Monarchists and royalists on lese majeste

17 06 2012

PPT has finally had the time to compose a comment on two recent discussions of lese majeste. We think both efforts, while useful in keeping the issue on the international agenda, were problematic.

At Siam Voices, Lisa Gardner has a bit of detail on the “Rhetoric and Dissent: Where to next for Thailand’s lèse majesté law?” discussion from a week or so ago. The discussion involved two of the respected and aged gentlemen of Thai studies, Sulak Sivaraksa and Benedict Anderson along with two younger generation journalists,  Pravit Rojanaphruk and Andrew MacGregor Marshall.

Frankly, we found the discussion rambling and not particularly revealing of anything new. Still, that probably shows how far things have moved on monarchy and lese majeste in recent years. The comments we felt were most problematic were from the outspoken Sulak. While he has been on the receiving end of lese majeste charges in the past, this doesn’t mean that everything he says on the topic makes sense.

We agree with Sulak that: “If journalists had more guts, if they can speak critically, openly, things would change enormously – but they all avoid the issues…”. He’s certainly right when he observes:

I think, on the whole, people don’t take the monarchy as that sacred, that wonderful, as they try to tell you in the media. As they try to tell you in educational institutes.

His comment on the greed of the Crown Property Bureau is also worth repeating:

I think if the monarch (keeps) clear from the greed that is the Crown Property Bureau – if they’re clear from the army, which represent power – I think the monarchy will become less powerful. Like it used to be….

But we stop agreeing there. His next claim is that: “I think the King made it very clear. The case of LM – each case – harms him personally and undermines the monarchy. He made that very clear…”. PPT thinks, and we’ve said it several times, this is a patently false claim. In fact, Sulak knows it. In one of his own cases, the Royal Household Bureau was crucial in determining that he should be “taught a lesson.” Following the king’s statement on lese majeste, nothing changed except that cases have increased. Not only was the king’s statement far from clear, but we find it astounding that anyone can think that if the king wanted the law changed that it wouldn’t be done.

Sulak then asks:

But why [d]oes this government not carry out the King’s wishes? Because Thaksin [Shinawatra] wants more and more cases of lese-majeste, to undermine the King and to harm him personally…

For PPT, this is utter nonsense. It is clear that the Thaksin-Yingluck position is defined by their belief that the lese majeste law is non-negotiable. The Army, other ultra-royalists and the palace have made this plain.

It is not just the current government that has kept the law. The government led by privy counselor Surayud Chulanont was perfectly placed to implement the king’s supposed will. It didn’t. Perhaps the biggest user of the law against political opponents – the Abhisit Vejjajiva government – was less likely to do the king’s alleged will yet we don’t Abhisit and his lot thought they were doing the king’s will by throwing red shirts in jail.

Sulak’s claim is largely driven by his anti-Thaksin politics. He claimed his most recent lese majeste case was a result of Thaksin trying to get him. Frankly, we doubt this for several reasons, not least being that Sulak is simply not as politically significant as he thinks he is.

We now turn to the recent Al Jazeera program on lese majeste. We posted the link a couple of days ago, and have just had a chance to watch the show. There was much of interest in the first half of the story and quite a lot of it  very sensible.

The first scene that caught our attention was when self-described ultra-royalist Taweesak Suthakavatin explained why the monarchy is so important for him and Thais in general. He states that Thais are not suited to “Western” democracy because they are not rational in politics! Because they are prone to patronage, Thais are best off with the supposedly benevolent king at the head of the patronage system. Thus  Taweesak manages to denigrate Thais as incapable of engaging in politics and in need of a stern and loving father.

Remarkably, half of the Al Jazeera show is handed over to an interview with a monarchist (Sulak, again) and two royalists (Tul Sitthisomwong and Panitan Wattanayagorn). We’re not sure why the producers decided on these three, but having Sulak as the “opposed to lese majeste” speaker against an academic who has sold his soul and services to the military and the so-called Democrat Party and the clown royalist Tul is a strange combination.

Sulak says pretty much the same as he does in the above-mentioned discussion. In this program, though, he comes across as sensible and reliable when compared with the dolts Tul and Panitan.

Panitan is the most annoying because he seems to want to reinvent himself as a disinterested academic. For example, when asked why there are calls for the lese majeste law to be amended, his first point is that the law has been vigorously used in recent years. He doesn’t mention that he was the spokesman for the government that most abused this law, and that he wholly supported throwing political opponents in jail. When he adds that “several divisive groups have tried to use the law to their own advantage,” he is demonstrating a remarkable degree of arrogance.

His arrogance is meant to mask his deliberate deceptions. When asked about the misuse of the law, he does not mention the government he served and their repeated use of the law against political opponents. When he says anything about the Abhisit government it is to claim that its committee on lese majeste, which oversaw the biggest rise ever in cases charged, dropped a case against BBC journalist Jonathan Head. PPT has seen no independent evidence for this claim, and when we heard Panitan earlier on lese majeste at the FCCT, he made no mention of this. When he speaks of prosecutions he makes it sound like those charged are somewhere other than in jail.

Does he really believe that he will not be seen as a dissembler and a charlatan? Panitan can’t help himself as he arrogantly lies and conjures fantasies with no hint of shame.

He’s more real when he speaks of the lese majeste law as important for national security and when he babbles about the king being vital for everything Thai and for the “well-being” of the country. That’s the line that allows the law to be endlessly abused.

Panitan supports the law, and Sulak makes him look rather silly when he declares the law “antiquated, old-fashioned, useless.”

Having Tul on the program is pretty much a waste of space. He’s indisputably vacuous and has a single line: don’t change the law. He simply can’t explain why in any cogent way.  When listening to him rail against red shirts and that 3-15 years in jail for offenders is a reasonable sentence, he demonstrates a breathtaking ignorance.

There’s much more from Tul and Panitan that is bizarre, fatuous and untruthful. We could say that they come across as the Laurel and Hardy of lese majeste, but that would be insulting to the great comedy duo.

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