Several days ago PPT promised to look at the Truth for Reconciliation Commission report on the monarchy. We now have the time to do that. In this post we look at its recommendations on the monarchy and on lese majeste.
On the “The Monarchy under the Constitution,” the TRC has three recommendations:
Urgent: All parties stop referring to the Monarchy for the purpose of obtaining political benefit and venerate the institution as being above political wrangling.
Mid-Term: The political sector should establish a method for ensuring that the Monarchy is held above political conflict. Such method should be in accordance with the development of our system of democracy.
Long-Term: The state should support learning and understanding about the Monarchy and the role of the Monarchy in the democratic system. Also, promote creative and peaceful forums for the exchange of opinions.
PPT comments: The TRC adopts a perspective that sees the monarchy as approximating the claims made for it over the period of this reign in the periods where there has been a constitution and the elite decision to develop a political system that describes itself as “a democratic regime of government with the King as Head of State.” This may seem innocuous, but the terminology is deeply embedded in several constitutions and notably, as we have seen in recent months, in Section 68 of the 2007 constitution, which states:
No person shall exercise the rights and liberties prescribed in the Constitution to overthrow the democratic regime of government with the King as Head of State under this Constitution or to acquire the power to rule the country by any means which is not in accordance with the modes provided in this Constitution.
In other words, it is illegal and unconstitutional to oppose the current political regime which demands the monarchy be in place. There is no alternative. The TRC is unlikely to challenge such a stipulation, so this is the conservative starting point. Interestingly, however, the TRC implicitly acknowledges the challenge to the monarchy following its very public involvement in the 2006 coup and all the political conflict that followed. In response, it demands that the monarchy be “venerated.” In other words, it is time to reconstruct the myths associated with the monarchy and politics. This is further emphasized in the recommendation that the “state should support learning and understanding about the Monarchy and the role of the Monarchy in the democratic system.” In other words, government of whatever party or group has to work to re-establish the monarchy’s mythic position. Part of that, it seem, is creating a space where people can discus the monarchy without being charged and jailed as republicans under the lese majeste law.
On the lese majeste law, the recommendations are set out in the same manner:
Urgent: The agencies of the justice [system] should avoid enforcing the lèse majesté law by using broader interpretation than the law itself stipulates. Further, that they do not use criminal prosecution in an overly strict way with lack of direction, and not taking into account the sensitive nature of these cases. The state should promote the use of discretion by agencies in the justice system involved in the proceedings of lèse majesté in a way appropriate to the nature of the offence.
Mid-Term: The state should arrange for the process of public participation that allows a variety of opinions to find the appropriate way to the amendment of lèse majesté law.
Long-Term: The state should amend the current lese majeste laws by first studying the criminal policies of other countries that have the monarchy so as to find the appropriate approach to the amendment. The state proceeds for the integration of work of the agencies that enforce the lèse majesté law so that they can categorize and screen relevant cases to proceed.
PPT comments: The TRC implicitly acknowledges that the lese majeste law has been used for political purposes; no big news there. It calls for both less strict enforcement (which was the norm prior to the coup) and attention to the sensitive nature of the charge. In fact, the “sensitivity” of the law and monarchy is one of the reasons those charged are seldom given bail and with remarkable pressure to plead guilty so that no evidence is ever discussed in court. The suggestion that the law be amended based on experience in other countries really doesn’t move the debate anywhere, as the problem is the very existence of the law that restricts free speech and thinking. There is no serious consideration of abolishing the law.
In the end, the TRC presents a kind of “thinking royalist” – if that is not an oxymoron – approach. Amend the law, keep the law and ensure that it remains available for the protection of the monarchy and the system of government that maintains the monarchy. There’s nothing particularly new in anything the TRC says, with the older generation of royalists like Anand Panyarachun, Prawase Wasi and others have made in the past.