Jory and Montesano on lese majeste

1 06 2011

Australian academic Patrick Jory and his Singapore-based colleague Michael Montesano have an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal that warrants careful consideration. The article is entitled “End the Gag on Thailand’s Citizens.”

They note that the “Electoral Commission recently warned that discussion of the monarchy will not be tolerated in the lead up to the July 3 general election.” They add that this is just the “latest in a series of warnings by government authorities designed to shut down debate about the role of the Thai monarch.” Before this, the Abhisit Vejjajiva Government had “blocked more than 100,000 websites,” imprisoned “numerous Red Shirt leaders and sympathizers” on lese majeste charges and has locked up critics and popular red shirt and leading opposition politician Jatuporn Promphan.

The latter is “as a result of a speech that he made at a rally on the anniversary of the April-May 2010 violence, in which he accused military units attached to the palace of firing on and killing Red Shirt demonstrators.”

The authors note that every attempt to close discussion leads to a growing debate. Why? They say, and PPT agrees:

This is mainly a result of the belief among large sections of the public that the ties between Privy Council Chairman Prem Tinsulanonda and the soldiers who carried out the coup of 2006, along with the subsequent appointment of a privy councilor as prime minister, mean that the palace was directly involved in the coup. Further, in the political turmoil of the past five years, the palace has on numerous occasions appeared to side with the royalist Yellow Shirt protestors, the military and the Democrat Party.

They also note the growing chorus calling for reform of the monarchy “to make it more democratic. The proposals include reforming or abolishing the lèse-majesté law and ending the constitutional prohibition on criticism of the king and the royal family.”

Some of the proposals they mention include:

abolishing the Privy Council, which is appointed by the king and widely believed to intervene in the country’s politics, military promotions and judicial decisions; ending the relentless promotion of the monarchy in the Thai mass media and education system; bringing the monarchy’s extensive assets and business interests under the direction of the government, … ending the practice by which the king makes speeches on politically sensitive subjects, military affairs and judicial decisions without the approval of the elected government of the day; and abolishing the custom whereby commoners are obliged to prostrate themselves before members of the royal family in Thailand—the only place in the world where this custom still exists.

They also note that the specter of republicanism lurks. The authors reckon that “royalists ought to welcome open discussion of the monarchy and its place in national life” as the monarchy’s role needs to modified to meet modern-day realities. They note that “continued suppression of discussion makes impossible” any rational discussion of the monarchy’s future.

The authors conclude that “Thais have a right to debate freely and openly the reform of the monarchy to suit a more modern and democratic future.” PPT agrees but it seems pretty clear that the royalists so not acknowledge any such right.



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