Thailand's Struggle for Democracy: The Life and Times of M. R. Seni Pramoj

By David van Praagh | Go to book overview

1
AN EXTRAORDINARY DEMOCRAT

As he sits alone on his shaded verandah, sheltered by his rose garden from Bangkok's raucous morning traffic, M.R. Seni Pramoj is a picture of peaceful concentration, like one of his own pastel sketches.

His home is set well back from Ekamai Road, so there is time for the clutter of cars to give way to the spaciousness of well-kept grounds as one approaches his sanctuary. Still, it's difficult to make out the slim, upright figure. But Seni's thatch of silver hair invariably sets him off, like some elegant small bird.

When awareness of a visitor breaks his meditation, the stillness is transformed—after the offer of coffee or ice water—into a stream of words. They are never harsh. They are always thoughtful and evocative in often humorous response to questions about past, present, and future. Over many days their gentle, almost casual depth marks this quiet aristocrat as a truly extraordinary democrat in his own country of Thailand, in all Southeast Asia, and in the frequently discouraging worldwide search for freedom and responsibility in the affairs of individuals and nations.

Mom Rajawongse—freely translated as Prince but really meaning great-grandson of a king— Seni Pramoj (the j in the family name is pronounced as d) has been prime minister of Thailand four times, each time at a decisive juncture in the long Thai struggle for political freedom. Yet at the age of ninety he is little known by his own people, except in a special way by the thousands of lawyers and law students he has taught in the classroom or through legal textbooks.

Few Americans realize that Seni inaugurated singlehandedly one of the most astonishing chapters in U.S. involvement in World War II. As the young Thai envoy to Washington when Japanese forces bombed Pearl Harbor and occupied his country in December 1941, he refused to deliver Bangkok's declaration of war on the United States to Secretary of State Cordell Hull.

-22-

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Thailand's Struggle for Democracy: The Life and Times of M. R. Seni Pramoj
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Thailand's Struggle for Democracy - The Life and Times of M.R. Seni Pramoj *
  • Contents *
  • Foreword Stephen Solarz ix
  • Preface xvii
  • Introduction Finding Democracy in Asia 1
  • 1: An Extraordinary Democrat 22
  • 2: The Development of a Nonconformist 30
  • 3: The Undelivered Declaration of War 46
  • 4: Standing Firm Against the British 63
  • 5: Opposing Dictatorship 101
  • 6: The Student Revolution 133
  • 7: Betrayal of a Reborn Dream 165
  • 8: The Dead Hand of the Past 197
  • 9: The Struggle Renewed 222
  • 10: A People United 252
  • 11: Facing Economic and External Pressures 297
  • 12: Alone on the Sharp Edge 316
  • Bibliographical Note 330
  • Chronology 333
  • Index 345
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