Palace involvement in coup planning (1957)

12 03 2013

Andrew MacGregor Marshall has managed to find yet another critical cable (reproduced, left and right; click on them to get a larger image) for understanding the role of the current monarchy in Thailand’s politics and especially in the planning of military coups.dhani1

Many readers will know that the palace was deeply involved in the planning of the 2006 military coup. There is no doubt that palace figures were very closely connected with the cabal of plotters who schemed to get rid of Thaksin Shinawatra’s government. Likewise, Privy Council President  General Prem Tinsulanonda actively campaigned against the government. Academic Kevin Hewison summarized this planning and scheming in a set of articles from the Journal of Contemporary Asia that can be downloaded as a large PDF:

… the palace’s footprints litter the trail to the coup. Prem’s critical role has been noted, and it is impossible that he would act without palace approval. Indeed, through Prem, the palace knew of the coup well in advance: “The coup plot was known within a tight circle of people, among them Gen Prem Tinsulanonda … and his close aides…, Air Force Commander … Chalit Pukkasuk and Lt-Gen Anupong Paochinda, commander of the First Army Region” (Wassana, 2006).

Often this deep involvement is portrayed as a “slip” in the king’s constitutional role, “necessary” for returning Thailand to the conservative hands of the ruling elite, delivering it from the “populist” and “authoritarian” Thaksin.

Interestingly, what the document uncovered by Marshall shows is that the palace has been involved in earlier coups – in this case the royalist putsch by General Sarit Thanarat – that was to result in a catapulting of the monarchy back to political and economic centrality.dhani2

In Paul Handley’s The King Never Smiles, mention is made of the Sarit gaining “palace backing” by February 1957 and that “the palace aggressively undertook to undermine the prime minister” (p. 136). Later, Handley notes that the king called on Prime Minister Phibun to “resign to avoid a coup” (p. 138). Phibun refused and Sarit threw him out.

A missing link in this trail of palace politicking is the cable that details the planning of the coup. In the cable, British Ambassador Berkeley Gage writes on 17 April 1957 about a remarkable meeting the previous day in which a gaggle of royalists, including the President of the Privy Council, Prince Dhani, and the royalist agitators Seni and Kukrit Pramoj, amongst others. This was effectively a meeting of royalists and opponents of the 1932 political revolution, planning a coup, to reinstate royal power and wealth.

The presence of Prince Dhani is highly significant as this prince was the motivating political force in the palace and could not have occurred without the king’s approval or even suggestion. Clearly the palace was deeply involved. As the cable states:


The palace’s footprints litter the trail to the coup in 1957, as they did in 2006.

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