502. Telegram From the Embassy in Thailand to the Department of State 1

1158. Reference Deptel 927.2 As far as Embassy aware Praphat today generally pro-West and pro-free world in orientation and would continue Thailand’s association SEATO and military cooperation with US. Today his public position clearly anti-Communist. How much strong conviction lies behind this difficult to say and cannot be ruled out that he would engage in deals with leftists for personal or domestic political gain. Cambodian affair3 would indicate that Praphat, whose experience outside Thailand and associations with Westerners quite limited, strongly nationalistic and if he were in charge this might also make working with Thailand more difficult on occasion because of “national sensibilities”.

Praphat stewardship Ministry of Interior indicates he has considerable gift for administration and for holding loyalty subordinates including long-time civil servants. His frequent deft fencing and maneuvering via newspaper statements, speeches, etc., over past year has demonstrated he also competent in local politics. Today key element control Thailand is army and Embassy believes Praphat would have good chance command army allegiance if Sarit does or obviously unable retain control.

Heretofore Embassy has regarded either Thanom or Praphat figure most likely to succeed to Sarit’s position, with no other contenders in as favored positions. Thanom’s advantages are reputation honesty and integrity which brings wide-spread loyalty in military group, especially among more junior officers, and also some general support outside military. Praphat’s advantages are evident strong ambition and readiness engage political in-fighting as well as direct command position over key army units.

Recent weeks, with shifting of Sarit’s favor among his supporters in military group and appearance some new faces (such as Wichit), together with growing possibility Sarit may not be able continue in secure control situation, appears open possibility that Praphat and Thanom might be led join forces for purpose removing Sarit and establishing joint regime. Would not expect combined rule be more than temporary, however, since outlook two men differs sharply on subject King (Praphat reported lukewarm supporter monarchy), corruption, [Page 1054] etc. Moreover Thanom could not be expected serve as figurehead for Praphat as he did for Sarit, his long-time patron and idol. Praphat on the other hand would not be content share leadership indefinitely. Embassy would expect Praphat eventually emerge on top, assuming military remains in ascendancy. (This is not to say Praphat in present situation might not take opportunity seize control alone or Thanom do same in effort forestall Praphat or avoid chaos in government.) Full discussion Praphat contained airgram being pouched.4

In summary, Embassy regards Praphat as most likely Sarit successor if, as appears highly probable, military remains in charge. Although he might be tricky to work with in view of his corruption, nationalism and lack of acquaintance with West, he would not be expected to bring about any fundamental alterations Thailand’s foreign policy and he would probably run the Thai Government more effectively.

Further comments Deptel 927 follow.

Johnson
  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 792.00/11–1158. Secret; Priority; Limit Distribution.
  2. Document 500.
  3. Continuing friction between Thailand and Cambodia led to a rupture in diplomatic relations on December 1, 1958. Relations were resumed in February 1959.
  4. The information on Praphat was forwarded in despatch 308 from Bangkok, November 12. (Department of State, Central Files, 792.00/11–1258)