f not exaggeration,Field Marshal Plaek Phibulsongkharm (Phibul) is the most fascinating of all 29 prime ministers in Thai history.Apart from being the longest serving prime minister ,he represents the tale of the rags -to -riches head of government as being born and raised in the humble family with the Durian orchard in Nonthaburi Province.Phibul's date of birth '14th July' (1897) helped the critics to ridicule him as Napoleon Bonaparte reincarnated.(1)
After graduated from Royal Military Academy and working in the Artillery Unit , Phibul furthered the study in the Command and General Staff College, and also France where he was probably exposed by the idea of liberte ,egalite et fraternite.He and 6 of his colleagues with the Liberal minds ,together conspired to overthrow the Government of King Rama 7 in Paris in 1926 as the founding fathers of the People's Party (คณะราษฏร). Phibul's meteoric rise began when their enlarged group had the successful coup in 1932.One year later,as a top commander, Phibul's single-handedly handle the quasi- civil war between the government troops and the failed rebellion led by the notorious Prince Bhavornradet (ขบถบวรเดช) precipated his fame and fortune to the Premiership in 1938.The reign of Phibul which ended in 1944 was completely different from his 2 predecessors.The first one ,Phaya Mano ,was the Trojan Horse,bending on destroying the People's Party.The second one,Phaya Phahol,though honest and well meaning for country ,seemed insipid and unstable.Thus ,it was Phibul's determination to protect the legacy of the revolution, and boost the premiership to the superior level.
The dramatic cultural revolution was then launched by Phibul to modernize the Thai society.17 millions of Thais were urged to join a great leap of new civilization.The hyperbolic pieces of propaganda cunningly led Thais to believe that their western dresses ,especially with hats (มาลานำไทย) ,and social manners would uplift their beloved country to the same rank as the US and the UK.Also as the tacit ways of uprooting the lingering influence of the Absolute Monarchy's era, Phibul changed the name of country to be Thailand, and the New Year date was mandated to be 1st January instead of the Songkarn Day.He also abolished the rank of nobility (though by accident) and commanded to the government to build the gigantic monument to celebrate the coup on June 24, 1932 (อนุสาวรีย์ประชาธิปไตย).
In addition,the Prime Minister with his henchman ,Luang Vichit, exploited the King Rama 6's Nationalism with the various symbols like flag , songs,and plays to rouse the Patriorism ,especially during the war with French Cochinchina in 1940.Most daring of all,Phibul fostered the cult of personality as he urged the public to be guided by only him as the leader for survival of the country ( เชื่อผู้นำ ชาติพ้นภัย).This motto implied the influence by the rise of Fascism in Germany and Japan.
Phibul's decision to join the Japan's Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere at the onset of World War 2 in Asia (1941) was considered one of the worst he had ever made ,and still has tarnished his image until now.But his fall in 1944 was really caused by his government's failure to have the laws passed by the parliament.When the war ended in 1945,Phibul miraculously survived the charge of War Criminal, and still enjoyed the popularity among the military cadres who increasingly felt humiliated by the civilian governments' negligence of an army.The successful coup in 1947 almost eradicated the political influence of Mr.Pridi Branomyong ,Phibul's archrival.Phibul was supported to be a prime minister again 6 months later, after the puppet like Mr.Kuang Apaiwong, was forced by the military to resign.
Phibul in the second term,as cleverly compared by Dr.Charnvit Kasetsiri,the renowned historian, was like a man riding on 2 tigers.He didn't have the power like the first term, and had to juggle between the powerful and corrupt subordinates like Sarit Thanarat and Phao Sriyanon.Phibul's governments for nearly a decade had been swung by the political whirlwind : allegations of corruption, struggles within the coaltion parties, and attacks from the opposition parties fueled by the press against the government's numerous scandals.Phibul also witnessed a number of the failed coups.Some were staged by many junior military officers who felt disillusioned with his government.
Phibul attempted to enhance his power and charisma by playing the card of Democracy.After visiting many countries around the word in 1955,he introduced the new form of political participations inspired by the UK's garden as we know today as Hyde Park.The public were given the right to assemble to express their poltical opinions, and the government also had the press conference for the first time.This was Phibul's ploy as apart from his better image,his peers in the government considered to be his threat, would probably have their power truncated, as they were facing the backlashes from the grieving mass.But Phibul himself bore the brunt ,and this policy became one of the causes of his downfall.Phibul also toyed with the idea of forging the relationship with China under the Communist regime ,while the members of top echeolon in his government ,especially Phao, were ingratiating themselves with the US ,as the latter was gradually embroiled in the battles in Indochina.This was the reason why the US might feel more secure in dealing with his successor like Sarit.
In 1957,the Nationwide Elections brought the Phibul's party ,Serimanangkasila (เสรีมนังคสิลา), a landslide victory.But the authority faced the fierce outcry from the public about its serious and rampant irreguralities.It should also be noted that the first to attack this election was the newspaper belonging to Phibul'own general ,Sarit.The large crowd mainly consisting of the university students staged the demonstration on the Bangkok's streets.Phibul declared the State of Emergency and appointed Sarit ,Commander- in-Chief,to deal with the protesters.The Prime Minister hoped that if Sarit suppressed them violently ,he would lose the popularity from the public.The heavy drinking and womanizing General knew this too well and did the opposite.He walked with the protesters to the Government House, and ordered the gate open (some source said Phibul did it).Phibul finally magnaimously sat with the young protesters and promised them another unrigged election .Before the euphoric crowd dispersed,Sarit had delivered them the vague but memorable quote 'Meet me again when the Nation calls'(พบกันใหม่เมื่อชาติต้องการ).
Unfortunately time was running out for Phibul as the country's turmoil more and more spun out of his control.The soldiers under Sarit and the police officers under Phao had increasingly violent tussles with each other as an ominious sign of 6 months later that Sarit ,assisted by the Royalists ,staged the swift and irresistible coup (ปฏิวัติ พ.ศ.2500).Phibul hastily fled by galloping to the island near the cambodian border.He and his family later were given a santuary by the Japanese government for the old times' sake.The disgraced Field Marshal had always been plagued by his glorious old days and looked forwards to retrieving them ,especially after Sarit's death in 1963, not knowing that many months later ,it would become the turn of his own demise.Phibul passed away not so peacefully from the unexpected failure of health on 11th June 1964.Some conspiracy theory contended that he was assasinated as he had been seen trying to restore the relatonship with his archrival and old friend ,Pridi, to regain the political power in Bangkok.
Seen an anti Monarchist like Pridi ,Phibul's great deal of contributions to this country seemingly never helped his firm grip on This history as a hero.Phibul was regarded as the villian , the dictator, and the Fascist Japan collaborator for his overambition.These image seemed never vanishing inspite that a lot of textbooks have been produced for more nuanced portraits of his life and works.Some Red Shirts tried to rehabiliate him as a hero opposite to Sarit.Actually the persons supposed to know Phibul best are the Thai people whose ways of lives in both social and political sphere, have been indelibly stamped by his profound legacy.
(1) Napoleon was the ambitious and ruthless French General ,catapulted by the French Revolution (occurred on July 14, 1776), crowning himself as the French emperor and planning to conquer the entire Europe.Was Phibul like Napoleon? It needs a heck of thesis to solve this riddle.At least ,we are certain that both of men were the brilliant military strategists.For Phibul ,some studies in France and probably Napoleon's life and throne ,might have assisted him to apply the war strategies with his later political career.