Democracy and lese majeste

1 02 2012

Putting “democracy” and “lese majeste” in the same sentence invites all kinds of contradictions. However, Titipol Phakdeewanich is a Political Scientist at the Faculty of Political Science at Ubon Ratchathani Universityhas a piece in the Bangkok Post that demands serious attention.

The sensitive issue of Section 112 is now being linked in discourse to the ongoing question of promoting freedom of speech and expression within Thailand.

That’s true, but why should it be “sensitive”? It is sensitive because its use is politicized.

Titipol is correct when he observes that:

Thailand will inevitably have to learn one way or another, to fully accept a founding principle of democracy, which is freedom of speech and expression. No country can claim to have negotiated the road to democracy while continuing to pick and choose as and when such democratic principles suit prevailing domestic interests.

The “promotion of freedom of speech and expression” he says will:

help to shift many Thai citizens out of a lingering passive and obedient mentality, which is a historical legacy; and towards becoming more actively engaged citizens within an evolving, maturing and more dynamic, vibrant democratic system.

Actually, we think this move has taken place already, and that is why the minority of those who gained most from the former “passive and obedient mentality” are so reactionary and aggressive in their protection of lese majeste and the monarchy itself. And, historically, it is clear to us that the majority have not always been “passive and obedient.” They have been repressed and butchered by those who gain from enforced passivity.

Titipol observes:

In arguing that the amendment of Section 112 will inevitably lead to the destruction and removal of the monarchy; anti-amendment groups are acting to further slow the process of democratisation within Thailand.

Of course they are!

Titipol has a long article with some well considered points in an argument about the monarchy needing to change. We think he is being optimistic. That said, his points on debating lese majeste and democratic freedoms make sense.

Even The Nation has a surprisingly sensible editorial on this issue: “Thailand cannot emerge from its political stalemate and develop its democratic institutions unless people have respect for opponents’ opinions…”. The editorial writer is correct in saying that “Thailand is at an interesting period in its politics…”.

On the lese majeste reform “debate” – in fact, debate should have two sides, but the royalists are pretty much a singular and very loud voice over the past week or so – this:

While this kind of partisan competition is to be expected in an open and free society, the situation in Thailand could soon reach an extreme and dangerous level. If it does, … the government and Thai public need to re-examine recent eras in both local and international political history to avoid repeating past mistakes. Thailand is at a critical juncture politically and socially.

The editorial points to extremism:

Last Saturday’s gathering of pink-clad supporters of the lese majeste law at the Royal Plaza saw the burning of effigies of … law lecturers, who have spearhead[ed] a campaign to amend this law. The scene smacks of the horror of October 4, 1976…. Was the Saturday gathering a harbinger of worse to come?

It seems entirely possible. Maybe the lesson of 1976 was that force and violence can keep people obedient and subservient.

In a generally sensible editorial, we are unsure who added this:

However, it is our belief that we must ensure that whatever we debate, we must at all costs protect and preserve our traditional institutions and customs, the source of our national pride and statehood.

Meanwhile, while Nattawut Saikua has to maintain party solidarity, he seems to agree with Titipol and The Nation, stating that while the Puea Thai Party is going to continue to doze on and allow the ultra-royalists to set the agenda, “The Nitirat group has a different point of view and I see it as normal in democracy…”.

PPT is certain that allowing the royalists to define debate while using the lese majeste law for their purposes is a dumb political strategy. Puea Thai will eventually pay dearly for it. Where will democracy be then?


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