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

15497. 1. Tonight at 2010 I met at his request with Prime Minister Thanom. With him were Deputy Prime Ministers Praphat and Pote and Marshal Dawee and General Kriangsak. Prime Minister informed me that since 1900 hours there had been effected a coup d’état carried out entirely under his control. Thanom said that this has been done for the sake of the security of Thailand “both externally and internally” as an alternative to letting things go to ruin in the country because of inaction. The decision had been taken to move rapidly and stop an unacceptable deterioration.

2. The Prime Minister, with contributions from others present, then described the deplorable situation that has grown up because of the actions of the members of Parliament since the inauguration of the Parliament in 1969. They cited difficulties with Parliaments in earlier Thai history but said the problems had never been so acute as in this case. In particular, the Parliament has interfered in a totally unacceptable way in the administration of the country and obstructed essential actions in many fields. Furthermore, collectively and individually Parliament and its members have attacked the government for its [Page 308]performance and also made many personal attacks and have spread among the people a growing lack of confidence in the government. There have been serious budgetary delays this year as in previous years so that money for the country’s development is available only six months out of each year; members of Parliament are obstructing appropriation of funds for essential government purposes including national security and want money to be diverted instead to funds which would be spent in their districts for pork barrel purposes. The National Economic Development Board’s five year plan is held up because of parliamentary inaction and there was specific reference made to World Bank President McNamara’s statement that economic development in Thailand in the sixties was more rapid than it is today. The government is unable to take advantage of World Bank loans because the Parliament refuses to enact the necessary legislation.

3. The Prime Minister and General Praphat both referred to activities of members of Parliament with labor groups, students and others whom they were seeking to turn against the government. For their own purposes they were stirring up discontent and unrest and misunderstanding in complete disregard of the stability of the government and the country. According to Pote there was a concentrated move to stir up students to seek to take the universities away from the government and run them independently and to take advantage of student immaturity to turn them into instruments against the government.

4. Reference as then made to a certain number of members of Parliament who had Communist leanings, were very happy to have the PRC in the UN and were insisting that the RTG rush into establishing relations with the PRC immediately without giving any consideration to the dangers that could ensue. Praphat clearly attached special importance to this issue, commenting on the dangers of certain Chinese-born who were not Thai in spite of having been born here. The Communists were now trying to install in such people a feeling of the greatness of the new China. Pote also emphasized this point, saying that there is considerable recent evidence of Chinese in Thailand be-coming hostile to the Thai—although the PRC admission to the UN is certainly not the cause of the problem it has complicated it.

5. Marshal Thanom added the degenerating situation as far as public safety was concerned and the rapid increase in crime. Actions being taken now would make it possible to move much more effectively against criminals and make it possible to restore law and order. I said that I was aware of the conditions they were describing but was surprised that they found them so critical as to oblige them to take this action. After the several present again reviewed the budgetary and other problems they had mentioned before, Marshal Thanom concluded that discussion with his insistence that the action was taken out of no motivation except for the security and well-being of the country.

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6. Thanom went on to say that the principal well-established Thai institutions and laws will continue to be observed and above all, the institution of the monarchy. When I asked if His Majesty had been informed of the action they said that Marshal Thanom had just sent him a letter explaining their actions. They did not feel it right to seek in any way to involve the King in their action and if they turned out to be wrong, it was on their head. Marshal Thanom went on to state that Thailand will uphold all its treaty obligations and that their action should have no effect on relations with friendly countries. They said that I was the only Ambassador they were calling in to inform personally and they hoped in particular that there would be no change in Thailand’s relations with the US. (Reference was made to our recent active discussions, presumably on narcotics and AAT.) They insisted that their action was entirely an internal one and need have no effects or repercussions outside. (They also asked me not to mention my meeting with them since no other foreign representative was being called in.) General Praphat asked me whether I thought there should be some change in their foreign policy. I first told them that was for them to decide, not for me. I then said that we were generally happy with the foreign policy of the Thai Govt as it has been conducted over many years, particularly the close cooperative relations we have enjoyed. We also realized that in times of change like the present, it made good sense for the Thai Govt to be broadening its relations with other countries outside the circle of its close friends and particularly concentrating on strengthening its ties with its neighbors.

7. Since the group appeared to have completed their explanations for the actions taken, I then told them very frankly that I was sure their actions would be greeted around the world with considerable strong criticism. I said that also in the US they must anticipate expressions of disappointment at least, and in the press and probably in the Congress some sharply adverse comment about returning to dictatorship, etc. Marshal Thanom acknowledged this but said that their decision had been that regardless, for the good of Thailand they must proceed. Dawee expressed the fear that without strong direction there was danger that Thailand might go the way of Vietnam. Gen. Praphat said that while they respected the principles of democracy and had attempted to put them into action, it was clear that in Thailand today democracy doesn’t work.

8. I acknowledged their comments but asked whether they did not feel that dissolving of the Parliament and their other actions might not in fact make more trouble for them internally with the Chinese groups, students and insurgents. They insisted that groups like the students, farmers and laborers would under normal circumstances be well behaved and support the government but they were now being instigated by those individuals, including members of Parliament, who [Page 310]were stirring up opposition to the government for their own benefit. Under the revolutionary group it was anticipated that the government could deal more effectively with agitation and subversive activities. They anticipated that there would be a rather prompt return to an orderly situation and one that would be generally acceptable to the people. I said I hoped that this would be the end result and that they did not find that they had created more trouble for themselves by their action.

9. I then asked what would be their next steps. The Prime Minister said that he could not say what would follow but it was explained that for the time being, with the Cabinet having been dissolved, there would be a caretaker arrangement, ministries would operate under their Under Secretaries and policy questions would be referred to the head of the revolutionary group, Marshal Thanom. Thanom himself said that he anticipated that in about two to three months a regular government with a cabinet would again be formed. In reply to my question they confirmed that various of the revolutionary party orders which were first put into effect in 1958 would again be enforced, including Article 17, having to do with security.

10. General Praphat returned to the public relations problem, recognizing that the revolutionary group’s purposes and reasons for its action must be effectively explained abroad. We talked about the possibility, as a longer run matter, of the Thai securing professional advice in this field. Somewhat later I returned to this point with Marshal Dawee and emphasized the importance of the purposes and their reasons for taking this drastic action being fully and effectively explained. At this time I also mentioned that it would be important if they could make clear their intention of returning to constitutional government at some point.

11. This entire discussion was carried on in a friendly, almost relaxed atmosphere, the Thai present appearing calm and confident of the rightness of their action. I, of course, committed myself to reporting in full everything they told me so that my government would be aware of their reasons for action. While I made clear that I realized they were alone in a position to make decisions about Thailand’s Government, it was my judgment that they must anticipate encountering considerable criticism abroad. As for the consequences at home in Thai-land, I expressed my personal doubts but acknowledged they were obviously the best judges.

12. I learned later that Marshal Thanom, Praphat, Pote, Dawee and General Prasert (Director General TNPD) went to explain in person to His Majesty the King the actions they had taken. According to Dawee the King listened sympathetically and wished them well.

Unger
  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, POL 15 THAI. Secret; Immediate; Exdis.