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Thailand in the 20th century


Mongkut King of Siam
Mongkut King of Siam

On June 24, 1932, a small revolutionary group, including European-educated civilians and discontented army officers, overthrew the absolute monarchy in a bloodless coup. The leaders of the coup and their associates—a group that became known as the Promoters—persuaded the king to accept the introduction of a constitutional monarchy. However, they argued that the country was not yet ready for true democratic government and thus kept the army in control. The Promoters were divided into leftist and rightist factions. In 1933 Pridi Phanomyong, the most influential civilian Promoter and an intellectual who had been influenced by French socialism, proposed an economic plan with an emphasis on nationalization of land and elimination of private trade. The rightist factions denounced the plan as communist.

They were supported by monarchists, who mounted a rebellion against the new regime that year. The monarchist forces were soon overcome, and in 1935 King Prajadhipok abdicated in favor of his young nephew, Prince Ananda Mahidol. The prince was, at the time, studying in Europe, so a regency was appointed to carry out the functions of the monarchy until he returned.

The 1930s brought about a more strident and assertive Thai nationalism, an increased role for the military in national life, and a sharp decline in the role of the monarchy and of royalty in general.

By 1937 the unequal treaties and extraterritorial rights of the imperialist era had finally been eliminated, and the Thai government obtained complete autonomy over its internal and external affairs. During this period, public education improved dramatically, and industrialization and urbanization grew. In 1938 Siam came under the prime ministership of Phibun Songkhram, a field marshal who had helped lead the revolt of 1932. In 1939 Phibun changed the name of the country from Siam to Thailand in an effort to popularize the idea of its leadership of all speakers of the Tai languages, not just those inhabiting Siam’s narrow bounds.

In changing the country’s name, Phibun also wished to emphasize Thai identity and distinctiveness against the country’s Chinese minority, which by this time amounted to more than 10 percent of the population. "Thailand" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia

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