The lese majeste law will be abolished one day. That is inevitable. Nothing is permanent and nothing can stem the erosion of change. The questions are when it will happen and how it is to be implemented.
This emotionally charged debate which is talked about at top levels of government, analysed and pontificated upon by pundits and the media, and whispered over in quiet corners of every district and village throughout the nation is not going to simply go away.
The majority of Thai people undoubtedly and unconditionally love and revere His Majesty the King. But not all. And therein lies the heart of the matter: is the lese majeste law a tyranny of the majority or a beloved protective shield being attacked and manipulated by the immoral, or radical, few?
Lese majeste is a crime of malicious intent against the dignity of the reigning sovereign. Proving the attrition of dignity, especially with pernicious intent, requires wading into a somewhat murky and grey morass of interpretations. The royal family, while protected by article 112’s sweeping lese majeste laws, have no other legal recourse in which to protect themselves. They have no rights to lodge complaints against commoners and are left with no means of defense against possible attacks. The responsibility of protecting Thailand’s most revered institution therefore falls into the fickle, unscrupulous and agenda-riddled hands of the public and the state.
His Majesty said in his famous birthday speech of 2005 that he welcomed criticism, he questioned his perfection and declared that the King can do wrong. In spite of all 17 constitutions since 1932’s inclusion of; ‘The King shall be enthroned in a position of revered worship and shall not be violated. No person shall expose the King to any sort of accusation or action’, it appears he himself was willing to step away from such rigid, and dated, rules to expose himself. As he insisted, he is human, and prone to mistakes.
Sadly, HM’s impassioned plea preceded a 1500% escalation of lese majeste charges in the ensuing years. Before 2005 there were an average of four cases a year, this number leapt to 400 plus cases between 2006-2011.
The shield has become a weapon.
The rational thing to do to protect the monarchy in this age of technology, of unrest, in a time when the lese majeste law is being used as a tool by politicians and interest groups to attack, arrest, compromise or simply shame one another, is to allow the monarchy to stand up for itself. If it is above reproach, it will weather questions, even insults. If it cannot, then is there room for such an institution in Thailand? Flying in the face of such rationality, I believe that, for now, there is. Simply because the majority supports it…vociferously. While this support will only erode with abuse of current laws, perhaps, for now, erosion is a preferred method to radical change. Allow the monarchy to be scrutinised, permit peaceful dissent, for without dispute and debate in a public and open arena mistrust will arise and, to me, this is the greatest threat to the monarchy. But to abolish a law, at a time when the law is being used as a weapon to destabalise the country, is dangerous. Politically and emotionally charged change is not the way to go in this sensitive matter.
Change is here already, it may be too slow for the impatient, and too fast for the wary, but it is without a doubt here. Never before have I written an editorial on this delicate matter, but I feel confident that Thailand of today is a Thailand which is beginning to be willing to question, to start to open to debate and one which is learning to become comfortable with scrutiny.
While there is nothing rational about the way the majority of Thais, myself included, feel about HM the King, rational and sensitive debate can happen. Is happening. Love is not rational and whether it is through merit, or public relation campaigns, what most Thai people feel for HM is love. Emotionally we are just not ready as a nation to face such drastic change, but I think that we are reasonable enough that we can start talking about it.
It is right to want change. Change just might not be right..for now.
[i]Citylife this month:
Our Black+White issue has turned out to be about the shades of grey in between. We bring you iconic images from Chiang Mai’s past and use them as a reference for today’s social, environmental and structural commentary. Politics is also a messy business and I interview Chair of the Provincial Administrative Organisation, Boonlert Buranupakorn, on the latest projects and goings on at government and local political levels. We have also gone er, commando, and introduce you to all sorts of adventures you can have with our brothers in arms.