Opinion: Learning from Thailand’s Forgotten, Former National Day

Inauguration of Democracy Monument on June 24, 1940. The ceremony was presided by Prime Minister Field Marshall Plaek Pibulsongkram. Photo: National Archive.

An old story not recounted is eventually forgotten. The same might be said of tomorrow, June 24 once Thailand’s National Day, today many youth no longer know about, let alone remember, the day a bloodless revolt overthrew absolute monarchy in June 1932.

For two decades between 1939 and 1960, June 24 was observed not just with celebrations and media attention but a three-day public holiday. Today, only history buffs and pro-democracy activists care to mark the day as one of the most important in the Kingdom’s history. Few newspapers have mentioned it this year.

What’s more, some important relics of the 1932 revolt have mysteriously disappeared. A brass plaque at the Royal Plaza marking the June 24 revolt went missing in 2016, only to be replaced by a new plaque extolling royalist ideology. No one has claimed responsibility.

At the end of last year, something even larger disappeared. The Constitution Defense Monument at Bangkok’s Lak Si intersection, which was at least three-stories tall, was removed. Again, no one was held responsible and the majority of the Thai press neglected to report the incident. The monument had marked the defeat of a royalist rebellion which sought to restore absolute monarchy.

It’s almost as if the day never existed, which says a lot about today’s Thailand.

A photo of June 24, 1941 National Day celebrations from the special edition of Srikrueng Magazine. Photo: Arts and Culture Magazine.
A photo of June 24, 1941 National Day celebrations from the special edition of Srikrueng Magazine. Photo: Arts and Culture Magazine.

Yet the present day promotion of the monarchy bears an uncanny resemblance to how past governments historically promoted June 24 as National Day. Now instead of June 24, we have King Bhumibol’s birthday on December 5, which has been designed as Thai National Day for nearly six decades now.

In a thesis written in 2016, Natkamol Chaisuwan of Thammasat University’s Faculty of Journalism described the role of the press in legitimizing the People’s Party that led the revolt, observing many similarities between then and now.

Natkamol noted that the press back then, particularly newspapers and radio, were used to promote a personality cult surrounding strongman Field Marshal Plaek Pibulsongkram, a leader of the military faction of the People’s Party who eventually became prime minister.

“Field Marshal Plaek Pibulsongkram used radio as a medium to spread nationalism, with radio given extra airtime,” he wrote, adding that radio programs accorded special importance to National Day coverage through short plays and songs extolling the People’s Party. “Newspapers also issued special editions for National Day.”

Now, the press extols the virtues of royalist ideology instead something rare when June 24 was still Thai National Day.

The date of Thai National Day may have changed, but something remains. We can still learn from, rather than forget, June 24.