Thai History - November 1947 Coup
November 1947 Coup
In November 1947, the so-called Coup d'Etat Group, led by two retired generals
and backed by Phibun, seized power from the civilian government. Pridi, who had
recently returned from his world tour, fled the country again and eventually
took refuge in China. The coup leaders appointed an interim government headed by
Khuang and promised a new constitution. General elections held in January 1948
confirmed support for the junta, particularly the Phibun faction. In order to
placate conservative civilian supporters, Khuang was retained as prime minister
until he proved too independent in his policies. In April 1948, Phibun--by then
a field marshal--forcibly removed Khuang from office and took over as prime
For the next three years Phibun struggled to maintain his government against
numerous attempted coups by rival military factions. To build support, he
allowed disaffected political groups, including Khuang's conservative Democrat
Party, to participate in drafting a new constitution, which was promulgated in
1949. When leaders of an anti-Phibun army group were arrested in October 1948,
supporters of former prime ministers Pridi and Khuang in the navy and the
marines were not seized. In February 1949, a revolt allegedly sponsored by Pridi
supporters in the marines and navy was suppressed after three days of fighting.
In June 1951, marine and navy troops again rebelled and abducted Phibun. The
revolt, which was put down by loyal army and air force units, resulted in a
serious cutback of navy strength and a purge of senior naval officers.
Phibun's policies during his second government (1948-57) were similar to those
he had initiated in the late 1930s. He restored the use of the name Thailand in
1949. (In reaction to extreme nationalism, there had been a reversion to the
name Siam in 1946.) Legislation to make Thai social behavior conform to Western
standards--begun by Phibun before the war--was reintroduced. Secondary education
was improved, and military appropriations were substantially increased. The
Phibun regime was also characterized by harassment of Chinese and the tendency
to regard them as disloyal and, after 1949, as communists.
Phibun's anticommunist position had great influence on his foreign policy.
Thailand refused to recognize the People's Republic of China, supported UN
action in Korea in 1950, and backed the French against communist insurgents in
Indochina. Phibun's Thailand was regarded as the most loyal supporter of United
States foreign policy in mainland Southeast Asia.
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