With major update: TIME on the monarchy

8 05 2010

TIME magazine’s 17 May 2010 edition and its story on the monarchy deserves comment.

The story is somewhat odd. It begins by comparing the barely audible and repetitive recent speech to judges by an apparently physically enfeebled Thai king to that of Japan’s emperor at the end of World War 2. At the time, many outside Japan considered the emperor a war criminal.

The point of the comparison isn’t entirely clear for PPT. The author seems to make a comparison that sees a transition: “I thought of the Showa Emperor’s historic speech — and his postwar evolution into a gentle figurehead with a penchant for top hats and marine biology — when another monarch recently took to the airwaves.” Does she mean that the Thai king is to become a “figurehead” after years of domestic political struggle? Or does she see that both men were at the end of their periods of greatest political influence?

Whatever the comparison, we think Hannah Beech gets several things wrong. When she says: “Though considered above the jugular cut and thrust of Thai politics, the constitutional monarch has, on rare occasion, interceded to alleviate crises.” She writes only of a “moral authority.” This is a misrepresentation of the palace’s continuous meddling in politics and ignores the significance of the political symbolism of the monarchy. Serious journalist know this, so we assume that Beech is getting in line an avoiding the palace’s wrath.

Several prime ministers, including Chuan Leekpai, have attested to the constant need to heed those in and around the palace on all manner of political decisions, including police, military, judicial and bureaucratic promotions, development projects, security matters, and so on. The monarchy’s symbolic role has been huge, from bolstering the armed forces, supporting counterinsurgency, and anointing coup makers to ensuring that democracy is defined in royalist terms.

Beech also comes up with the now standard view that in “a 2005 speech, the King said he was not above criticism, leading some to wonder whether the lèse-majesté law might be amended. But since then, governments both yellow and red have declined to do so.”

PPT thinks this is a misrepresentation that actually provides support for the use of the law. After all, if the king really did say that he could be criticized, then it is venal others who “use” the monarchy for their own purposes. Only a day or so ago we posted on a newly-revealed lese majeste investigation that claims the direct involvement of palace officials. This is not an isolated case.

The statement that various governments have declined to amend the law is true, although it ignores the Abhisit Vejjajiva government’s ardent monarchism. It diminishes the negative impacts of the government’s stated desire to prevent all criticism of the monarchy. It ignores the fact that the current government has expanded the investigation and prosecution of lese majeste and related cases. This statement ignores massive censorship and repression situated in a discourse of the monarchy as central to “national security.”

PPT can agree that “If Thailand wants to evolve into a mature democracy … it will have to accept that relying on the counsel of one man, no matter how revered, will only stunt the nation’s development.” Academic commentary made this point more than a decade ago, arguing that the palace also needed to stop meddling or it risked its own decline as a constitutional monarchy. That suggestion seems to have been ignored. Part of the reason for that has to do with an addiction to political meddling in order to build its own political and economic ascendancy.

Tepid criticism does not make up for the hagiographical journalism associated with the past 2-3 decades of reporting the palace view.

(For details of how the palace was involved in manufacturing a positive journalism – along with the US Embassy and State Department – see PPT’s historical commentary section.)


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17 01 2013
Ludicrous upper class twits « Political Prisoners in Thailand

[…] In the past, PPT has posted on Horn’s royalist and pro-Democrat Party stories (here, here, here, here, and […]

17 01 2013
Ludicrous upper class twits « Political Prisoners of Thailand

[…] In the past, PPT has posted on Horn’s royalist and pro-Democrat Party stories (here, here, here, here, and […]

20 08 2014
HRW on lese majeste repression | Political Prisoners in Thailand

[…] Reproduced in full. Our only comment is to point out that the repeated citing of the king’s 2005 speech indicates a lack of critical attention to lese majeste, an acceptance of palace propaganda and a failure to understand the monarchy’s politics or the politics at the moment of the speech. Once before we noted: […]

20 08 2014
HRW on lese majeste repression | Political Prisoners of Thailand

[…] August 20, 2014 · by Political prisoners of thailand · in Uncategorized · Leave a comment Reproduced in full from HRW. Our only comment is to point out that the repeated citing of the king’s 2005 speech indicates a lack of critical attention to lese majeste, an acceptance of palace propaganda and a failure to understand the monarchy’s politics or the politics at the moment of the speech. Once before we noted: […]




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