An Open Letter

Ms Mallika Boonmetrakul, deputy spokeswoman of the opposition Democrat Party, has rushed out to collect political points in the aftermath of the lèse-majesté case in which a 61 year-old man named Amphon “Akong” Thangnoppakun was arrested for allegedly sending four text messages to the secretary of former Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva that insulted members of the royal family. Mallika proposed that in order to curb anti-monarchy elements, she would request the government to seek cooperation with those of other countries to close down websites that allow anti-monarchy messages. In extreme case, she wants the Yingluck Shinawatra government to totally close down all social networking sites, including Facebook, YouTube and Twitter, citing that the Chinese government has successfully implemented restrictions on these websites.

Ironically, her party has made use of Facebook in fielding the “Fight Bad Web” campaign together with the email <[email protected]> to serve as a place where complaints can be lodged in regards to those who violate the Computer Act of 2008 in four areas: insulting the monarchy; threatening national security; lewd conduct; and drugs/gambling. She said,

Behaviour that can be perceived as damaging or destroying the much revered monarchical institution is now contagious, from social media to local salon, porridge stalls and coffee shops in the provinces. If the Police Chief wants to know where to find the culprits, I can take him to Payao, Lampang and Phrae.

I find it hard to believe in the seriousness of Mallika’s proposal. However, in delving into her own record and that of her party, I realise that this woman is very serious about what she has proposed. This is a party that has not won a single election since 1992. This is the oldest political party of Thailand which has long served the interests of the elite. Its ideology, or raw instinct (р╕кр╕▒р╕Щр╕Фр╕▓р╕Щ), has never changed; that is, the organisation has no position in the promotion of democracy as suggested by the name of the party. In this case, it may as well change the name of the party to “Un-Democrat Party”, or indeed in accordance with Mallika’s suggestions, “Communist Party” (but comparing it in this way actually insults the actual communist party which usually had a strong stance and often challenged the establishment).

What Mallika has proposed will not be a boon to Thai democracy; it instead will undermine it. This is good example of a bad Thai politician; the brain is never put into gear before the mouth is set in motion. They never look at the broader picture of Thai democratisation. How will Thailand develop if Thai society is cloaked? How will the Thais progress if their eyes and ears are rendered ineffective? Fortunately, the Democrat Party is in opposition today. If not, there would be a chance that Thailand could become the North Korea of Southeast Asia. Even Thailand’s immediate neighbour–Burma–is now opening itself up after long years of restricting information in cyberspace. I cannot imagine how freedom of expression in Thailand could become worse than our Burmese neighbour.

Mallika should have examined the Democrat Party’s track record before offering such wild proposals. Under the Abhisit regime, Thailand agreed with the establishment of ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights as a platform to promote and protect basic human rights including freedom of political expression. Perhaps Mallika forgot to do her homework. Perhaps she did not comprehend regional politics. Or perhaps she lacked an understanding of what constitutes human rights. Her proposals go against the tide of democratisation sweeping across many regions at the moment.

She must know that the problem with the Thai monarchy has deep roots. Closing down social network sites will only address the symptoms of the illness–rather than the causes. If they were shut down, then how would this impact the image of the country on the international stage? We are living in the 21stcentury where the world has become more globalised. How can we explain to our children the reason for closing down social network sites just because we want to protect the monarchy?

Mallika should look at the real causes of lèse-majesté. The crux of the problem lies in the misuse of this law as a political weapon to undermine political rivals, as often abused by the Democrat Party, the People’s Alliance for Democracy and the Army. If Mallika wants to make a significant contribution, she could propose to have the law reformed, or even abolished if she truly loves and respects the monarchy. The politicised use of lèse-majesté has led to the weakening of the monarchy. Mallika’s proposals will further weaken this institution. Therefore, from this view, Mallika is not a real royalist. At the same time, why does Mallika not try to understand that Thais, like any other citizens of the world, should be entitled to their own opinions? The affection for the monarchy must be fundamentally voluntary.

Mallika was once a news anchor and used to serve as assistant to the Minister of Information and Communication Technology (ICT). But her past experience failed to provide her with a realistic view of the realities of cyberspace. A news anchor can only survive if there is an opening up of the communication space. A politician can only survive if there is an opening up of the political space. A society can only survive if there is an opening up of a democratic space. What Mallika proposes basically imprisons ideas and freedoms of those in such professions. It is laughably ironic that Mallika had to turn to Facebook in order to scratch around for an audience for her “Fight Bad Web” campaign.

In the end, Mallika represents a politician without any integrity. Earlier she came out to condemn Yingluck for her non-stop crying, seeing it as a weakness that would reduce the credibility of Thai women. She, as a representative of Thai women, felt compelled to defend all Thai ladies. Yet, when Ekayuth Anchanbutr, a media personality with a dodgy past, announced that what northern Thai ladies did best –one of them Yingluck–was to be prostitutes, Mallika remained silent (even though she also comes from the north–Payao province). Thus, I believe that someone like Mallika is indeed an embarrassment for the country, not so much because of her absurd ideas, but because she is a politician who shows little faith in democratic principles.

Pavin Chachavalpongpun

[This is a revised version of the open letter that first appeared in Thai on Prachatai.]