Bangkok (1932-1942) / 2.3 Abortion of the 1937 Previous Scheme

To establish a new constitutional government in Thailand, the People’s Party started its revolution from below and seemingly gained a huge success after the coup in 1932 together with effective political policies afterwards to prevent Thailand from being colonized1. However, at the beginning the new government was, in fact, hybrid of both middle-class elites who were members of the People’s Party and influenced by the western and people who used to work for the monarchy and were still quite traditional (See Post 2.1 for details). This could partially explain why there was a clear attempt in the 1937 Scheme of Ratchadamnoen to create the harmony between the new urban renewal project and the existing royal urban environment. This ideal proposal was soon replaced by the implemented scheme of 1939 with the rise of the People’s Party’s power.

Why did the 1937 scheme become unimplemented? A popular explanation among historians is that the conflict1 between monarch and the People’s Party during the 1930s, particularly after Phibun’s rise to power in 1938. Starting from the very beginning of his regime, Phibun and his supporters had tried to completely diminish the power of monarchy in many aspects from political to social. For example, a large number of royalists who were considered as Phibun’s main opponents were sentenced to death. They adapted the state’s policies to reduce the authority of the monarchy and prohibit the display of the pictures of the ex-King and they even sued King Prajadhipok for misusing the crown property. Such direct moves against the monarchy by Phibun had soon been extended and emphasized through architecture and urban planning especially after 1938. He asked people to throw out all the ornaments and decorations by the monarch on architecture. As for the urban renewal of Ratchadamnoen Boulevard, even though the idea of continuity from the previous regime to the new one could be found in the Prime Minister’s speech of the opening day of the boulevard (see below), it didn’t correspond to what was actually built in 1941 (See Post 3.2 & 3.3 for details).

–“Phibun considered that this was proper time to maintain and develop the city of Bangkok […] in the era that the ruling system is Constitutionalism; for this reason, urban renewal on Ratchadamnoen Boulevard of King Chulalongkorn is to be implemented in order to create a modern city planning and to establish a commercial zone in the center of the city.”2

The new appearance of the boulevard in 1941 uncourteously destroyed the old royalist image of the city. The huge differences between the reality and what had been said and written before it left people in doubt about why such a harmonious scheme of 1937 could be suddenly replaced with this radical plan of 1941.One possible way to understand this dramatic change is to get to know the political conditions at that time. With huge success in establishment of the constitutional government and treaty negotiation with foreign countries, the People’s Party would like to celebrate and emphasizes their success through various artefacts like building Democracy Monument in replace of the Rama VI Monument and building ten multistory modern buildings for officers.

With the growing ambitions, Phibun and the state became greedier and aimed to have more thorough control and influence on all groups of people. This urban renewal project is just one of their approaches.

References:

  1. Sirikiatikul, Pinai. Remaking modern Bangkok: Urban renewal on Rajadamnern Boulevard, 1932-1957. University of London, University College London (United Kingdom), 2007.
  2. National Archive, Bangkok. (2) SR. 0201. 69/30 (Translated by Pinai).

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