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Field Marshal Sarit Thanarat (also spelt Dhanarajata; Thai: สฤษดิ์ ธนะรัชต์, IPA: [sà.rìt tʰá.ná.rát]; 16 June 1908 – 8 December 1963) was a Thai officer who staged a coup in 1957, replacing Plaek Phibunsongkhram as Thailand's prime minister until his death in 1963. He was born in Bangkok, but grew up in his mother's home town in Lao-speaking northeastern Thailand and considered himself from Isan. His father, Major Luang Ruangdetanan (birth name Thongdi Thanarat), was a career army officer best known for his translations into Thai of Cambodian literature.[1][2][3]

Field Marshal
Sarit Thanarat
สฤษดิ์ ธนะรัชต์
Official portraits of Sarit Thanarat.jpg
11th Prime Minister of Thailand
In office
9 February 1959 – 8 December 1963
Monarch Bhumibol Adulyadej
Preceded by Thanom Kittikachorn
Succeeded by Thanom Kittikachorn
Minister of Defence
In office
31 March 1957 – 12 September 1957
Prime Minister Plaek Phibunsongkhram
Preceded by Plaek Phibunsongkhram
Succeeded by Plaek Phibunsongkhram
Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces
In office
27 September 1957 – 8 December 1963
Preceded by Plaek Phibunsongkhram
Succeeded by Thanom Kittikachorn
Commander in Chief of the Royal Thai Army
In office
23 June 1954 – 8 December 1963
Preceded by Phin Choonhavan
Succeeded by Thanom Kittikachorn
Personal details
Born (1908-06-16)16 June 1908
Bangkok, Siam
Died 8 December 1963(1963-12-08) (aged 55)
Bangkok, Thailand
Nationality Thai
Spouse(s) Nuanchan Thanarat (two children), Chawee (two children), Praima (two children), Vichitra Thanarat (no children, but adopted nephew and gave the Thanarat last name)
Profession Soldier
Military service
Allegiance Thailand
Service/branch Royal Thai Army
Years of service 1928 - 1963
Rank Field Marshal
Admiral of the Fleet
Marshal of the Air Force
Police General
Commands Commander-in-chief
Battles/wars Japanese conquest of Burma


Military careerEdit

Sarit Thanarat was educated at a monastery school, and entered Chulachomklao Royal Military Academy in 1919, not completing his military studies until 1928, after which he was commissioned as a second lieutenant. During World War II he served as commander of an infantry battalion and took part in the invasion and occupation of the Shan States in Burma. Unlike many of his fellow officers, Sarit was not discharged at the end of the war. Instead, he was promoted to command the 1st Infantry Regiment of the Bangkok-based Guards Division.[4] As a colonel, he played a leading role in the 1947 military coup that overthrew the government of Prime Minister Thawal Thamrong Navaswadhi, a protege of Pridi Phanomyong, reinstalling the previously deposed Field Marshal Luang Phibunsongkram as premier. Sarit thereafter took a lasting interest in politics.[1] He became Commander of the Royal Thai Army in 1954.

Events leading to the coupEdit

During the early1950s, the Phibun government was experiencing great public discontent as the result of several events. This paved the way for the rise of Field Marshal Sarit Thanarat.

Elections of 26 February 1957Edit

The passing of the 1955 Political Party Bill led to the proliferation of more than twenty five political parties. The government's Legislative Committee was revamped into the Seri Manangkhasila Party which was headed by Phibun and had Sarit as the deputy chief and Phao as secretary general. Sarit did not play a significant role in the election process and generally left Phao to take charge.

