Attacking Bowornsak on petitioning the king

10 08 2009

The Nation (9 August 2009: “Red shirts are ‘within rights’ to petition King”) has a really very interesting report that provides something of a historical perspective on petitions to the king and their political use.

It concerns statements by Borwornsak Uwanno opposing the petition by UDD-red shirts seeking a “royal pardon” for former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

Speaking to religious and local leaders assembled at the parliament, Borwornsak claimed that the red shirt petition “had brought division to society and was destructive of Thai culture because the petitioners had an ulterior motive in citing a massive number of people behind the move. He told the leaders to help bring peace to society and not let a group of people cite the achievement of one person to [be] compared with His Majesty the King, who had worked hard for 63 years for his subjects.” He opined: “You are our only hope, because we cannot see hope in the government leaders…”.

The irony of a legal scholar who is Secretary-General of the supposedly democracy-promoting King Prajadhipok Institute, speaking in the parliament and denigrating politicians in such a way should not be ignored. But for a died-in-the-wool royalist, such a move must seem natural.

PPT has posted on Borwornsak previously, here, here, and here.

Bowornsak was also head of the King Prajadhipok Institute before he became cabinet secretary-general under Thaksin. Long one of Thailand’s “public intellectuals,” he readily switches jobs and political alliances, writing commentaries for the media, taking government positions and maintaining links to the academy. Following the 2006 coup, he was appointed by the military junta to the National Legislative Assembly. That appointment came under critical comment because he was a late defector from Thaksin’s government.

Commenting on Bowornsak’s repeated opposition to the UDD petition, Pichit Chuenban who is one of Thaksin’s lawyers, compared the Thaksin petition to a petition in 1988 to force then prime minister General Prem Tinsulanonda not to seek another term. Pichit claimed this petition was a precedent for the current petition. He also pointed out that the 1988 petition was signed by 99 academics, including Borwornsak, who politically opposed Prem and did so through a public petitioning of the king. How times have changed with former enemies are now sworn allies!

It included others who also oppose the Thaksin petition, including Chirmsak Pinthong and Thongthong Chandrangsu. PPT notes that one of the organizers of the anti-Prem petition was Chai-Anan Samudavanija (see here), now a PAD ideologue and leading critic of the Thaksin petition. All these royalists consider “political” petitions to be wrong.

As Pichit points out, “What Borwornsak did is called a political petition, is it not? What Thaksin’s supporters are filing is not a political petition, because they are suffering from economic and political distress and they have the right to seek Royal clemency to alleviate their plight. They are not just seeking a Royal pardon for Thaksin…”. Pichit also accused Borworksak of “citing laws and regulations that had been scrapped long ago in opposing the petition.”

In response, 1988 petitioner Chirmsak determined that his actions were different. The petition he signed was “aimed at persuading Prem to step down as an unelected prime minister and that no Royal pardon had been sought for anyone at that time.”

Meanwhile, responding Prime Minister Abhist Vejjajiva’s claim that the Thaksin petition was illegal, Peua Thai Party spokesman Prompong Nopparit pointed out that Abhisit had in his time petitioned the king for a royally appointed prime minister. This was back in 2006, when PAD called for the use of Article 7 of the then 1997 constitution to get rid of the Thaksin as prime minister.

PPT questions the very idea of being able to petition a king for anything in a democracy. However, under the current conditions, the arguments about the legality and appropriateness of the move, combined with the historical ironies and side-switching noted above, make for interesting political times. Using a royalist idea that is a part of the monarchy’s ideological position as a political ploy is a neat move, causing the royalists to become spitting mad.


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