Seni Pramoj was born May 26, 1905 as a descendant of 19th century King Rama II of Siam.
He was educated at Trent College before earning his law degree from Worchester College, Oxford, England.
He continued his studies at Gray’s Inn, London before returning to Thailand to study Thai Law.
Then after six months as a trainee at the Supreme Court, he started to work at the Justice Civil Court.
In 1932, the Siamese revolution was led by a group of young military officers and civil servants known as the Khana Ratsadon.
The Khana Ratsadon held key figures, ministers who were of the royal blood as hostages while the king, Rama VII, was at his summer palace in Hua Hin.
The coup, usually called ‘The Revolution of 1932’, transformed the Government of Siam from an absolute to a constitutional monarchy.
King Rama VII Prajadhipok initially accepted this change, granting the Constitution but later abdicated from his position due to conflicts with the government.
The revolutionary government decided to install his ten-year old nephew, Ananda Mahidol as the new monarch.
Upon his abdication, King Prajadhipok said that the duty of a ruler was to reign for the good of the whole people, not for a selected few.
Within a decade Thai politics ran into turmoil as the revolutionary government plunged into factions; military and civilian figures.
Fear of communism, extreme revolutionary ideas and ultranationalism caused the sharp fighting among the new ruling elites.
Eventually the military faction emerged. The regime became authoritarian under the prime minister Plaek Phibunsongkhram, one of the members of the Revolutionary military wing. His regime was also famous in promoting the ‘Pan-Thaism’, the ultra-nationalist policy aiming at unifying Tai, Thai-speaking people nearby into the kingdom.
In 1939, the name of the kingdom, ‘Siam’, was officially changed to ‘Thailand.’
Then in 1940, Seni Pramoj was transferred to the Thai Foreign Ministry and sent to the United States to be the Thai ambassador.
World War II
In early January 1941, Thailand invaded French Indochina, beginning the French-Thai War. The Thais, well equipped and slightly outnumbering the French forces, easily reclaimed Laos.
The French, outnumbered the Thai navy force, thus earning a decisive victory at the naval Battle of Koh Chang.
The Japanese mediated the conflict, and a general armistice was declared on January 28, 1941. On May 9, 1941, a peace treaty was signed in Tokyo, with the French being coerced by the Japanese into relinquishing their hold on the disputed territories.
Then on December 8, 1941, a few hours after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Empire of Japan demanded the right to move troops across Thailand to the Malayan frontier.
Japan invaded the country and engaged the Thai Army for six to eight hours before Plaek Pibulsonggram ordered an armistice.
Shortly thereafter Japan was granted free passage, and on December 21,1941, Thailand and Japan signed a military alliance with a secret protocol wherein Tokyo agreed to help Thailand regain territories lost to the British and French.
Subsequently, Thailand undertook to ‘assist’ Japan in its war against the Allies, while at the same time maintaining an active anti-Japanese resistance movement known as the Seri Thai.
On January 25, 1942, Thailand declared war on the United States and the United Kingdom.
The same day the United Kingdom, New Zealand and the Union of South Africa declared war on Thailand.
However, in the U.S., Thailand Ambassador Seni Pramoj refused to deliver the declaration of war.
Instead, he considered working with the Thai resistance movement Seri Thai.
Following a late morning interview with Secretary Cordell Hull on December 8, Seni returned to his legation to confer with his staff.
The Thai ambassador and his staff unanimously decided to cast their lot with the Allies.
Late the same afternoon, Seni Pramoj returned to the State Department to offer his services to the Allied cause. Blaming pro-Japanese elements for the early Thai surrender, he spoke to Hull of unfreezing Thai assets in the United States for further prosecution of the war and suggested that the Thais in the country might “organise and preserve a government of true patriotic, liberty-loving Thais while his government is in the clutches of Japan.”
The State Department decided to act as if Seni continued to represent Thailand.
This enabled him to tap into the frozen Thai assets.
When asked to draw up a list of “reliable and influential Thai nationals known to be definitely patriotic and anti-Japanese” by the State Department (at the suggestion of John P. Davies), Seni named Regent Pridi Phanomyong, politicians Khuang Aphaiwong and Wilat Osathanon, and diplomats Phraya Sisena and Direk Jayanama as “reliables”.
Seni advanced plans to mobilize Thai volunteers in support of the Allies.
As a result, the Thailand Ambassador Seni Pramoj also received assistance from the United States Office of Strategic Services (OSS).
Then, after the war, thanks in large part to Seni Pramoj, Thailand emerged as an ally of the United States.
Seni Pramoj became Prime Minister on September 17, 1945, the day he returned to Bangkok. However, he found his position as the head of a cabinet packed with Pridi’s loyalists quite uncomfortable.
Northeastern populist politicians like Tiang Sirikhanth and Bangkok newcomers like Sanguan Tularaksa were not people the aristocratic Seni preferred to associate with. They, in turn, viewed Seni as an elitist who was entirely out of touch with Thailand’s political realities.
Pridi continued to wield power behind the scenes as he had done during the Khuang government. The regent’s looming presence and overarching authority rankled the proud, thin-skinned Seni, fuelling a personal animosity that would poison Thailand’s postwar politics.
Seni Pramoj subsequently joined the newly formed Democrat Party in 1946, which was for the most part made up of royalists and conservative reactionaries.
Seni soon got his revenge, however.
Thailand King Ananda Mahidol (Rama VIII) died in 1946 under somewhat mysterious circumstances, the official explanation being that he shot himself by accident while cleaning his gun.
In the immediate aftermath of King Ananda Mahidol’s death Seni and his party launched relentless attacks against the government and accused Pridi of being responsible for the king’s assassination, the implausibility of the charge notwithstanding.
In November of 1947 the Democrat Party cooperated with disgruntled army officers to oust the government of Thawan Thamrongnawasawat. As part of the deal, Seni was awarded a cabinet portfolio in Khuang’s coup-installed cabinet.
Seni remained active in the Democrat Party during this period of military rule.
He served again briefly as prime minister from February 17 to March 17, 1975, when he was defeated and replaced by his younger brother, Mom Rajawongse Kukrit Pramoj.
However, Kukrit’s government only lasted until April 21, 1976, when Seni regained the top political office.
Seni’s final term was a time of crisis in the nation of Thailand.
A rightwing backlash against leftist student demonstrators culminated in the Thammasat University massacre on October 6, 1976, and the military forced him out of office.
Seni decided to resign as the leader of the Democrat Party and left politics permanently.
He worked as a lawyer until his retirement.
Seni Pramoj died July 28, 1997 at the age of 92.
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