Where lies the spirit of democracy?

Where lies the spirit of democracy?

What do we have to commemorate this week?

Two things, obviously: The 85th anniversary of the Siamese Revolution of June 24, 1932; and the six-month mark since Jatupat "Pai Dao Din" Boonpattararaksa was jailed on Dec 22, 2016, for sharing an article online.

The two occasions seem irrelevant to each other: One a historic transformation that began at the Royal Plaza at dawn, a bold, monumental, messy shift whose ramifications are still in the process of unfolding after 85 years, and the other an infuriating case of a young political prisoner who's becoming a symbol of suppression and injustice. One a national phenomenon that changed the country forever; the other a piece of local news that most mainstream media don't even deign to cover in their prime-time slots routinely dominated by crime porn.

But the twin memories of our storm-tossed June are related, if not inseparable, to the melancholic democracy of the past 85 years. Among the many principles the People's Party wished to install in their transformed Siam was that idea of liberty and freedom -- it's one of the six pillars that the revolutionaries laid out for the citizens. There is hardly an incident more appalling than what has happened to Mr Jatupat that serves as ultimate proof of how liberty and freedom are still not guaranteed to all Thais. And it is a very simple kind of freedom we're talking about: the freedom to click and share.

Today the commemoration of June 24, 1932 will take place in a subdued mode, if at all. A few university seminars have been scheduled, and speakers would probably be nervous in case the police show up to monitor or even shut down the sessions. That's what the police do these days. The conscious project to dilute -- or even better, erase and scrub out to leave no trace of -- the influences of the 1932 Revolution has intensified in the past three years, climaxing in the recent removal of the commemorative plaque at the Royal Plaza (one seminar was in fact "asked" not to discuss this matter). The orgy of forgetting, the motor of mass amnesia, the dark art of memory erasure: Seriously, I doubt if my 7-year-old niece will in a few years' time get to learn anything about the 1932 event in the history textbooks.

We don't have to lionise the People's Party as heroes, but it's a show of malice and bad taste to try to cast them as villains. Regardless of their flaws -- the internal feuds, the dictatorial streaks, the cycle of coup and counter-coup, and their eventual defeat by the right in the late 1940s, with Pridi Banomyong driven into lifelong exile in Beijing and later Paris -- the People's Party ushered in modern Thailand. They gave us possibility at a time when impossibility was all that we knew. To pretend they never existed is the worst crime against history, which means against our own existence.

Why does the military fear commemorating this? Perhaps they fear possibility, and possibility is antithetical to absolute power. Possibility (and free thinking) is something they can't afford to let us have when their goal is to chart the political destiny of this country for at least 20 years, if not forever.

True, the freedom and possibility installed by the 1932 ideals ebbed and flowed (mostly ebbed), receding and prospering (usually only briefly). But there's no denying that the past three years have been one of the worst stretches; according to the BBC, since 2014 the number of lese majeste cases has risen to more than double the number investigated in the previous 12 years combined. Among them is that of Mr Jatupat, jailed and denied bail in a set of circumstances that vexed many and angered others.

This Thursday, which marked six months since he was put behind bars, a hundred or so people gathered on a BTS Skywalk to stage activities showing their support. The police were there watching, and later they moved in and asked the organisers to stop because the Ratchadamri Skywalk was a crowded public space. Rubbing salt on a poisoned wound, soldiers on Wednesday "visited" a house in Khon Kaen where three activist friends of Mr Jatupat stayed. One of the poor guys got up wearing just boxer shorts. He asked to see a search warrant, but there wasn't one.

The soldier leading this surprise operation was none other than Lt Col Pitakpol Choosri. Two weeks ago he was the subject of a scandalous headline when he asked soldiers to block a lane on a busy highway for his wedding procession. And of course an army spokesman came out to defend "the visit" as being in line with the law.

So much for the week of June 24. So much for the spirit of democracy embarked upon 85 years ago today.

Kong Rithdee is Life Editor, Bangkok Post.

Kong Rithdee

Bangkok Post columnist

Kong Rithdee is a Bangkok Post columnist. He has written about films for 18 years with the Bangkok Post and other publications, and is one of the most prominent writers on cinema in the region.

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