I have seen two responses prepared by Thai diplomats to the international campaign for reform of the lese majeste law. Neither was addressed to me, so I am not in a position to provide them here on New Mandala.

The basic argument in both responses is similar, and some of the phrasing used is identical, suggesting that an official position has been developed. The arguments are much the same as those put by Prime Minister Abhisit. The main points made in the letters are:

  • The monarchy is a highly revered institution in Thai society and stands above politics and must be defended against “violation”.
  • Protecting the monarchy is a matter of national security. The monarchy is not in a position to defend itself.
  • Other countries have strict laws to protect their national security.
  • There have been problems with enforcement of the law, especially the fact that anyone can file a complaint under the law. The Prime Minister has asked the police to enforce the law cautiously to avoid abuse. There will be clarification about enforcement of the law.
  • Freedom of expression does not justify deliberate attacks on the monarchy.
  • Improvements to the law will not be implemented because of pressure from foreigners.
  • Existing cases will proceed. Charges will not be dropped in all cases (implying that they may be dropped in some cases).
  • The lese majeste law is consistent with democracy, freedom of speech and academic freedom.

Nothing surprising here. The open acknowledgement that there have been problems in relation to the implementation of the law may represent a small step in the right direction.

But, as Thongchai Winichakul observed (in an email exchange with me), the official position that the problem lies in the “enforcement” of the law is vague and open to all sorts of interpretations. Focussing on enforcement alone may be just a strategy for rejecting calls for reform and effectively doing nothing. As David Streckfuss argues “the law is the problem“, not just its enforcement.

Thongchai also notes that these official responses leave out the allusions made by Abhisit, Kasit and a few other ministers, to the “hidden agenda” behind the international campaign. Paralleling the official government responses, there are less official suggestions (both within and outside the government) that the calls for reform of lese majeste are part of a republican movement to abolish the monarchy.