Thailand History

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The struggle for control of the Thai government continued, meanwhile, and Phibun attempted to offset Sarit’s advantage among the military by generating popular support for himself. In 1955 he toured the United States and Britain and, on his return to Thailand, articulated a policy of prachathipatai ("democracy"), which he stated he was giving to the country as a gift. Encouraging the public to feel free to criticize his "open regime," he set aside a portion of a central park near the royal palace in Bangkok for public debate, in emulation of Hyde Park in London, and gave the press free rein in covering the dissent expressed there. Criticism, especially as it appeared in the press, was outspoken and often extreme in its attacks on the government. In addition to encouraging criticism, Phibun halted the anti-Chinese campaign, made plans to increase the responsibilities of local government, and again permitted political parties to register. Phibun intended more to convey the appearance of democracy, however, than to allow for its functional development.

Phao and Phibun devoted much effort to ensuring a government victory in the general election scheduled for February 1957. Phao headed a newly founded government party, the Seri Manangkhasila, which was the largest and best funded of the twenty-five parties that had sprung up in response to prachathipatai. Sarit, on the other hand, kept out of the campaign and, after the election, dissociated himself from the disappointing results, which gave the Seri Manangkhasila a bare majority but saw half of the incumbent party members defeated. Sarit and others questioned even these returns and accused the government party of stuffing ballot boxes. When university students came out in great numbers to protest the government’s handling of the elections, Phibun declared a state of emergency and shelved prachathipatai.

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