Calling out Abhisit on lese majeste

2 05 2011

Just a day after PPT criticized a Bangkok Post editorial for its support of lese majeste, we are prompted to applaud one of its journalists for daring to write of the political uses of lese majeste by Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva.

Achara Ashayagachat points out that, despite his promises, the premier “has done little to … review ‘over enthusiastic’ applications of lese majeste law.” Achara says that with an election looming “it is tempting to assume that Mr Abhisit’s apathy suits his interests, as the government may be using the lese majeste law to silence its critics, and bolster its own image at the same time.”

Of course, she is spot on. She says that the Abhisit government “has launched an offensive against supposed lese majeste offenders … which bears similar hallmarks of hysteria.

She recalls when Abhisit said he was “worried that police and the military were interpreting the law too strictly, given that Thais also enjoy the right to freedom of speech, within sensible limits.” But the premier has “done little about his promise since, particularly the risk that suspects could be hit with both charges under the Criminal Code and the Computer Act for the same offence. A double dose could result in more serious punishments than were ever intended when the laws were passed.”

Achara rightly observes that the use of lese majeste charges has multiplied in leaps and bounds under Abhisit.

Under the so-called Democrat Party-led coalition, “thousands of websites have been blocked.” Editors are regularly harassed if they seem oppositional and the rather bland Prachatai still finds itself subject to official blocking.

More significantly for PPT, it is clear that lese majeste is being used to neuter the influence of opposition media during the election campaign. This strategy is put in place and overseen by Army boss General Prayuth Chan-ocha.

In her report, Achara notes the “worrying” legal processes of hearing cases in “near-secrecy.”

For her, the result is the Democrat Party has taken over from the People’s Alliance for Democracy. She notes that the current lese majeste campaign “associated with the ultra-nationalism [generated by the Thai-Cambodian border dispute] and royalism which was previously the domain of some of its more radical yellow-shirt supporters.” Yet another reason for winding down PAD.

She seems to thinks that this “image” is one of extremism that “is not a healthy image for a mainstream party to be taking into the election.”

Achara concludes with these accurate and important statements: “The government has told its critics not to exploit the monarchy for political gain. Its campaign against lese majeste offences has exposed the government to the same charge: that its supposed defence of the monarchy is really just a way of currying favour with nationalist voters. Is the government’s record on the economy or social policy really so dismal that it needs to fall back on such tired old tricks? It should do as it urges its political opponents, and campaign cleanly on its record. The lese majeste campaign is politically loaded and does the government no favours.”

For PPT, however, the issue is that the Democrat Party is working for the royalist elite that controls the real power. They are worried that the party will stumble at the polls, and they have a campaign strategy that demands a win at any cost. Using the monarchy as its symbol is a part of Democrat Party history. Kukrit and Seni Pramoj used it against those he saw as republicans in the 1950s. When the royalist elite’s interests and political control are threatened, they fight with their heaviest artillery. Expect a lot more of this. And if they win, expect even more crackdowns, claiming an “electoral mandate” for crushing republicanism.


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