Friday, September 2, 2011

Siam in Transition - Part I

Thanks to Better World Books I got yet another antiquarian book on Thai topics at a very competitive price - Kenneth P. Landon's Siam in Transition first published in 1939 and reprinted in 1968. The book was his dissertation to get a Ph.D. in comparative religion. He was staying in Siam since 1927, working as a Presbyterian priest. But though the book focuses on religious topics, it also contains a lot of general items of Siam in the times of the transition between absolute monarchy to democracy. Most interesting for me is obviously the chapter on political trends, especially the "trend towards decentralization". The first part I am quoting from the book is the description of the central government structure, which except the Monthon is still almost identical today. In a second posting I will quote the description of the local government, i.e. the municipal administration.
The general trend has been to allow the administration to become more and more a local matter. Formerly the country was divided into Circles or Montons, over each of which was a Lord Lieutenant or Tetsa. The Monton is comparable to the Province in China, or to the State in the United States. Each Circle or Monton was divided into Cangwats, comparable to the American county. Each Cangwat had a Governor. The Cangwat again was divided into Amphoes which were in turn divided into Tambols. These last two divisions were lesser divisions of the area into districts. Finally each Tambol was divided into villages. For example, Monton Bhuket had five Cangwat. One of these Cangwat was Cangwat Trang which had five Amphoes. One of these Amphoes was Amphoe Tap Tiang which had about ten Tambols. The average Tambol had about ten villages. The only officials elected by the people were the village chief and the Nai Kamnan who was in charge of the Tambol. All Amphoe, Cangwat, and Monton officials were appointed from Bangkok. The officials sent out from Bangkok were frequently moved so that their administration migh be impartial. The people had little to say in matters of government. [...] The country was at one time divided into eighteen Montons. In 1926 this number was reduced to fourteen. In 1932 a further reduction was made to ten. A radical change was made in 1933 when the Monton system was abandoned and the kingdom was divided into seventy Cangwats. At the head of each Cangwat was a provincial commissioner. The high commissioners were stationed in Bangkok. Inspecting commissioners were attached to the Central Administration.

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