Oath slip pulls politics further into shadows

Oath slip pulls politics further into shadows

Shadow is an essential element in oriental arts. For example, the reflection of subdued light on the golden surface of a Buddha image evokes a holier, more serene feeling than flooding the entire area with light.

Similarly, politics is also an art form. However, it is one that should be played out with as much clarity and transparency as possible.

Prime Minister Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha omitting a sentence in his oath of allegiance started off as a gaffe but has taken on a mysterious tone as no explanation has been given.

The PM had earlier said he would take care of it but last Tuesday, there was a ceremony for Gen Prayut and members of his cabinet to receive a message of support from His Majesty the King.

The message was the speech that His Majesty gave to the cabinet during their swearing-in ceremony on July 16. It essentially encouraged the cabinet to perform their duties properly, in line with the oath that they made.

Although the ceremony was presumed to be related to the oath gaffe, PM Gen Prayut declined to comment further. Instead, he only displayed a framed copy of the King's signed message to reporters.

His actions have without a doubt added more mystery to the controversy rather than clear it up. Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam, who is in charge of the government's legal affairs, said that last week's ceremony did not mean a re-swearing of the oath. Then what was the meaning of the event which DPM Wissanu acknowledged as never having happened before? Has the PM's oath blunder been fixed or not?

At this point, it is not clear if the failure to utter the complete oath constitutes a breach of the constitution. However, the Office of the Ombudsman believes this to be the case and forwarded a complaint to the Constitution Court.

Moreover, it's also not clear what implications the incomplete oath will have on the government's policies and actions if the oath slip is found to be against the constitution.

In the meantime, the government is soldiering on despite the shadow of ambiguity.

It also does not help that the oath-taking controversy concerns the monarchy and a willingness on the PM's part to abide by the constitution. Both are sensitive issues in Thai politics.

Even now, Gen Prayut has never clarified what happened on the day of the oath. Curious netizens zoomed in to the card he had been holding that day and captured images to show that the wording did not conform to what the charter prescribed.

So what went wrong? Was Gen Prayut's omission of the final sentence of the oath -- a commitment to uphold and abide by the constitution -- an intentional act? Or was it a misunderstanding? A mishap?

Whatever it was, the gaffe should have been explained away but for some reason, it has not. Instead, the ambiguity has given rise to conspiracy theories. Was the PM, a former coup maker, trying to set up an exit plan for himself in case things get tangled up like five years ago? Was he forced to do so? By what circumstance?

Although the opposition is set to launch a general debate against the premier about the oath gaffe on Friday, the government is suggesting that the session be conducted behind closed doors as it concerns the monarchy.

The oath gaffe is one of a few things that seem to have transpired in a rather strange, half-open, half-closed fashion in recent times. What about the controversy about whether it's against the law not to stand during the royal anthem in theatres? One movie house reportedly said it's okay to do so but another said anyone who does that will be invited outside.

According to BBC Thai's report, the Ministry of Culture said although the 1942 national culture law carried a punishment of a 100-baht fine or one-month imprisonment for those who failed to pay respect to the royal anthem, it had been revoked. Moreover, the 2010 version of that same law, which is currently in use, has nothing to do with an observation of the national or royal anthem.

Still, authorities have not made it clear what is lawful in this case. The issue seems to have been left in the shadow of ambiguity. Those who believe it's legal for them not to stand up during the royal anthem will have to do so at their own risk of being photographed and shamed.

What is clear is that more shadowy issues are creeping into Thai politics and society in general as gossip and innuendo prevail over news and information. Under this darkening shadow, the climate of fear is widening.

Atiya Achakulwisut is a Bangkok Post columnist.

Atiya Achakulwisut

Columnist for the Bangkok Post

Atiya Achakulwisut is a columnist for the Bangkok Post.

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