Although the Seri Manangkhasila Party won the Democrat's, the latter was seen to have won a moral victory. The Democrat Party and the press accused the government of rigging the votes and using hooligans to terrorize both candidates and voters.[4]:106-107 In a bid to repress public discontent, Phibun declared a state of emergency and Sarit was appointed as the Supreme Commander of military forces to maintain order. However, Sarit effectively disassociated himself from the corrupt party when he commented that the 1957 elections. "were dirty, the dirtiest. Everybody cheated." [5]

The Isan CrisisEdit

Also in 1957, one of Isan's worst droughts occurred. It prompted the mass exodus of people from the northeast to Bangkok, which led to a host of social problems. The government seemed to regard this diaspora as natural and said that it could neutralize peasant discontent.[6] The then-Minister of Agriculture, Field Marshal Phin Choonhavan, said that northeasterner's migration to the city and their consumption of frogs and lizards were normal and that there was nothing to worry about.[7] At Hua Lamphong railway station in Bangkok, there were so many refugees arriving daily that students and monks had to set up emergency help stations.[8]

On 10 August, the Deputy Minister of Agriculture, Phin, was sent by helicopter to survey the Isan region where he found nothing amiss. A second survey, also done by air, was published and again indicated that there was no crisis in Isan area as all the lands were in acceptable condition. In a final attempt to resolve the issue, the Phibun government allocated 53 million baht, which was to be divided equally among the 53 Isan representatives.[9]

The lumber swindleEdit

Before the government could recover from its inept management of the Isan crisis, its credibility was once again questioned. Thailand was rewarded US$66 million for Project Bhumibhol, which was the building of a dam 505 feet high on the Ping River in Tak.[10] The project was to take six years and had to pay for itself after completion. Many MPs were against the loan as it came immediately after the Isan famine.[11] Out of respect to the king, the plan for the dam was not rejected. Things further escalated when Thiem Khomrit, Director-General of the Forestry Department, was forced to resign and was charged with administrative incompetence.

Enraged by the charges, Thiem went to the press to reveal the real reason for his dismissal.[11] He stated that several powerful figures in the Thai government wanted to establish the Forestry Company of Thailand which would merge with other private companies and thereby control the lumber and teak industries. Phin, who headed this project, wanted to suspend all forestry licenses when other companies refused to collude. The plan to establish the Forestry Company of Thailand involved Project Bhumibhol, as members of the Forestry Company wanted to monopolize the cutting of timber in the areas to be flooded by the dam. Thiem further revealed that the Seri Manangkhasila Party had sent submitted an early application for a license to cut down trees in the area.[12] According to Thiem, his refusal to approve the government's application was the cause of his dismissal.

The coupEdit

Sarit Thanarat before 1963

On 13 September 1957, Sarit handed Phibun the army's ultimatum. The ultimatum, signed by 58 army officers, called for the resignation of the government. The public was supportive of Sarit's ultimatum.

On 15 September, a public gathering was held at Hyde Park to protest Phibun and his government. The crowd, which quickly grew in numbers, marched to Sarit's residence to show support for the army's demands. As Sarit was not at home, the crowd proceeded to break into the government compound where they made speeches condemning the government. The protesters later returned to Sarit's home where he was waiting to address them. In his speech, Sarit said, "In the name of the army and deputies of the second category, I have conducted my activities based on popular will, and the interests of the people — your coming here gives me moral support to continue."[13]

The following morning, Sarit and his army staged a coup d'etat. In less than an hour, the army successfully captured strategic points with no resistance. To identify themselves, Sarit's forces wore white arm bands which was a sign of purity.[citation needed] Following these developments, Phibun immediately fled the country and Phao was deported to Europe. Thus began Sarit's rule.

Influences on Sarit's ruleEdit

According to many Western academics, the Cold War largely propped up Sarit's regime. In his book, Daniel Fineman states that Phibun, and later Sarit, aligned their foreign policies alongside American anti-communist foreign policy, so as to receive financial and military aid.[14] Sarit's strict stance against communism further reinforced the US's belief that only the Thai military could contain the communist threat.

In contrast, Likhit Dhiravegin [15] stresses that the notion of "phokho" (patriarchal rule) from the Sukhothai Kingdom and "devaraja" (god–king) and "sakdina" (dignity marks) from the Ayutthaya Kingdom are important in understanding modern Thai politics. Likhit's analysis shows how Sarit combines paternalistic rule from the Sukothai (pho khun) with Ayuthaya's despotic power to create his personal political style. According to Thak, Luang Wichit Wathakan was essential in moulding the leadership principles of Phibun and Sarit.[4] From him, Sarit was introduced to the idea of "pattiwat" (revolution) and the guiding leadership principle of phokhun.

