Dialogue needed on monarchy reform

Dialogue needed on monarchy reform

Political activist Panusaya 'Rung' Sithijirawattanakul speaks outside the Constitutional Court with supporters in the capital on Wednesday. (AFP photo)
Political activist Panusaya 'Rung' Sithijirawattanakul speaks outside the Constitutional Court with supporters in the capital on Wednesday. (AFP photo)

The Constitutional Court's ruling on Wednesday is as contentious as the subject matter itself that was deliberated by the court -- that is the inviolability of the monarchy in Thai society.

The court ruled that the ten-point manifesto announced at a rally held by the United Front for Thammasat and Demonstration at Thammasat University's Rangsit campus on Aug 10 last year by three anti-establishment leaders, namely Anon Nampa, Panupong Jadnok and Panusaya Sithijirawattanakul and their subsequent acts implicating the monarchy amounted to dishonest free expression and aimed to overthrow the constitutional monarchy.

In summary, the court ruled that the anti-establishment leaders are part of a larger organised network sharing the same hidden agenda -- which is to topple the constitutional monarchy, and that the King and the Thai nation are one inseparable entity that have co-existed for a long time and are pillars of the democratic system.

The court also ruled there are limits to free expression -- that is, exercising of free expression must not breach the rights of the other people and must not jeopardise the national interest, public order and good morals.

Reaction to the Constitutional Court's ruling has been swift from both sides of Thailand's seemingly unbridgeable political divide between pro- and anti-monarchy camps.

Angered by the court's judgement, the reformists fiercely reiterated their intention to reform the highly revered institution. As defiant as ever, some of them vowed to carry on with their protests to demand the reform of the monarchy.

On the opposite side, hardcore royalists have demanded that law enforcement officers use the court's ruling as a basis to pursue those harbouring ill intent toward the monarchy.

The ruling will have far-reaching repercussions. In the short term, those already remanded in prison, among them Mr Anon, Mr Panupong and Parit Chiwarak on lese majeste and other charges, are unlikely to be granted bail. And people who used to bail them out by using their parliamentary positions, such as some MPs from the opposition Move Forward Party, may be discouraged from doing so the next time as they themselves may end up being charged for being a part of a network to overthrow the constitutional monarchy.

What is more regrettable is that the verdict may shut the door on peaceful means to find an acceptable solution to this sensitive issue if the ruling is narrowly interpreted in such a way that even constructive discussions about issues related to the monarchy such amendments of the lese majeste law or Section 112 of the Criminal Code are not possible. That should not be allowed to happen.

After the bloody crackdown on violent red-shirt protests in Bangkok during the government of then prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva in 2010, the Truth Commission for National Reconciliation, headed by former attorney-general Khanit na Nakhon, was set up to investigate the demonstrations and to find ways to prevent a recurrence in the future.

One of the recommendations advocated by the commission was a forum for public discussions on the lese majeste law and how to uphold the monarchy in a position above politics. Another recommendation was that public prosecutors use the Principle of Opportunity in considering a lese majeste case to weigh the pros and cons in deciding whether to proceed with the case in court.

Unfortunately, none of the recommendations were implemented due to the sensitivity of the issue.

With the door shut, even for constructive discussions on amendments of the lese majeste law or some reforms of the monarchy, what is the alternative left for honest reformists? Sending them to prison? Or driving them underground?

There must not be a witch hunt against anyone who favours or openly supports reform of the monarchy for the benefit of the institution. Meantime, the anti-establishment groups or the reformists must realise that their demand for radical changes to the institution is unrealistic and not possible unless they have the support of the majority of the Thai people, which they don't have as witnessed in their protests over the past several months which drew only a small number of supporters. Their fault is that they do not connect with the people or reflect their wishes.

Forget about the gobbledygook "people's revolution" to rescind the institution as reportedly presaged by former Thammasat lecturer Piyabutr Saengkanokkul, academic-cum-politician who is overly consumed by the French Revolution.

Confrontation between the conservatives and the reformists who are mostly young people is the last thing this country needs. It is also about time the silent majority spoke up.

Veera Prateepchaikul is former editor, Bangkok Post.

Veera Prateepchaikul

Former Editor

Former Bangkok Post Editor, political commentator and a regular columnist at Post Publishing.

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