalist military officers educated entirely in Thailand.  In particular, Field Marshal Sarit who had ousted Pibul was a staunch supporter of the Monarchy, actively encouraged King Bhumipol to play a more public role.  Sarit also demonstrated a strong and practical commitment to the social and economic development of the country as a whole.

(This Section Not Complete it will be updated soon)