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Chatichai Choonhavan

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Title: Chatichai Choonhavan  
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Subject: Anand Panyarachun, Prem Tinsulanonda, Pramarn Adireksarn, History of Thailand since 1973, Siddhi Savetsila
Collection: 1920 Births, 1998 Deaths, Ambassadors of Thailand to Argentina, Ambassadors of Thailand to Austria, Ambassadors of Thailand to the Holy See, Ambassadors of Thailand to Turkey, Choonhavan Family, Deputy Prime Ministers of Thailand, Leaders Ousted by a Coup, Ministers of Defence of Thailand, National Development Party (Thailand) Politicians, People from Bangkok, People from Chenghai, Permanent Representatives of Thailand to the United Nations, Prime Ministers of Thailand, Thai Nation Party Politicians, Thai Politicians of Chinese Descent
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Chatichai Choonhavan

Chatichai Choonhavan
ชาติชาย ชุณหะวัณ
Choonhavan with George H.W. Bush at the White House in 1990
Prime Minister of Thailand
In office
August 4, 1988 – February 23, 1991
Monarch Bhumibol Adulyadej
Preceded by Prem Tinsulanonda
Succeeded by Anand Panyarachun
Personal details
Born (1920-04-05)April 5, 1920
Pom Prap Sattru Phai, Bangkok, Siam
Died May 6, 1998(1998-05-06) (aged 78)
London, United Kingdom
Nationality Thai
Political party Thai Nation Party (1974–1991)
National Development Party (1992–1998)
Spouse(s) Boonruen Choonhavan

Chatichai Choonhavan (Thai: ชาติชาย ชุณหะวัณ; rtgsChatchai Chunhawan, 5 April 1920 — 6 May 1998) was a Thai army officer, diplomat and politician. From 1986 to 1991, he was the chairman of the Thai Nation Party and served as the Prime Minister of Thailand from August 1988 until the coup d'état of February 1991.


  • Family 1
  • Education, military and diplomatic career 2
  • Political career 3
    • Premiership 3.1
    • Disempowerment and return 3.2
  • Personal life 4
  • References 5


Chatichai was the only son of Field Marshal Phin Choonhavan and Khunying Wibhulak Choonhavan. He is of Thai Chinese descent;[1] his ancestors originated from the Chenghai District of Shantou City, Guangdong Province, China.[2][3][4] His father was the Commander-in-Chief of the Royal Thai Army from 1948 to 1954 and exerted a strong influence on the country's politics and economy. Chatichai had four sisters; the eldest was married to General Phao Siyanon, who was one of Thailand's strongmen during the 1950s.[5] Another sister married Pramarn Adireksarn, who later became Chatichai's political companion. Chatichai married Boonruen Sopoj, a relative and confidante of Princess Mother Srinagarindra—the mother of kings Ananda Mahidol and Bhumibol Adulyadej.[6]

Chatichai and Boonruen had a son and a daughter. Their daughter is Wanee Hongpraphas, and their son is the political scientist, social activist and former Senator Kraisak Choonhavan.[7]

Education, military and diplomatic career

Chatichai studied at Debsirin School, a long-standing, prestigious, all-boys school in Bangkok, and at the Chulachomklao Royal Military Academy. He entered active military service as second lieutenant and platoon leader in the "cavalry" (i.e. tank force) in 1940. During World War II, he was assigned to the Phayap Army ("Northwest Army"), that was under the command of his father Phin, and participated in the conquest of Burma. After the end of the war, he continued his training at the Thai Army Cavalry School and the United States Army Armor School in Fort Knox, Kentucky. In 1949, he was appointed military attaché in Washington, D.C.[8] At the age of 31, Chatichai was a Major-General.

In 1951, the military, led by Chatichai's father and his brother-in-law Phao Siyanon, effectively assumed power in Thailand in a "Silent Coup". They used their political influence to extend their activities in the economic sphere. Chatichai served in the Korean War as the commander of the 1st cavalry battalion. Then, he became director and commander of the Thai Army Armor School. In 1957, Field Marshal Sarit Thanarat—a rival of Chatichai's father and brother-in-law—staged a coup d'état against the government of Prime Minister Plaek Phibunsongkhram. He ousted the Phin-Phao clique and filled the important political and military posts with his own followers. The new regime accused the Choonhavan clan (also known as the Soi Rajakru clan, after the family's residence) of having embezzled millions of US dollars of public funds and hiding them in Swiss bank accounts. This ended Chatichai's military career.[5]

