A question to Princess Chulabhorn: Aren’t 91 deaths and 2000 casualties more distressing than the “torching of our home”? And why did you not criticize the PAD?

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By Somsak Jeamteerasakul on Tuesday, 5 April 2011 at 10:29 am

As I have previously indicated, the interview given by Your Royal Highness Princess Chulabhorn Walailak on the “Woody Koet Ma Khui” show took place in an “unfair” context, because although Your Highness is not protected by the “lèse majesté” law, you allude to the King and Queen, who are covered by the law; and also because Thai society is, in practice, subject to a system of one-sided public relations and inculcation on royal-related matters, rendering it extremely difficult to criticize any royal (which is extremely unfair).

However, in some sections of the interview just aired on Sunday night (3 April 2011) you touched on points of significance to current Thai politics in a manner that would, in my view, only exacerbate pre-existing injustices if not countered with criticism and argument. I refer to the following statement in the interview (from 3:23 onwards in this YouTube clip – and thanks to CiNNtv1 for the upload – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BBpqpjHrqk4)

“Truth is, I’m not someone who gets involved in politics. I have no wish to talk about others in terms of who is good and who is evil. I don’t know, because I’ve never associated with politicians. Only…I only know that the events of last year, in which our home was torched… that brought great suffering to the King [and] Queen. The King, from being able to practise His walking, suddenly deteriorated. He developed a fever and had to be put on a drip. He was bedridden. The Queen was terribly upset, and remarked that “when we [previously] suffered the “torching of our home”, it was when Ayutthaya fell to the Burmese…but this time is even more distressing because it is Thais themselves torching Thailand.”

First of all, we see that although you claim not to be “someone who gets involved in politics”, this part of the interview has an obvious and highly political character (in fact, if speaking of “politics” in the broad sense generally accepted in academic circles today, the whole interview is without a doubt intrinsically “political”.) To reiterate, giving such a political interview or making such political remarks in today’s legal and social setting is entirely “unfair”. Which newspaper or TV station would dare offer a dissenting view – whether those of its own or by circulating such views – regardless of whether the newspaper, TV or others actually held opposing views, and regardless of how questionable an interview or royal remark might be on the basis of facts or reasoning?

My next point is this: Your Highness referred to the physical and mental state of both the King and the Queen as having severely deteriorated due to the “torching of our home” last year.

In the case of the King, given the relation to natural aspects of His Majesty’s health, it is difficult to assess whether His “deterioration” to the stage of being “bedridden” was as a result of witnessing the “torching of our home”, or of some other pathology. I therefore wish to refrain from making any direct statement about the problem of the King’s health, and I must consider that this part of the account given by Your Highness constitutes Your Highness’s own political interpretation, or an expression of Your Highness’s own political view. To put it simply, Your Highness personally is of the view that the “torching of our home” caused the King to “deteriorate” to the point that He “developed a fever and had to be put on a drip”, and was “bedridden”.

In the case of the Queen, it is believable enough that Her Majesty genuinely was “upset” and did compare last year’s “torching of our home” with “the fall of Ayutthaya”, as per the account given by Your Highness, because we have other circumstantial evidence of support from Her Majesty for critics of the Red Shirt rallies. Refer to the image below, showing a letter [from Her Majesty] to Napas Na Pombejra. (Napas’s letter to CNN featured several passages attacking the Red Shirt rallies, and her expression of dissatisfaction with CNN was based on an expression of dissatisfaction with the Red Shirt rallies. See Napas’s letter here)

Chitralada Palace

24 July 2010 Khun Napas Na Pombejra

To Khun Napas Na Pombejra,

Upon reading the letter you wrote to the CNN News Agency, I was proud that you had stood up and performed the duty of a Thai person, in responding to foreign journalists boldly and forthrightly, but also with courtesy and sufficiently clear reasoning to cause those in the world community reading your letter to rethink their faith in CNN.

I highly commend you for assisting to restore the nation’s image.


Nonetheless, as the Queen is protected by the “lèse majesté” law, and given that the reference to Her Majesty’s words by Your Highness was in the manner of an endorsement, I wish here to make an expression of opinion in regards to Your Highness’ above words from the interview, in their status as Your Highness’s own opinions.

This is not the first time Your Highness has expressed such a view on the events of last May. Only two weeks after the cessation of rallies as a result of the Government crackdown (6 June 2010), Your Highness remarked to Thais in New York that (see report here. I took Your Highness’ words below from the clip accompanying the news report, starting at 1:07):

“As for politics, I really don’t know who hates whom; who is vying against whom. However, if you’re going to act you ought to have at least some small degree of ethics. Take at least a little pity on innocent people; think about how much difficulty [will result for them]. Besides the pain and suffering that has resulted, what happened has also led to economic difficulty: to have a long-running protest and violence occurring causes problems for our business sector, which has an effect on the Thai economy.”

It can be seen that Your Highness’ remarks in New York and on the “Woody Koet Ma Khui” show are along much the same lines: critical of the Red Shirt rallies, and particularly their impact on the “business sector”, even though the “torching of our home” was not, as we know, of common people’s homes; not even of markets or local stalls and shopfronts, but rather of shopping malls in high-end business areas. Of course, Your Highness has every right to single out for criticism the issue of impacts on the “business sector”, or the burning of shopping malls in high-end business areas.

However, the first thing that would likely seem odd to followers of politics over the past few years is this: why, either during or after the “long-running protest” (in the words of Your Highness above) in the 2008 case of the People’s Alliance for Democracy – which included seizure of both the most important Government building, Government House, and the crucially-important heart of the nation’s “business sector” (and more besides the business sector), Suvarnabhumi International Airport – did Your Highness not make comments in this same vein? As is well known, Your Highness accompanied the Queen to the cremation ceremony for a PAD protester on 13 October 2008, even as PAD rallies continued (and, further, if the information from a Wikileaks telegraph of 6 November 2008 is correct, Your Highness and Dr Chaichon Locharernkul were the ones who requested that the Queen attend in person).

Even more importantly, why during neither Your Highness’s remarks in New York, nor your interview on “Woody Koet Ma Khui”, did you make any mention at all of the nearly 100 people who were killed as a result of the Government crackdown, and the other close to 2000 who were injured or disabled? If any one thing was most “distressing” about the events of last May, would it not be this, even more so than arson in high-end business areas (for which, to this day, the responsibility remains unclear…but even assuming that it was the work of protesters)?

That Your Highness expressed her distress at the death of a single PAD protester in 2008 by going so far as to attend the cremation ceremony is understandable enough (I too was distressed). But in the case of nearly 100 dead, to not mention them at all and instead mention only the burning of buildings, which were not even “homes” but rather high-end shopping malls…this is somewhat hard for me to understand.

P.S. During the events of May 1992, Princess Sirindhorn said in an interview that “Killing or using violence is not a good thing. The loss of material things is less important than the loss of lives. I wish for the killing to stop; the violence to stop; because we are all Thais.” While the role of the monarchy in relation to the May 1992 crisis is more complex than the public relations story generally propagated, looking solely at the statement by Princess Sirindhorn that “The loss of material things is less important than the loss of lives,” it must be said that this was quite right, and more fitting than raising the point of the “torching of our home” as a focus. Certainly, it is a shame that during the recent May events, Princess Sirindhorn did not again give an interview along such lines.