Thai Law of Rule

8 10 2009

Lese majeste, fearless speech and the price of truth-telling

By a PPT Guest Contributor

Also available as กฎหมายแบบไทยๆ: กฎหมายหมิ่นฯ ความปากกล้า และราคาที่ต้องจ่ายเมื่อพูดความจริง

Actually I must also be criticised… if you say the King cannot be criticised, it means that the King is not human. If you rule out all criticism as a violation, the damage is done to the King. That the King can do no wrong is an insult to the King (His Majesty Bhumipol Adulyadej 2005 Annual speech)

The barbaric sentencing of pro-Thaksin’s ‘red shirt’ democracy activist Daranee Charnchoengsilapakul (Da Torpedo) to 18 years in prison, for her anti-2006 coup ‘offensive’ speech and ‘insult’ to monarchy under draconian lese majeste law, shows Thailand to be a land of ‘make believe’ democracy with a European fascist will to control every aspect of life as a national security issue. Thai people are not educated, to be active democratic citizens, but rather trained in Thainess. Such values as being obedient, docile, disciplined subjects (see M. K. Connors, Democracy and National Identity in Thailand, NIAS, 2007) who unquestioningly believe in the sacred truth of the ‘unholy Thai trinity’ Nation, Monarchy and Religion and the lie that rule in Thailand is fundamentally different from that in Burma.

Behind red and yellow shirts, the ubiquitous Thai smile, is it the military, monks, market, or the monarchy who exercises ‘sovereign’ political power? Sino-Thai Bangkok capitalist ‘rulers’, upholding royalism in alliance with the military, imagine Thai society as unified, tranquil, ordered pure Buddhist polity governed by righteous virtue and natural law. If everything was for the ‘karmic’ best in the kingdom, how, as David Streckfuss poses (Truth on Trial in Thailand, Routledge, 2009) “can the institution of the monarchy be so utterly loved if it requires the most repressive lese majeste law the modern world has ever known?” Reverence and love are forced: all Thais love the ‘semi-divine’ king, but they are not free to express anything other than unconditional love and undying patriotic loyalty! Could a person, actually, be Thai if they do not love the king? If, they are a republican or a Malay Muslim? Lese majeste accusations in Thailand function in an anti-Western repressive politics to silence the possibility of open democratic discussion.

Thai lese majeste law shows the intersection and collapse of boundaries between law and violence, might and right in an ‘immoral’ society of interminable crises, coups and massacres. Enter Carl Schmitt’s notion of ‘he who decides the state of emergency is sovereign’, not a monarch, and exercises sovereign political power to indefinitely suspend the rule of law and any constitution to crush imaginary ‘enemies within’ and prevent anarchy. Military power is used to protect the institution of monarchy as a sacred sign of authentic Thainess, but under the guise of enforcing its authority ‘elite’ interests are promoted; this shows the royal ‘signifier’ to be a medium of power-politics, mundane and weak! As the leading Thai socialist critic Giles Ji Ungpakorn (currently in political exile in the UK) phrases the question “Is the sovereign an all powerful ‘spider’ in a web, or an ensnared fly being used and manipulated by others?” Thai law seems supremely indifferent to justice, truth and reason, as it is a mentality of rule whose authority is ‘mystical’ and enforced by violence. In judging lese majeste what counts is not ‘the truth’ but imputing and assigning an individuals intentions- motives and their (hypothetical) effects upon ‘public order and morality’, not whether it was for the greater public good and social justice. Thai law determines guilt by the criteria of being loyal patriotic subjects! It is a law of only one way to be Thai.

Lese majeste is not the real issue, it is just a symptom of ‘wise, ancient and beautiful traditions’, like a non-elected head of state, used to promote the ‘silence of servitude’ and to control any attempt to practice democracy in Thailand. The majesty of military might in Thai politics permits everything, except people’s sovereignty and egalitarian forms of life. Human rights and the rule of law are just obligatory signs, which have to be displayed in the ‘anarchical society’ of world nation-states. In supreme Buddhist irony, they are void of meaning and force. For freedom to flourish, people need not feel gratitude to and obey cultural commands of the ‘big people’ and ‘elders’; this is not Thai virtue, but a servile culture of abjection, which produces right-wing ‘mumbo jumbo’ like: ‘the Buddhist law of impermanence states that lese majeste arises, exists and perishes. Nothing is permanent. The only permanent thing is impermanence’! What will be lost if Thainess is rejected? For it always places common people underfoot and crawling on their knees before sacred idols and illusions when they should be equal, upright and face to face.


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12 10 2009



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