Calls for lese majeste reform

31 12 2011

The Bangkok Post reports briefly on the latest recommendation from the Democrat Party-established Truth for Reconciliation Committee.

The TRC “has suggested the controversial lese majeste law be amended to reduce the maximum punishment, absolve a minimum penalty, and for the Lord Chamberlain to authorise prosecution.”

This is a kind of compromise recommendation for, in his letter sent to Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, “TRC chairman Kanit na Nakorn said abolishing Article 112 of the Criminal Code, or the lese majeste law, as called for by some people would not be appropriate to Thai society.”

In saying this, Kanit is lining up with the royalists who claim a fictitious cultural basis to the draconian law. That’s what makes the call for amendment rather powerful, for Kanit says “to maintain the law as it is would not be proper either because it leaves no other option but prosecution for anybody who is accused.

The TRC proposes that the “law be amended, and that the Lord Chamberlain be authorised to screen whether to pursue a prosecution or to drop the charges altogether.” Of course, giving the palace this legal right should be unconstitutional, but it is a call that has been made for sometime as the reformists believe that this would depoliticize lese majeste.

In addition, the TRC “urged the law be revised so its application becomes more liberal. It suggested the maximum sentence be reduced from 15 years to seven, with no minimum punishment, and a fine of no more than 14,000 baht should also be added.”

That would be a minor reform, but in the current circumstances, would represent a breakthrough if the Yingluck government has the backbone required to make the minor adjustments that are recommended. Somehow we doubt it has….

Meanwhile, also at the Bangkok Post, a feature story lays out an account of how “the lese majeste law has grown to become an elephant in the room of Thai politics.”

Of course, journalists tend to ignore history, and when they state that it is only in very recent days that lese majeste has become an issue, they belittle the huge impact of the 2006 military coup that overthrew an elected government. They also neglect the times in the past when royalist regimes, often led by palace-picked leaders, have used lese majeste to repress political opponents.

That aside, and the fact that the author too readily makes inaccurate characterizations of the convictions of recent lese majeste victims, the account provided is reasonably sound and worth reading.

Chulalongkorn University’s Thitinan Pongsudhirak says that: “The lese majeste law has become a battleground in Thailand’s political divide which pits monarchists on one side and electoral democrats on the other…”.

Quoting from author David Streckfuss, the article notes how lese majeste is about a “profound contest of ideologies that are rarely discussed.” Streckfuss is cited:

Barely hidden beneath the surface of the growing debate around the law and its use are the most basic issues defining the relationship between those in power and the governed; equality before the law, rights and liberties, the source of sovereign power, and even the system of government of the polity _ whether Thailand is to be primarily a constitutional monarchy, a democratic system of governance with the King as head of state, or a democracy.

Thitinan adds:

More LM cases are likely next year and beyond. Without amendments, the LM law risks becoming a self-fulfilling situation whereby it generates unintended anti-monarchy sentiments by stifling the freedom of fair expression….

Stalwart political analyst Chris Baker agrees that:”The use of the LM law and the Computer Crimes Act is counterproductive…”. He adds that every use of Article 112 “provokes more criticism than it prevents.”

Thitinan and Baker apparently agree that the law needs to be amended. The latter says: “Thailand has updated other laws in line with the times and the world. This is a glaring exception. Every new case serves to undermine the institution and damages Thailand in the eyes of the world…”.

PPT sort of agrees, but also argues that the lese majeste law is more in line with the Streckfuss interpretation, which has lese majeste as symbolic of a broader struggle. Hence, talk of the law undermining the “institution” misses the most basic point of the struggle to remake Thailand’s politics.

Streckfuss points out that:

There is still a chance that Thailand will not topple over the precipice in facing this issue. If we show enough restraint, tolerance and generosity of spirit, we can go through this process without the acrimony that has defined so much of politics recently, and become stronger as a result.

PPT thinks the precipice may have been reached and that the decline over the top may have begun. We have stated several times that the monarchy is in decline, and that the use of the law is a signal of that. How bitter the battle is remains to be seen.



One response

2 01 2012
Kanit on lese majeste reform « Political Prisoners in Thailand

[…] politicians oppose the  calls for lese majeste reform that PPT has mentioned in recent days (here and here). […]

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