The lèse majesté case against Jakrapop Penkair (regarding his August 2007 speech to the Foreign Correspondents’ Club) raises some important questions for Thai society:
- Do Thai citizens have the right to discuss the role of the Constitutional Monarchy?
- Who uses lèse majesté and to what purpose?
- Do we have a Constitutional Monarchy, as stipulated in the Constitution, or do we really have an Absolute Monarchy?
- What does it say about the Democrat Party and the Peoples Alliance for Democracy that they are using lèse majesté in this way?
First I must make it clear that I have never once voted for Thai Rak Thai or Peoples’ Power Party. However, I must confess the sin of having on one occasion voted for the Democrats before the economic crisis of 1997. I was stupid then and will not do it again.
Does anyone care what Jakrapop actually said?
I believe that among those who have been attacking him, most care little about the content of his speech. At the same time most Thais of varying opinions will not have read the transcript of his original speech in English, which is available on the internet in a government website.
Jakrapop discusses the changes in the role, power and legitimacy of the institution of the monarchy through the ages, from Sukotai up to the present. In the case of the present King, Jakrapop says that there is a mix of all things from the past plus the new role of being a King in Democracy. The problem with this, according to Jakrapop, is that it causes confusion and is the catalyst for confrontation with the ideals of Democracy. This is because powerful people in the Patronage System, who are not the actual monarch, promote the idea that “Thai-style Democracy” must be “Democracy under the guidance of the King”.
In my view such “Guided Democracy” is the same as Dictatorship and we have had experiences of this system under Sarit in Thailand and Sukarno in Indonesia. Therefore Guided Democracy must be totally different from “Democracy with a Constitutional Monarchy”, which is the present system stipulated by the Thai Constitution.
Jakrapop goes on to say that the problem with the system of patronage is that it implies inequality among Thai citizens. In my view this means that the Patronage System is counter to the Constitution. Jakrapop believes that those in high places connive to distort statements made by the King. He accuses the head of the Privy Council and some top judges, who he says, do this for their own political purposes. That is why they like the old style Patronage System and want us to believe in Guided Democracy.
None of what Jakrapop said at the FCCT can possibly be termed lèse majesté.
It is my view that Jakrapop is a politician of the business class who has no commitment to social justice. That is why he loves Thaksin and Samak and has worked with both these politicians who abuse Human Rights. So I do not care a damn about Jakrapop’s personal plight.
But if he is found guilty of lèse majesté, this will mean that:
- Thai citizens do not have the right to discuss the role of the Constitutional Monarchy.
- Powerful groups of people will continue to use lèse majesté in their faction fights with opponents and not in order to defend the Monarchy.
- Although we have a Constitutional Monarchy, as stipulated in the Constitution, the conservatives in the Thai ruling class want us to believe that we really have an Absolute Monarchy.
- The Democrat Party and the Peoples Alliance for Democracy are happy to use lèse majesté in this way because they have absolutely no commitment to Democracy and basic freedoms. They should be condemned for this.
Democracy and Freedom are important and beautiful things. We must fight to protect them.