Sarit's tenureEdit

Prime Minister Sarit Thanarat of Thailand


Within days of the coup, electric rates were lowered [16] and families living in the water-scarce Bangkok-Thonburi area were given 300 large buckets of water free every month.[17] To help the needy, the Revolutionary Council ordered the municipal government to get rid of certain taxes, charges for official service, and license fees. Hospitals were ordered to give out free medicine and healthcare to the less fortunate while student nurses and social workers were instructed to make house visits to help in child delivery and health problems.[citation needed]

To lower food prices, Sarit ordered the opening of new markets modeled after the Sunday flea markets at Sanam Luang. Merchants could sell their goods directly to the public instead of going through middlemen, thus reducing food prices. Participating merchants only had to pay nominal fee. Sarit also lowered the price of iced black coffee, a popular beverage among locals, from 70 satang per glass to 50 satang per glass. To evade this, merchants served the coffee in smaller glasses, added less coffee, or more ice into the beverage. Thais were then forced to order the "special" coffee which was the original coffee at the original price.[citation needed]

The Association of Rice Merchants agreed to lower their rice prices in the stores they controlled.[18] In a bid to show that everyone was participating in the revolution of the country, the navy was called on by Sarit to provide cheap coconuts to be sold to the public.[19]

Even though many of these programs did not last long and many were not implemented, the way in which they were announced helped to create an atmosphere of enthusiasm for the incumbent government.[citation needed]

Dealing with deviantsEdit

Soon after the coup, Sarit ordered the arrest and reformation of hooligans ("anthaphan"). According to the Revolutionary Council's Proclamation No. 21, anthaphan were the bane of the society and to maintain common people's happiness, there was a need to get rid of them.[20] Those with long hair, flashy clothing, and tight pants, in fashion at the time, were also targeted. Weekly dances at Lumpini Garden were banned, and rock and roll music was prohibited from government parties. Upon the release of the victims, Sarit said that he did not hate them, but his actions were necessary for the "family".[21]

Prostitution was also considered as a menace to society. Sarit ordered all arrested prostitutes be reformed by sending them to institutions which would equip them with new skills. He also passed the Law Against Prostitution, B.E. 2503.[22] During times of economic depression, fires and arsonists were commonplace. In 1958 alone, five arsonists were executed by Sarit.[citation needed]

Getting rid of opiumEdit

Sarit was determined to end the consumption and sale of opium in Thailand for several reasons. First, he wanted to illustrate to the people that he did not intend to gain from the opium trade occurring within the country, unlike his predecessor Phao. Second, he wanted to please the Western powers who believed that the drug was used by communists to undermine the morals and economy of democratic countries.[21] Last, he saw the eradication of opium as part of his mission to uplift the country morally. Consequently, 43,445 opium pipes were destroyed, and the Committee to Combat Addictive Drugs, headed by Sarit, was created.[21]

Imposing orderEdit

Article 17 of the Interim Constitution of Thailand, B.E. 2502 or " M17" was the legal basis for Sarit to order executions. Using M17, parliament was abolished, newspapers were strictly censured, political parties were prohibited, and people who were suspected of colluding with communists were imprisoned. From 1958 to 1963, eleven people were executed under M17. Five were given death penalty for arson, one for heroin production, one for spearheading a messianic uprising, and four on charges of communism. Moreover, the Revolutionary Council Proclamation No. 12 dated 22 October 1958 gave investigating authorities the power to detain suspects for as long as needed.[23] In reality, many of these suspects were not actual communists, they were writers or intellectuals who opposed Sarit's rule. Under the proclamation, an estimated 1,000 suspects were imprisoned.[4]

According to Frank Darling, Sarit's regime was authoritarian and furthermore, it took a step back from what little democracy was gained during the 1932 revolution.[24] Thak suggests that Sarit's strict rule can be understood as the modern phokhun style of leadership, where the benevolent leader would intervene to help his people whenever deemed necessary.[4]

The monarchyEdit

Relief of Sarit Thanarat's life in Khon Kaen, depicts his coup d'état in 1957.

