The curious situation of lese majeste

27 11 2011

The incredulity over the sentencing of Ampol Tangnopakul to 20 years in jail for lese majeste and computer crimes involving allegedly derogatory remarks about the monarchy in text messages remains.

Voranai Vanijaka, one of the Bangkok Post’s most widely read columnists, has a curious account of Ampol’s case in his column. It is curious because of the extreme lengths that journalists in Thailand must go for fear of infringing laws that “protect” both monarchy and the courts.

Self-censorship on the monarchy is a given for all journalists because of the fear of becoming yet another lese majeste victim and facing the purgatory of an overcrowded and unhealthy jail for years and years. There is no freedom of speech when it comes to the monarchy.

Add to that the threat from the courts. As Voranai puts it: “In Thailand, a court’s verdict is final. It’s infallible in the eyes of the law and criticising a verdict is illegal and carries both a fine and jail sentence. The universal right of freedom of speech suffers as the logical consequence of this.”

So Voranai sets out the case that was made against Ampol, showing how flawed the process was. For more details than Voranai has, there are case notes on each day of the trial here.

Then Voranai asks a truly important question: “So why is it that both sides of the political divide, while claiming to champion freedom and democracy, are so adamant about lese majeste and computer crime?” The answer is critical for the future of Thailand’s politics.

Voranai’s ponderings are reasonable, as far as they go: “Perhaps one reason is that one political camp has always flown the banner of defending the institution, and was determined to prove it. The other camp has been accused of anti-monarchy acts, and might want to prove otherwise. After all, both the Democrats [sic., these are no democrats, but a party misusing the name] and PAD [People’s Alliance for Democracy] leader Sondhi Limthongkul have challenged the Pheu Thai government to get tough on lese majeste. The Democrats have gone as far as to propose that Thailand block Facebook and YouTube.”

Yes, the Democrat Party has been, from conception, a royalist party. Democracy has only mattered for this party so long as “democracy” doesn’t threaten a state that has been built on the revival and exultation of the monarchy. For a time this party was viewed as opposed to the military, but that was only when the military was considered a bastion of anti-monarchism. “Democracy” for the Democrat Party is an elite fashioned and elite managed political option. They fear that anything other than a elite-commanded “democracy” will threaten not just the monarchy, but wealth, position and, of course, elite domination.

By determining a coordinated anti-Puea Thai government strategy with the PAD, the Democrat Party must see that is has hit on a win-win stratagem. They may bring down the government by accusing it of being disloyal to the monarchy. If not, they win anyway because, in its efforts to prove its loyalty, the Puea Thai government will do the work of the royalists for them. That work entrenches the very system that the royalists and Democrat Party have constructed over the past six decades. By further entrenching the monarchical state the ruling elite wins as its whole foundational edifice is strengthened. That’s the hope and plan.