“Reforming” lese majeste to save the regime

29 01 2013

The Bangkok Post is a conservative newspaper. It has been the preferred newspaper of the English-reading Thai elite and tends to reflect their interests. In recent years it has demonstrated the royalism of that elite, hoping that the relatives and friends in military- and palace-backed governments (under on-again-off-again Privy Councilor Surayud Chulanont and elite scion of the royalist elite, Abhisit Vejjajiva) could get royalist rule back on track.

So it is significant that the recent lese majeste conviction of Somyos Prueksakasemsuk has caused the Bangkok Post to issue a call for “reform” of this draconian, medieval law. We assume that this call represents one thread of discussion within the higher echelons of the royalist elite who now see lese majeste as a problem for royalist rule.

We make this assumption because the Post editorial begins by observing that the “trial and conviction of Somyot Prueksakasemsuk has once again put Thailand in an uncomfortable spotlight.” We can imagine that the fact that “Thailand is increasingly criticised as a nation where authorities trample on the media and on freedom of expression” bothers the elite. We guess that some of them are tired of having to defend Thailand and its “protection” of a fabulously wealthy and privileged monarchy as somehow “culturally unique.” They probably get prickly at having to defend the sentencing of chained and caged journalists, aged men and political activists as being “culturally appropriate.” The idea that two men are sentenced for things they didn’t say and articles they didn’t write is probably causing them to squirm in their bespoke suits and Thai silk designer dresses.

Hence, the editorial demands action be taken to address the discomfort felt by some of the royalist upper crust about the lese majeste law (the editorial also briefly mentions the Computer Crimes Act). To be sure, Article 112 is defined by the Post as “a special law about the most special high institution,” and it makes no political or class mistake by demanding that the law is required, necessary and foundational:

The purpose of a lese majeste law must be to protect the monarchy and the royal family. They are otherwise defenceless against libel, slander, defamation, and against attacks on the system of democracy under a constitutional monarchy.

So the Post’s argument is that the lese majeste law might be reformed in ways that maintain the status quo and continue to “protect” the monarchy and the system of elite rule that it underpins. [Of course, “defenceless” is a bizarre term when referring to a body that wields huge political and economic power, but the monarchy continues to fear a situation where normal law might be applied to it and its privileges.]

The Post appears to be calling for a thinking person’s royalist “reform” of lese majeste as the “ultra-nationalists” are too hardline [read this as meaning: ultra-royalists are a nasty lot only good for street demonstration at needed times to protect our ruling class] and “advocates of legal change too often play into the hands…” of the yellow-shirted “knee-jerk” protection-of-the-monarchy lot. Hence, the “key to any reasonable amendment of the Criminal Code cannot proceed rationally from simple opposition to a law. The question is what the country needs, and what best serves the nation and all its institutions.”

In other words, how do “we” keep the law, “protect” the monarchy which “we” maintain as foundational to our class rule and not have to be “uncomfortable” and seen as knuckle-draggers locally and internationally.

Reflecting this ruling elite position, the editorial then claims to speak for all Thais:

… there is no disagreement among Thais. All citizens want to protect the national institutions. Protection of the monarchy, in particular His Majesty the King, is the aim of all citizens. No rational person or group has called for abolishing laws which protect His Majesty and the royal family. So any discussion of legal change can start on level ground:

This is pompous upper class nonsense. Of course there is disagreement! Clearly, there are rational Thais who do wish to abolish the law. Others, for reasons of political limitations, powerful threats and extant fears of attack, demand thoroughgoing reform rather than going the extra step.

The Post is right to observe that “[r]easonable people also can agree that Section 112 of the Criminal Code is out of date and deserves careful and factual study.” It observes that “it is obvious that the law is sometimes used by unscrupulous people in a political manner to harass those with whom they disagree.” This charge must include Abhisit, Suthep Thaugsuban and a gaggle of Democrat Party politicians, pretty much everyone in the leadership of the People’s Alliance for Democracy, Tul Sitthisomwong, Army boss General Prayuth Chan-ocha, several high officials in the Interior ministry, a number of politicians associated with pro-Thaksin Shinawatra political parties, amongst many others.

Tacitly acknowledging that many of the charges currently going through the courts were politicized charges brought by the Abhisit regime, the Post calls for an “amended Section 112 [that] would cause lese majeste charges to be brought only in cases where legal experts were certain that the offence was indeed against the monarchy _ not against a political ideology.” The editorial advocates “… change to make it relevant to the current situation.”

Without acknowledging that  lese majeste charges have declined very significantly under the the Yingluck Shinawatra government, the Post blames politicians for being tardy on lese majeste reform and its abuse. Yingluck’s timidity on lese majeste is based on a fear that “an amendment to Section 112 could be political suicide.” To then compare her political reticence with “silence” by her predecessors is disingenuous. Surayud and Abhsit weren’t “silent” on lese majeste; they used it again and again to repress political opponents and to demonstrate loyalty and their royalist credentials. They were deafening in their use of this political weapon. They spawned hundreds of other knuckle-draggers on monarchy and lese majeste through their collaboration with those who considered the monarchy and monarchy’s state under threat from republicans.

The ruling class is trying to save the royalist state it has constructed.


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