Under Sarit's rule, the monarchy was revived and brought back into the fold of politics. Sarit arranged for King Bhumibhol Adulyadej to attend public ceremonies, visit provinces, patronize development projects, and present diplomas to Thailand's university graduates, helping to bring the monarchy closer to the people and raising the stature of the king to that of reverence. The practice of prostration, with the head touching the ground before royal audiences, banned decades earlier by King Chulalongkorn, was reinstated. On 5 December 1982, the Army's 21st infantry regiment was transferred to the palace and Queen Sirikit was appointed its colonel-in-chief.[citation needed]

The Sarit government revived traditional festivals and ceremonies which were abandoned after the 1932 revolution. An example was the revival of the First Ploughing ceremony (Raek Nakhwan) which dates back to the Sukothai Kingdom.

According to Thak, the Sarit regime had two main reasons for reviving the monarchy.[4] First, the monarchy legitimized not only the regime, but its policies as well. Sarit's plan to stage a coup against Phibun was supported by the monarchy as evidenced through a published letter written by the king. The letter expressed the king's confidence in Sarit and urged Sarit to do his duties to the government.[22] Second, the monarch contributed to regime's paternalistic programs. In this instance, the throne acted as an institution, collecting funds from private donors, channeling them into public programs that enhanced both the regime's and the monarchy's reputation.[4]

Since 1966, the number of public appearances by the king increased and as the years passed, more visits were made. The king's newly powerful position was evidenced by the number of scheduled audiences with the prime minister and other cabinet ministers. The monarchy also moved closer to the military as illustrated by the number of military affairs attended by the king in 1963.[4]

Sarit's death and aftermathEdit

Monument of Sarit Dhanarajata at Khon Kaen

Sarit died unexpectedly in late-1963 from liver failure, just as his economic measures were proving successful. There was a peaceful transfer of power to Sarit's deputy generals, Thanom Kittikachorn, who became prime minister, and Praphas Charusathian, who became deputy prime minister. Thanom and Praphas maintained Sarit's authoritarian style of government, his anti-communism, and his pro- American policies.[citation needed]

Sarit's relationship with King Bhumibol was evident when the king ordered 21 days of official mourning in the palace after his death, with Sarit's body lying in state under royal patronage for 100 days and the king and queen attending his cremation on 17 March 1964.[citation needed]

Posthumous revelationsEdit

After Sarit's death, his reputation took a blow when an inheritance battle between his son, Major Setha Thanarat, and his last wife, Thanpuying Vichitra Thanarat, revealed the massive extent of Sarit's wealth, which totaled over US$100 million.[25] He was discovered to have owned a trust company, a brewery, 51 cars, and some 30 plots of land, most of which he gave to his dozens of mistresses. Thai language newspapers published the names of 100 women who claimed to have shared his bed, shocking the public when his corruption was uncovered.[26]

