BANGKOK — Historians and citizens alike were stunned to learn on Friday afternoon that a small plaque in the middle of a road in Bangkok had gone missing.
Local media subsequently gave extensive coverage about it, while social media was abuzz with speculation about who replaced the historic symbol and why. Some readers unfamiliar with this niche of Thai political history might ask: What’s the big deal about it?
It’s where Thai democracy started
Despite its small size – only 30 centimeters in diameter – the brass plaque marked the historic moment Thailand transitioned from absolute monarchy to parliamentary democracy in 1932.
More precisely, It marked the spot where the leader of the People’s Party – a coalition of progressive military officers and bureaucrats – rallied his troops in the Royal Plaza and read out a statement declaring that the king’s direct rule over the country was over.
While Phraya Phahon Phonphayuhasena faced the nearby throne hall and read out those words under the dawning sun, soldiers loyal to the plotters seized control of Bangkok and arrested key members of the royal government. King Rama VII, who was golfing in Hua Hin at the time, agreed to give up his absolute power later that day.
Four years later, in December 1936, Phraya Phahon and his fellow revolutionaries returned to the plaza and laid down a plaque to preserve the memory of the fateful day.
“At this place, on the dawn of June 24, 1932 we the People’s Party have birthed the Constitution for the nation’s progress,” it read.
Speaking to those present at the plaque inauguration ceremony, Phraya Phahon said the object was placed there to always remind people of the history.
“Do you still remember where we joined our hands and hearts and thoughts to bring about liberty to the people of Siam?” the general said. “I believe that we Siamese should not ever forget this important spot.”
Only several memorials to the Revolution still survive
The revolutionary government went on to construct other monuments and implemented holidays to the June 24 coup.
But as the palace figures and their royalist supporters gradually won back power in the following decades, those symbolic legacies of the 1932 revolution were also rolled back. The National Day was changed from June 24 to December 5, the birthday of King Rama IX. The narrative for Constitution Day, observed every December 10, became free of any reference to the People’s Party who fought for the charter in the first place.
At least two landmarks associated with 1932 were also destroyed. The modernist Supreme Court building, which bore numerical references to the 1932 coup, was demolished in 2013 and replaced with a traditional look. Citing the need to improve traffic flow, officials in 2014 in Buriram tore down a monument dedicated to the revolution.
The plaque’s removal adds to this list of disappearing history.
Several other memorials of the June 24 coup still stand. One is the Defense of the Constitution Monument, which honors the revolutionary victory over the royalist counter-coup in 1933. Another is Wat Prasri Mahadhat Worawihan in northern Bangkok, where ashes of key members in the People’s Party are interred.
But the most prominent of them all is the iconic Democracy Monument on Ratchadamnoen Avenue, of course.
Beloved by Redshirts and progressives
Apart from historical value, the plaque also held sentimental value for progressives and supporters of the Redshirt movement.
Since the authorities barely made any mention to the 1932 Revolution, the plaque was largely forgotten by the general public for decades. Only a small group of activists showed up every June 24 at dawn to lay down candles and read poetry in remembrance of the revolution.
But interest in the plaque surged in recent years among Redshirts, many of whom saw the 1932 coup and the People’s Party as the history’s heroes who introduced Thailand to the first steps of democracy. Some Redshirt rallies have been held at these historic sites related to 1932.
As expected in polarized Thailand, the Redshirts’ newfound love for the revolutionaries who lived eight decades ago became a subject of ire for some of the hardline Yellowshirts, who viewed the coup plotters as traitors against the monarchy. One famous Yellowshirt even made a public threat to destroy the June 24 plaque for this reason.
The color-coded divide was apparent in the wake of the plaque’s disappearance: Redshirts naturally lament it, while Yellowshirts welcome it.
Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly said the plaque was installed in 1940. In fact, it was placed there in 1936.