Pictures of field marshals Sarit Thanarat and Thanom Kittikachorn are among those on display on October 6, 2005, in an exhibition at parliament on the evolution of Thai politics.
Education in the news…
50 years ago today
Students make a proposal to recent military coup leaders
It is said that lightening never strikes twice. History, on the other hand, may repeat itself to a surprising degree. While researching old copies of the Bangkok Post it is easy to feel a sense of d?j? vu. Five decades ago, in September, there was a military coup d'?tat in Thailand. In one of the earliest attempts by university students to find a voice in government affairs, a number of students held a forbidden gathering to discuss the event. One of their first topics of concern was improving education. Read below to learn from history's whisper.
A surprise military coup
At 12:15AM, Tuesday, on September 17, 1957, a broadcast was made on army radio that stated that forces had been sent to take over Bangkok and other important precincts, which included Don Mueang Airport even though planes operated on schedule throughout the night.
The military coup leader was Field Marshall Sarit Thanarat, who immediately announced the legislative assembly would be dissolved, a provisional government would be named, and a call was made for new elections to take place. Martial law was declared as an extra precaution, and political parties were no longer allowed to hold meetings. The next day it was suggested that a new constitution might have to be drafted.
The disposed Prime Minister Phibulsongram reportedly fled to Cambodia to seek refuge. When Sarit was asked if he intended to replace Phibulsongram as Prime Minister, Sarit explained that there are other people who would be glad to head the government. Pote Sarasin was promptly installed as Prime Minister.
Field Marshall Sarit Thanarat issued a proclamation banning demonstrations and gatherings at "Hyde Park" on September 24. This controversial meeting ground in Bangkok was a popular location for public speeches at that time. These public gathering were thereby considered a breach of martial law and deemed illegal even if they were peaceful. The military would, "take decisive action in strict accordance of law," said Sarit.
British diplomats predicted there would not be a change in Thailand's pro-West policy. In a matter of days, the United Kingdom, the United States, France and Australia recognized the new military government.
Students make a stand
In defiance of the martial law banning public meetings, students at Chulalongkorn University gathered to discuss the recent events. They spoke in an open forum about what students should do given the situation. A special box was made available so concerned students could also make suggestions anonymously. Some students thought that they should keep quiet, while others believed it was the right of students to organize.
Eventually, a group of students sent proposals to several newspapers. They demanded that the new leaders improve education facilities, obtain students' assistance when the future election was scheduled, promote free trade and have a more neutral foreign policy.
The coup leaders respond
An official response was printed on the front page of the Bangkok Post on September 26. The new Prime Minister Sarasin stated: "It is good for students to take interest in national affairs," but added that, "students are not an institution connected with the government, and the government does not have the duty to follow their advice or explain to them about the situation."
He went on to explain that the Ministry of Education "will pay attention to improving education facilities but such matters depend on budgetary allotments." The Minister of Education and Culture was Momluang Pin Malakul, who supported the new administration. It wasn't immediately clear if the quality of education facilities was taken seriously, or if the student request to develop education was ever actualized.
Sarasin complained that, "Students should learn more facts before deciding on what should be done in the matter of foreign policy." He didn't understand the public's perception that the government wasn't independent in terms of foreign policy.
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Last modified: September 24, 2007