Royal decorationsEdit

As usual with senior Thai military officers and politicians, Sarit received many royal decorations in the Honours System. These include:[27]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b Gale, T. 2005. Encyclopedia of World Biographies.
  2. ^ Smith Nieminen Win. Historical Dictionary of Thailand. Praeger Publishers. p. 225. ISBN 0-8108-5396-5. 
  3. ^ Richard Jensen, Jon Davidann, Sugita (2003). Trans-Pacific Relations: America, Europe, and Asia in the Twentieth Century. Praeger Publishers. p. 222. ISBN 0-275-97714-5. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h Chaloemtiarana, Thak (1979). Thailand: The Politics of Despotic Paternalism. Bangkok: Thammasat University Press. 
  5. ^ "unk". Sayam Nikon. March 3, 1957. 
  6. ^ Huntington, Samuel (1968). Political Order in Changing Societies. New Haven: Yale University Press. pp. 279–280. 
  7. ^ "unk". Sayam Nikon. August 15, 1957. 
  8. ^ "unk". Sayam Nikon. 20 August 1957. 
  9. ^ "unk". Sayam Nikon. 17 August 1957. 
  10. ^ "unk". World Bank. 20 August 1957. 
  11. ^ a b "unk". Sayam Nikon. 29 August 1957. 
  12. ^ "unk". Sayam Nikon. 11 August 1957. 
  13. ^ "unk". Sayam Nikon. 17 September 1957. 
  14. ^ Fineman, Daniel (1997). A Special Relationship: The United States and Military Government in Thailand, 1947–1958. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press. 
  15. ^ Dhiravegin, Likhit (1992). Demi-democracy: The Evolution of the Thai Political System. Singapore: Times Academic Press. 
  16. ^ "unk". Sayam Rat. 26 October 1958. 
  17. ^ "unk". Sayam Rat. 6 November 1958. 
  18. ^ "unk". Sayam Rat. 14 November 1958. 
  19. ^ "unk". Sayam Rat. 12 December 1958. 
  20. ^ "Prakat khong Khana Pattiwat No. 21". unk. 2 November 1958. 
  21. ^ a b c "Cremation Volume of Sarit Thanarat". unk. p. 50. 
  22. ^ a b "Ratchakitcha". 77. 1 November 1960. 
  23. ^ Chaloemtiarana, Thak. Thai Politics. pp. 819–821. 
  24. ^ Darling, Frank (1960). "Marshal Sarit and Absolutist Rule in Thailand". Pacific Affairs. 33 (4): 347–360. 
  25. ^ Joehnk, Tom Felix; Garger, Ilya (22 March 2016). "How America Can Put Thailand Back on Track". New York Times. Retrieved 23 October 2016. 
  26. ^ "Thailand: Sarit's Legacy". Time. 27 March 1964. Retrieved 23 October 2016. 
  27. ^ Bio of Sarit Thanarat Archived 28 April 2002 at the Wayback Machine. at the Royal Thai Army website (in Thai). Accessed 19 November 2008.
  28. ^ Royal Gazette, Vol. 58, p. 2966. 18 September, B.E. 2484 (C.E. 1941). Accessed 20 November 2008.
  29. ^ Royal Gazette, Vol. 65 No. 71, p. 3979. 7 December, B.E. 2491 (C.E. 1948). Accessed 20 November 2008.
  30. ^ Royal Gazette, Vol. 66 No. 66, p. 5425. 6 December, B.E. 2492 (C.E. 1949). Accessed 20 November 2008.
  31. ^ Royal Gazette, Vol. 67 No. 67, p. 6346. 12 December, B.E. 2493 (C.E. 1950). Accessed 20 November 2008.
  32. ^ Royal Gazette, Vol. 67 No. 39, p. 3039. 18 July, B.E. 2493 (C.E. 1950). Accessed 20 November 2008.
  33. ^ Royal Gazette, Vol. 68 No. 74, p. 5646. 11 December, B.E. 2494 (C.E. 1951). Accessed 20 November 2008.
  34. ^ Royal Gazette, Vol. 69 No. 29, p. 1287. 13 May, B.E. 2495 (C.E. 1952). Accessed 20 November 2008.
  35. ^ Royal Gazette, Vol. 69 No. 72, p. 4647. 9 December, B.E. 2495 (C.E. 1952). Accessed 20 November 2008.
  36. ^ Royal Gazette, Vol. 70 No. 29, p. 2053. 12 May, B.E. 2496 (C.E. 1953). Accessed 20 November 2008.
  37. ^ Royal Gazette, Vol. 76 No. 53, p. 1400. 19 May, B.E. 2502 (C.E. 1959). Accessed 20 November 2008.
  38. ^ Royal Gazette, Vol. 76 No. 115 (Special), p. 36. 16 December, B.E. 2502 (C.E. 1959). Accessed 20 November 2008.

Further readingEdit

  • Chaloemtiarana, Thak (2007). Thailand: The politics of despotic paternalism (Revised ed.). Ithaca: Cornell Southeast Asia Program Publications. 
Political offices
Preceded by
Thanom Kittikachorn
Prime Minister of Thailand
Succeeded by
Thanom Kittikachorn