Chatichai was transferred to the diplomatic service and assigned to the relatively unimportant post of ambassador to Argentina.[5] During the following years he consecutively served as the Thai ambassador to Austria, Switzerland, Turkey, Yugoslavia, the Holy See,[9] and the United Nations. In 1972, he returned to Bangkok to become the director of the Foreign Ministry's political department.[10]

Political career

In the government of Field Marshal Dawee Chullasapya negotiated with the terrorists. In exchange for the release of the Israeli diplomats, they lent themselves as guarantees and accompanied the terrorists on their freedom flight to Cairo.[11] Chatichai continued as deputy foreign minister after the 1973 democratic uprising, serving in the interim cabinet of Sanya Dharmasakti. In December 1973, one and a half years before Thailand officially established diplomatic relations with the People's Republic of China, Chatichai and Dawee—who was then minister of defense—were the first Thai government officials to visit Beijing. There, they negotiated a contract on the supply of 50,000 tons of diesel oil at a "friendship price" and promised to remove trade barriers between the two nations.[12][13]

In 1974, Chatichai and his in-laws Pramarn Adireksarn and Siri Siriyothin—who were Major-Generals like him—founded the conservative and aggressively anti-communist Thai Nation Party (Chart Thai).[14] It ran in the January 1975 general election, the first democratic election after the end of military dictatorship, and became the third-strongest party. Chatichai was elected Member of Parliament, representing a constituency in Nakhon Ratchasima Province. The Thai Nation Party joined a government coalition under Kukrit Pramoj; Chatichai served as minister of foreign affairs. After the snap election in April 1976, in which the Thai Nation Party expanded its share of seats significantly, he was minister of industry in the government of Seni Pramoj until it was overthrown by a military coup d'état after the Thammasat University massacre of 6 October 1976. From 1980 to 1983, Chatichai served as industry minister under Prime Minister Prem Tinsulanonda. After three years of opposition, the party returned to government and Chatichai was Deputy Prime Minister under Prem.[10]


The Thai Nation Party won the most votes in the Eastern Seaboard of Thailand and road and rail networks in partnership with the Mass Rapid Transit Authority (MRTA) in the Greater Bangkok Area. During Chatichai's premiership, Thailand's economy saw annual growth rates of up to 13%.[9]

Under Chatichai's government, there was rampant corruption. The parties and politicians in Chatichai's coalition scrambled overtly over the distribution of public funds. The Thai press dubbed them the "buffet cabinet",[16] referring to their "take-what-you-like" mentality.[17] Chatichai's standard answer whenever he was confronted by the press with difficulties or corruption allegations against members of his government was "no problem".[9] A parody variant, "no plomplam", became the title of a popular song by folk rock singer Aed Carabao and entered Thai common parlance.[18] Chatichai was heavily criticized when he tried to downplay the damage caused by Typhoon Gay, which resulted in 360 deaths, in the same way.[19]

The formerly right-wing Thai Nation Party had de-ideologized itself and now represented the interests of the rising class of provincial businessmen. It pursued policies that facilitated their businesses and involved them in lucrative government contracts. It advocated a reinforcement of the role of Parliament, in which politicians from the provinces were strongly represented, in contrast with the unelected power elites in administration and military which had made political decisions during the tenure of Chatichai's predecessor Prem Tinsulanonda. Chatichai's government emphasized the economic development of the periphery at the cost of Bangkok's big business and the military expenditure which it tried to cut.[20] By this policy, Chatichai challenged the country's traditional elites.[21]

Disempowerment and return

On 23 February 1991, the Commander-in-Chief of the Royal Thai Army, General Sunthorn Kongsompong, and the generals of the Chulalongkorn Military Academy class 5, Suchinda Kraprayoon, Issarapong Noonpakdi and Kaset Rojananil, formed the National Peace Keeping Council to depose Chatichai's government in a coup d'état. They accused the elected government of massive corruption and abuse of power for its own advantage. They charged several cabinet members, including Chatichai, with "unusual wealth". At the same time, they acted in the interest of the traditional elite of the bureaucracy, military and Bangkokian business circles, whose influence the Chatichai government had sought to curtail.[22][23] The coup group denoted the form of governance under Chatichai as "parliamentary dictatorship"[24] and alleged a moral decline.[25]

Chatichai temporarily went into exile in the United Kingdom. After his return, he continued his political activity. After the 1992 Black May, he founded the National Development Party and was again elected in his constituency in Nakhon Ratchasima.

