Pridi Phanomyong

Pridi Phanomyong (1901-1983) was a civilian political leader in Thailand. He was popularly associated with opposition to military dominance and was known as a proponent of parliamentary democracy.

Pridi Phanomyong was born in Ayudhya Province, the son of a prosperous Chinese farmer and merchant by his Thai wife. From local Buddhist schools he went to Bangkok to attend secondary school and the Royal Law School, from which he graduated in 1920. Awarded a government scholarship, he studied law in Caen (1921-1924) and Paris, where he gained a doctorate in 1927. In Paris he became a leader among Thai students pressing their grievances against the Thai minister. He was also strongly influenced by French socialism.


The Rebel Inside and Out

On his return to Bangkok in 1927 Pridi was made secretary to the Department for Drafting Legislation, was given the title by which he is often known, Luang Pradit Manutham, and was assigned to teach law at Chulalongkorn University. In the general discontent with royal absolutism, exacerbated by the growing economic crisis, he was drawn into the group of officials and military officers who planned and executed the coup d'etat of June 24, 1932, which abolished the absolute monarchy and established a parliamentary regime.

The intellectual leader of the group, Pridi also took a lead in drafting the first constitutions of Thailand. His national economic policy of 1933, advocating a utopian sort of state socialism, split the government and brought about his temporary exile. He returned to serve as minister of interior (1935-1936), founded the University of Moral and Political Science (Thammasat), and, as foreign minister (1936-1938), directed the renegotiation of treaties with the Western powers. He served as minister of finance under Phibun Songkhram (1938-1941) but resigned to protest against increasing collaboration with Japan and became regent for the absent boy-king Ananda Mahidol (reigned 1935-1946).

As regent during the war, when Thailand was a nominal ally of Japan, Pridi came to direct the anti-Japanese underground Free Thai movement and was responsible for the overthrow of Phibun in 1944. Pridi's work with the Free Thai gained American support, which assisted Thailand's recovery after the war. This included establishing Thailand as an independent sovereign state. Attempting to maintain power from behind the scenes, he finally had to take leadership as prime minister in March 1946.


Resignation and Exile

Pridi's radical reputation and the economic chaos of the postwar years made his task difficult, and he did not have sufficient support to weather unsubstantiated rumors that he was responsible for the unexplained death of young King Ananda in June 1946. Pridi soon had to resign, and his power evaporated with the resurgence of military rule in 1947. He was then forced into exile. He reappeared in Communist China in 1949, associated with a Thai underground movement there, but left China to return to France in 1970. Pridi lived in Paris with his wife until he died of a heart attack on May 2, 1983.

Further Reading on Pridi Phanomyong

Frank C. Darling, Thailand and the United States (1965), provides a spirited defense of Pridi. Also see (Devine, Elizabeth, ed.) The Annual Obituary 1983, St. James Press, 1984.