Some of Bangkok’s elite know that the lese majeste law is a dark political hole, allowing torture (by keeping those accused in jail without bail), bizarre interpretations of the law (applying the law to dead kings) and that the application of the law makes Thailand look like a feudal throwback to the rest of the world.
This has been especially embarrassing for the elite under the military dictatorship, with sentences of up to 60 years for a couple of Facebook posts. The junta clearly believes that the nation’s “children” need punishment in order to make them “good” and “loyal” subjects offering appropriate subservience to their social betters.
At the same time, the elite also knows that Article 112 is a useful political weapon that protects the existing social, economic and political order, and order from which they gain their position, wealth and associated benefits such as the social deference they crave.
So how does the so-called liberal faction of the Bangkok elite manage this odious law and perceptions of it without damaging their position and privilege?
The Bangkok Post has one answer to this dilemma in a recent editorial. First, claim that the monarchy (and its associated social order is under threat: “There is no question that the monarchy must be protected against slander and defamation.”
Second, make the case for amending the law by being loyalist: “What authorities should come to terms with, however, is that the existing lese majeste law is not giving the highly revered institution the kind of protection it deserves.”
Third, appear “liberal” but of the wishy-washy variety: “With a degree of discernment, the powers-that-be should realise that defending the royal family needn’t conflict with human rights, as the situation seems to be at present.
After those necessary statements born of of liquid backbone and fear for the existing order, some suggestions for “reform” can be made, quoting others: “The UNHCR has a point when it described the lese majeste law as being ‘vague and broad’.” The law, the Post editorialist states, “does not define what constitutes acts of defamation or insult…. Worse, the criminal code … allows anyone to file a lawsuit against others.”
In fact, since 2006, when the boom in cases began, some cases have involved others making complaints, it has been the government of the day that has brought the “lawsuits.”
The Post goes on, arguing that this “loophole” allows “space for people with vested interests to abuse the legislature to vilify their opponents.” That’s true, but under the military dictatorship, and in many cases under the Abhisit Vejjajiva regime, it has been those governments using Article 112 to vilify their political opponents.
Amending the law won’t alter the current military regime’s craze for using the law to jail its opponents as a signal to all who might oppose the regime and all it stands for, including accelerating the refeudalization of the monarchy.