Personal life

Chatichai was known for his fondness of cigars, fine wines and Harley Davidson motorcycles.[9] Even in old age, he practiced several sports and visited parties and discothèques, earning him a reputation of being a playboy.[26][27]

On 6 May 1998, at the age of 78, Chatichai died from liver cancer in a hospital in London .[9]


  1. ^ Chinese adopt patriotism of their new homes
  2. ^ (Chinese) 创温州土地拍卖史新高 绿城33亿拍得温州地王
  3. ^ (Chinese) 曾经叱咤风云的泰国政坛澄海人
  4. ^ (Chinese) 潮汕人
  5. ^ a b c Judy Stowe (7 May 1998), "Obituary Chatichai Choonhavan",  
  6. ^ (Thai)แม่เล่าให้ฟังสมเด็จพระเจ้าพี่นางเธอ เจ้าฟ้ากัลยาณิวัฒนา กรมหลวงนราธิวาสราชนครินทร์,
  7. ^ (Thai) ผู้จัดการออนไลน์ 9 มิถุนายน 2547
  8. ^ "Chatichai Choonhavan; Former Thai Prime Minister". Los Angeles Times. 7 May 1998. Archived from the original on 16 March 2014. 
  9. ^ a b c d e Seth Mydans (7 May 1998). "Chatichai Choonhavan, 76, Ex-Prime Minister of Thailand".  
  10. ^ a b General Chatichai Junhavan: Biography, Secretariat of the Cabinet of Thailand 
  11. ^ Michael Leifer (1996), "Chatichai Choonhavan", Dictionary of the modern politics of South-East Asia, Routledge, p. 48 
  12. ^ Gene T. Hsiao (1977), The Foreign Trade of China: Policy, Law, and Practice, Berkeley/Los Angeles:  
  13. ^ Kim Woodard (1980), The International Energy Relations of China, Stanford, CA:  
  14. ^ David Murray (1996), Angels and Devils: Thai Politics from February 1991 to September 1992 – A Struggle for Democracy?, White Orchid Press, p. 32 
  15. ^ Balázs Szalontai, From Battlefield into Marketplace: The End of the Cold War in Indochina, 1985-9. In: Artemy Kalinovsky and Sergey Radchenko (eds.), The End of the Cold War in the Third World. New Perspectives on Regional Conflict (London: Routledge, 2011), p. 155. Downloadable at ; William S. Turley (1993), "More Friends, Fewer Enemies: Vietnam and Indochina-ASEAN Reconciliation", East Asian Security in the Post-Cold War Era (M. E. Sharpe): 178 
    Mark G. Rolls (1994), "Thailand's Post-Cold War Security Policy and Defence Programme", Post-Cold War Security Issues in the Asia-Pacific Region (Frank Cass & Co.): 97 
    Pavin Chachavalpongpun (2012), "Thailand: The enigma of bamboo diplomacy", Routledge Handbook of Diplomacy and Statecraft (Routledge): 207 
  16. ^  
  17. ^ Surin Maisrikrod (2008), "Civil Society, Accountability and Governance in Thailand: A Dim Case of Participatory Democracy", Globalization and its counter-forces in Southeast Asia ( 
  18. ^ Southeast Asian Affairs 1991, Singapur: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 1991, p. 304 
  19. ^ "Thailand: Typhoon Hit",  
  20. ^ Pasuk; Baker (1997), Power in transition, pp. 31–32 
  21. ^ Kevin Hewison (1997), "Introduction: Power, oppositions and democratisation", Political Change in Thailand: 1 
  22. ^ Pasuk; Baker (1997), Power in transition, p. 28 
  23. ^  
  24. ^ Michael K. Connors (1997), "When the dogs howl: Thailand and the politics of democratization", At the Edge of International Relations: Postcolonialism, Gender and Dependency (Continuum): 133 
  25. ^ John Girling (1997), Corruption, Capitalism and Democracy, Routledge, p. 65 
  26. ^ David Murray (1991). "The coup d'etat in Thailand, 23 February, 1991: Just another Coup?". Perth: Indian Ocean Centre for Peace Studies. p. 38. 
  27. ^ "That's a bit better",  
Political offices
Preceded by
Prem Tinsulanonda
Prime Minister of Thailand
Succeeded by
Anand Panyarachun
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