Grading Thailand’s 13 successful coups

Thailand has had 13 successful coups (and many more coup attempts) since the start of the 20th century. More than enough for multiple lifetimes.

Since there has been so many, we decided to hand out grades to all of Thailand’s various coups.

Siamese Revolution – 1932
Grade: A-
Reason: Establishment of modern Thailand

The bloodless coup of 1932 was a turning point in Thailand’s history. A small group of military officers, known as the “Four Musketeers” and the People’s Party, made up of civil servants and the intelligentsia, forced King Prajadhipok to adopt a constitution and submit to the people’s rule.

The move ended nearly seven centuries of absolute monarchy and established a constitutional monarchy. Thereafter, Thailand got its first constitution, paving the way for social and political reforms.

In his speech abdicating his absolute power, King Rama VII said: “I am willing to surrender the powers I formerly exercised to the people as a whole, but I am not willing to turn them over to any individual or any group to use in an autocratic manner without heeding the voice of the people.

We probably should have listened to him.

Coup of 1933
Grade: F
Reason: It was a coup against a democratically elected government

The military stepped in to remove the first prime minister of Siam after 1932, Phraya Manopakorn Nititada. Phraya Phahon, who played a key role, then became Siam’s second prime minister, a position he served for five years.

Coup of 1939
Grade: F –
Reason: Phibul got rid of his political opponents and civilian counterparts. Oh and he implemented his fascist vision, sided with the Axis during the Second World War and…do you need more reasons?

The coup was carried out by Plaek Phibunsongkhram (Thai: หลวงพิบูลสงคราม) or “Phibun” on 29 January 1939 to purge the country of his political enemies and former rivals.

Coup of 1947
Reason: Phibul, Sarit, Phin Choonhavan, Thanom Kittikachorn, Phao Siyanon. That’s a fun list of baddies. Oh also entwined the Democrat Party with the military (heard that one before?).

The Thai military stepped in to remove the Pridi Bhanomyong-backed government of Rear Admiral Thawan Thamrongnawasawat. The “Coup Group”, put Khuang Aphaiwong, a founder of the Democrat Party, as the prime minister. But in reality, Phibul reassumed control. The coup solidified the role of the army in Thai politics and introduced future autocrat Sarit Thanarat (more on him later) and Thanom Kittikachorn to the national spotlight.

Coup of 1951
Grade: F
Reason: More Phibul

The military puts Phibul back in power. Again. Yep.

Coup of 1957
Grade: F+
Reason: No more Phibul but on the other hand, Sarit.

Mass protests occur after a rigged election in 1957. Field Marshall Sarit Thanarat stages a coup against his former commanding officer. Sarit goes on to create an autocratic state with him and his security chief Phao Siyanon in power, using American anti-communist aid to enrich himself.

Coup of 1958
Grade: F
Reason: Sarit, more Sarit.

Sarit launches a coup against his own government to rid it of the people he does not like. Genius really.

Coup of 1971
Grade: D-
Reason: It doesn’t get an F because of the events that it inspired in the next few years

Field Marshall Thanom Kittikachorn (why does Thailand have so many Field Marshalls? We haven’t been in a war for ages at this point) said that the country was under threat from communists and launches a coup to take power. Appoints his son to senior military rank.

But the coup also inspired the students of the day to take a stand and demand greater say and democracy. The students would go on to inspire a revolution of their own in 1973 paving way for Thailand’s first truly democratic government. It won’t last.

Coup of 1976
Grade: Is there a score worse than F
Reason: Student massacres, extrajudicial killings

Using the student massacres as an excuse, CIA-backed Admiral Sangad Chaloryu seizes power and declares a national emergency. The hard-fought democratic gains of three years prior are thrown out the window.

Coup of 1977
Grade: F+
Reason: It replaced one autocrat with another

After Sangad took over power in 1976, he appointed Thanin Kraivichien as the prime minister. Of course, the appointed Thanin was unpopular and had little public support.

So Sangad and Army Chief Kriangsak Chamanan launched a coup against the government they put in place. Their reasoning? Thanin was unpopular.

Coup of 1991
Grade: Worse than F

Reason: Black May

General Suchinda Krapayoon overthrows the democratically elected government of Chatichai Choonhavan on the grounds that it was corrupt and abusing their power. The next year saw a political chain of events that led to the soldiers firing on unarmed civilians in Bangkok in an event today known as Black May.

Coup of 2006
Grade: F
Reason: The last 14 years of political turmoil is because of this coup

After months of protests against his government, Thaksin Shinawatra left the country for a UN Summit in New York. The military used the opportunity to overthrow the Thaksin government in absentia.

Coup of 2014
Grade: F
Reason: Read our Oral History of the 2014 Coup here.

Overall Grade: F

(Reporting by Cod Satrusayang and Pear Maneechote)


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