The annals of Thailand's military dictators

The annals of Thailand's military dictators

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha strikes into Government House. He seems far from having had enough of Thai politics after four years of unelected office. (AP photo)
Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha strikes into Government House. He seems far from having had enough of Thai politics after four years of unelected office. (AP photo)

As Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha eyes longer-term power beyond the next election, his eventual legacy will be compared to other military leaders who have come and gone as heads of past Thai governments. Had he left office or stepped down to run for it earlier, Gen Prayut might be in a better place. As things stand, his tenure and subsequent exit from the political scene does not appear promising for how he will be seen in hindsight.

Once they seize the reins of government, military dictators in contemporary Thailand generally do not leave voluntarily. Most often, they are forced out by internal factionalism and power plays within the army high command, based on this or that cohort of officers and competing groups of loyalists. This was the case with Field Marshal Plaek Phibulsonggram in 1957. After ruling for a decade and overseeing two competing cliques in the army that also involved the police force on one side, Phibul lost political control and was ousted in a military coup.

Thitinan Pongsudhirak teaches International Relations and directs the Institute of Security and International Studies at Chulalongkorn University.

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Thitinan Pongsudhirak

An associate professor at Chulalongkorn University

An associate professor and director of the Institute of Security and International Studies at Chulalongkorn University’s Faculty of Political Science, with more than 25 years of university service. He earned his MA from The Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and PhD from the London School of Economics where he was awarded the UK’s top dissertation prize in 2002.


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