A legend reduced to rubble

A legend reduced to rubble

Once home to Gen Prem and Field Marshal Sarit, Si Sao Thewes is no more, writes Wassana Nanuam

Debris is seen at Ban Si Sao Thewes, the former home of late Privy Council president Prem Tinsulanonda, which is being demolished. WASSANA NANUAM
Debris is seen at Ban Si Sao Thewes, the former home of late Privy Council president Prem Tinsulanonda, which is being demolished. WASSANA NANUAM

The Si Sao Thewes residence, also known as Ban Si Sao and the long-time home of former prime minister Gen Prem Tinsulanonda, is being demolished.

The late Gen Prem, a prominent statesman and president of the Privy Council, died in May 2019 and the army returned the historical residence and grounds to the Crown Property Bureau soon after, military sources said.

The living quarters for military officers and other buildings in the grounds have already been flattened and demolition of the Si Sao Thewes residence is almost complete. Only a small part of the structure and concrete debris remain.

The reason for the demolition has not been officially announced yet, nor the plans for the future use of the site.

There was once a plan to turn a building on one side of the grounds, now being used as an army club, into a museum featuring a collection of rare wood. Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha, when he was army chief, presided over the laying of a foundation stone for the new club. The museum plan has since been cancelled.

The Si Sao Thewes residence was named after the nearby Si Sao Thewes intersection, where in the past there were four large power poles. Si Sao means "Four power poles" but the name did not derive from the fact that the building had a porch with four supporting posts, as many people believe.

According to the official domicile registration, the Si Sao Thewes residence was house number 279 on Si Ayutthaya Road (formerly Duang Tawan) in Bangkok's Dusit district.

It was once the official residence of Field Marshal Sarit Thanarat, a former army chief, leader of the 1957 military coup and Thailand's 11th prime minister. Gen Prem moved into the residence in 1979, a year after he was appointed army chief. He remained there until his death, serving as Thailand's 16th prime minister and later president of the Privy Council.

There was a tradition for Gen Prem's close associates from various circles and commanders of the armed forces to gather at the Si Sao Thewes residence for breakfast.

On important occasions such as the New Year, Songkran and Gen Prem's birthday on Aug 26, it was common for the country's leaders -- military top brass, high-ranking police and officials -- to gather there and seek Gen Prem's blessing. That showed how powerful and influential a figure he had become.

Several historical and major political events occurred at the residence, including the April 17, 1981, and Sept 9, 1985, failed coups by army officers wanting to oust him as premier.

After eight years as prime minister and having declined to stay on for another term, saying "I have had enough", Gen Prem remained influential both in the military and politics.

When the country was in deep trouble after the Black May 1992 tragedy, Gen Suchinda Kraprayoon, then prime minister, and Maj Gen Chamlong Srimuang, the protest leader, went to meet Gen Prem at the Si Sao Thewes residence.

They asked him to take them for an audience with King Bhumibol, asking the King to intervene to end the crisis following a military crackdown on protesters. Gen Suchinda resigned as prime minister after that.

Whenever problems arose, whether over cabinet and military reshuffles or selection of a new prime minister, those in power would seek a meeting with Gen Prem for his advice. The property remained significant for about 40 years until Gen Prem's death on May 26, 2019.

The legendary residence is no more but it will remain in people's memories and in history books.

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