Thai History - Phibun's Experiment
Phibun's Experiment with "Democracy"
The struggle for control of the Thai government continued, meanwhile, and Phibun
attempted to offset Sarit's advantage among the military by generating popular
support for himself. In 1955 he toured the United States and Britain and, on his
return to Thailand, articulated a policy of prachathipatai ("democracy"), which
he stated he was giving to the country as a gift. Encouraging the public to feel
free to criticize his "open regime," he set aside a portion of a central park
near the royal palace in Bangkok for public debate, in emulation of Hyde Park in
London, and gave the press free rein in covering the dissent expressed there.
Criticism, especially as it appeared in the press, was outspoken and often
extreme in its attacks on the government. In addition to encouraging criticism,
Phibun halted the anti-Chinese campaign, made plans to increase the
responsibilities of local government, and again permitted political parties to
register. Phibun intended more to convey the appearance of democracy, however,
than to allow for its functional development.
Phao and Phibun devoted much effort to ensuring a government victory in the
general election scheduled for February 1957. Phao headed a newly founded
government party, the Seri Manangkhasila, which was the largest and best funded
of the twenty-five parties that had sprung up in response to prachathipatai.
Sarit, on the other hand, kept out of the campaign and, after the election,
dissociated himself from the disappointing results, which gave the Seri
Manangkhasila a bare majority but saw half of the incumbent party members
defeated. Sarit and others questioned even these returns and accused the
government party of stuffing ballot boxes. When university students came out in
great numbers to protest the government's handling of the elections, Phibun
declared a state of emergency and shelved prachathipatai.
Library of Congress
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