Three cheers to the producers of the Thai PBS programme on constitutional monarchy and congratulations to the director and the board of governors of Thai PBS for finally allowing the final installment of the series to be televised. I watched the series with delight and, as a taxpayer who funds the Thai PBS, for once thought my hard-earned cash was put to good use producing an informative programme bringing together differing views from the full spectrum of the intellectual cognoscenti.
In no way was the content of this series derogatory, slanderous or even remotely offensive or divisive by any stretch of the imagination. However, not scrapping the last instalment of the series even under duress demonstrated that Thai PBS can be an arena for free and passionate debates and could hopefully function as an effective check on governments, when it seems other media outlets have failed dismally in this role.
Admittedly the monarchy is a taboo subject in Thai society but my question is: Why should it be? What's wrong with discussing the future of the monarchy, the vital role that it plays and the challenges it faces in an educated and informative manner?
I firmly believe that allowing the Thai public the chance to watch informative programmes on this topic through Thai PBS is far more preferable than standing by while bigoted malodorous toads, particularly from the Democrat Party, yellow shirts and red shirts, monopolise the conversation on an institution that has historically been a vital part of the Thai social and political fabric.
The interview with Dr Surakiart Sathirathai was the most predictable and represents the view of the moderate ammart for lack of a better term. Dr Surakiart is clearly a royalist with royalist links to boot, but he seems to be open-minded enough to see that true reconciliation must begin outside parliament by what he calls the "coalition of the impartial", which I'm in total agreement with. Wasn't it these self-serving, nest-feathering politicians that landed Thailand in this pickle in the first place?
Let's face facts, on matters of grave importance for the future of our country such as charting a path towards reconciliation, we simply must not trust politicians to be an honest broker. The main weakness with Dr Surakiart's proposal is that in Thailand the impartial person able to serve on his "reconciliation committee" shares the same predicament as the Tasmanian Tiger _ last sighted many years ago and presumed extinct.
However, I strongly disagreed with Dr Surakiart and Pol Gen Vasit Dejkunjorn's position on the contentious Section 112 on lese majeste. Dr Surakiart's wants to keep in place Section 112 until those that are plotting to character assassinate the monarchy via cyberspace first declare a ceasefire, while Pol Gen Vasit implied that anyone who wants to revise Section 112 is actually a treasonous, conniving, abolitionist who wants to see Thaksin as president of a Republic of Thailand.
It is this kind of delusion that has done more harm than good for the monarchy by shielding this institution from reality, while hurling accusations of treason against those who value the monarchy just as much as him but merely want to see this beloved institution adapt and survive by coming to grips with the ever changing political and social landscape of Thailand.
Pol Gen Vasit infers that anyone who wants to abolish Section 112 also wants to abolish the monarchy. He is dead wrong, because I and many others consider ourselves the King's loyal subjects but we're equally as staunch in our objection to Section 112.
Assoc Prof Somsak Jeamteerasakul of Thammasat University also expressed his objection to the law in his interview with the programme host Pinyo Trisuriydhamma. He said Pinyo probing him on what his true views are on the monarchy is a moot endeavour, because Section 112's draconian measures have made it unlawful to criticise the institution in any way shape or form. Therefore, he strategically decided not to reveal his leanings until the freedom to do so is guaranteed by the constitution.
He went further by saying that the popularity of the monarchy cannot be verified under present circumstances because the lack of freedom to express discontent regarding this matter means all expressions and grandiose shows of support for the monarchy are highly skewed and should not be taken at face value. On intellectual and scientific grounds he makes a valid point.
I can't be sure, but I suspect Assoc Prof Somsak has some serious objections to the constitutional monarchy as it exists in Thailand today. I , on the other hand, am in principle fully supportive and indeed appreciative of this constitutional monarch. So while I perhaps don't see eye to eye with Assoc Prof Somsak, I sincerely think in a democracy he should be allowed to express his dissenting opinion as long as it is done in a reasonable fashion _ free of slander and certainly without the hatred and inciting of violence exhibited by some red shirts during the Ratchaprasong protests.
Section 112 is an abomination to our democracy and has been used as the weapon of choice for politicians to rid themselves of arch rivals at the expense of His Majesty's good name. The Democrat Party, while Abhisit Vejjajiva was prime minister, wielded this political weapon with reckless abandon, in the name of protecting and defending the monarchy.
In reality they were despicably using the monarchy as a battering ram, in an attempt to destroy the bastion of support of a formidable political opponent in Thaksin. Those hoping Pheu Thai would keep to election promises once in power by reviewing Section 112 have also been bitterly disappointed by the spineless nature of our politicians.
Monarchies throughout history can only survive with the acceptance and appreciation of the sovereign's subjects. Those with the courage to lend stern but honest advice to the sovereign should be free to speak but those who ingratiate themselves by shielding the institution from the realities of a new age should be looked upon with lingering suspicion.
His Majesty the King doesn't derive any special executive or legislative powers under the constitution. The King's only influence comes directly from his moral fortitude and unquestioned dedication to his people, which is reciprocated in droves by the love and admiration we have for His Majesty. Politicians must leave the monarchy out of their tit for tat politics and childish squabbles because without formal constitutional powers to even shape legislation or make any political appointments, it must be the case that "Rex non potest peccare", or "The King can do no wrong".
Songkran Grachangnetara is an entrepreneur. He graduated from The London School of Economics and Columbia University. He can be reached at Twitter: @SongkranTalk
About the author
- Writer: Songkran Grachangnetara