Debate on monarchy taken off the air

Thai PBS television channel decided to cancel the broadcast of the last programme of its talk show series discussing the issue of constitutional monarchy, after a group of about 20 ‘Thai patriots’ protested at the station on the evening of 15 March.

The programme, entitled ‘Tob Jote Prathet Thai’ or ‘Answering (or Tackling) Problems of Thailand’, had run its previous four programmes in the series since Monday night.  Each of the first three programmes had a different guest, former Foreign Minister Surakiart Sathirathai, Thammasat lecturer Somsak Jeamteerasakul, and former palace police chief Pol Gen Vasit Dejkunjorn, while the last two programmes covered a debate between Somsak and social critic Sulak Sivaraksa.    
 
However, just a few hours before the second half of the debate was to go on air, the group gathered at the television station and demanded the cancellation of the broadcast of the programme, claiming that Somsak and Sulak talked about the monarchy improperly and harboured the intention to amend Section 112 of the Criminal Code.
 
Consequently, the TPBS executives decided to air an earlier programme about a slain Muslim leader in the south instead.  
 
On 16 March, Phinyo Traisuriyathamma, the host of the programme, announced that he and the production team would cease to produce the programme.
 
The first half of the debate, which was broadcast on the night of 14 March, started with Somsak and Sulak continuing the argument they had previously had on Facebook over the recent Bangkok gubernatorial election.
 
Before the 3 March election, Sulak on his Facebook page urged Bangkokians to vote for the Democrat candidate Sukhumbhand Paribatra on the grounds that he considered the Democrat Party, despite his own distaste for the party, a ‘lesser evil’ compared with Thaksin Shinawatra’s party.  He blamed Thaksin for his arrests for lèse majesté in recent years, and concluded that Thaksin had tried to destroy the monarchy.
 
In the televised debate, Somsak, who said that he would not vote for the Pheu Thai candidate either, although for different reasons; i.e., for example, the party has done too little regarding political prisoners, saw that Sulak contradicted himself as a self-proclaimed reformist of the monarchy by throwing his support behind the Democrat Party which had long exploited the institution for political gain.
 
Sulak agreed that the Democrat Party had made use of the monarchy, but said that he saw no other way to counter Thaksin’s power, insisting that he would do anything to prevent the Pheu Thai candidate from winning the election.
 
He had supported Thaksin during Thaksin’s first year in office as Prime Minister until he turned against poor people shortly afterwards, Sulak said.   
 
Strangely, Sulak said that he ‘could not help loving the royals’, and he felt grateful to Sukhumbhand’s grandfather Prince Paripatra, who he said had done much good for the country.  Prince Paripatra, a son of King Rama V, was forced into exile by the People’s Party after the 1932 revolution and died in Java, Indonesia.  ‘If there hadn't been a People's Party, Sukhumbhand would by now have ascended to the throne.,’ he said.
 
‘I saw the evil of the Democrat Party long before you did, but now there is no other choice,’ he told Somsak.
 
Somsak said that the idea to support the Democrat Party in order to oppose Thaksin was wrong from the standpoint of those who claim to want to reform the monarchy. 
 
Sulak insisted that although he himself had not been impressed by Sukhumbhand’s performance in the last four years, the Democrat Party candidate was still his ‘lesser evil’ choice.
 
Somsak said that the Democrat Party had been exploiting the monarchy and supporting military coups, and the number of lèse majesté cases had skyrocketed during the Abhisit administration.
 
While admitting that the previous Democrat administrations had been ‘inefficient and spineless’, Sulak said that the police had operated as ‘a state within a state’, directly answerable to Thaksin, and the Democrat Party could not control it.   
 
‘I was arrested for lèse majesté under both the Thaksin and Abhisit administrations, but the police chief did not listen to Abhisit at all,’ he said.
 
He said that Thaksin had used Section 112 of the Criminal Code to destroy the monarchy, citing His Majesty the King’s speech which says that the use of the law is tantamount to hurting the King himself.
 
He went on to refer to the late Maj Gen Sanan Kachornprasart, Minister of Interior under the Chuan Leekpai administrations in 1994-95 and 1997-2000, who had claimed that HM the King had told him not to arrest anybody for lèse majesté.
 
He blamed the Ministers of Interior under the Abhisit administration for incompetence and being unable to command the police, which he said was under Thaksin’s control.
 
He said that he had once told parliamentarians of the need to change the lèse majesté law, and ridiculed them for not having the ‘guts’ to do so, as they had been under the control of someone and Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra had already said that the law would never be changed.
 
‘If Yingluck claims to be loyal, she has to change the law,’ he said.
 
Somsak argued that Sulak’s idea was grotesque as most of those who had been arrested for lèse majesté were Thaksin’s supporters.
 
Somsak said that, however, the more important point was that those who claimed to want to reform the monarchy, like Sulak, who had gone on the People’s Alliance for Democracy stage, should never use the accusation against anybody, because the accusation would only reinforce the undemocratic nature of the institution.
 
This accusation would never make any sense if we want to reform the monarchy into a democratic institution, he said.
 
Sulak said that he would not mind if anybody wanted to overthrow the monarchy as they were entitled to their rights, but he would oppose to anybody with wealth and political power who wanted to do so as it would be dangerous.
 
‘We have to admit that the Thai monarchy is not yet really democratic, but we have a chance to help make it more democratic.  […] The Democrat Party, if it has a modicum of conscience, has to abandon its evil behaviour of the past, stop exploiting the institution and admit its wrongs since the 1947 coup.  But I’m not sure if it has yet been enlightened,’ Sulak said.   
 
‘The monarchy will only collapse because of itself and those surrounding it such as the Crown Property Bureau.  If the CPB gets too close to the institution and uses its high-handed power to evict poor people in the name of the King, it will be dangerous. […] The military also has to keep away from the monarchy,’ he said.
 
‘The Privy Councillors, who hold a position seemingly above the law, have talked to foreign diplomats.  This is not acceptable.  They must have ethical courage.  If anything, they have to talk to HM the King directly, not to foreigners, as have been leaked through WikiLeaks.  Those who claim to be loyal must have ethical courage to make their criticisms before HM or through the media,’ he said.
 
Somsak insisted that Sulak’s tactic was wrong, because to use the accusation against anybody does not allow them to prove anything under the undemocratic circumstances regarding the institution.  And even if he wanted to criticize HM the King’s well-known speech in 2005, which Sulak and other royalists have always referred to, he couldn’t, because of the lèse majesté law.
 
However, they seemed to agree that according to democratic principles, constitutional monarchs should never make public addresses by themselves, or else their speech would be subject to criticism by the public.
 
 

Comments

Thai PBS television channel

Thai PBS television channel decided to cancel the broadcast of the last programme of its talk show series discussing the issue of constitutional monarchy, after a group of about 20 ‘Thai patriots’ protested at the station on the evening of 15 March. ... just a few hours before the second half of the debate was to go on air, the group gathered at the television station and demanded the cancellation of the broadcast of the programme, claiming that Somsak and Sulak talked about the monarchy improperly and harboured the intention to amend Section 112 of the Criminal Code.

Consequently, the TPBS executives decided to air an earlier programme about a slain Muslim leader in the south instead.

On 16 March, Phinyo Traisuriyathamma, the host of the programme, announced that he and the production team would cease to produce the programme.

These must have been the National Statesman that George Harrison was singing about. But there weren't 115 there were only 20.

Ah, but they probably brought their hand grenades and loaded guns. What they lack in numbers they make up in firepower.

One thing's for sure ... they weren't wearing their red dresses as the good old boys do in Rome.

Somsak is interesting but,

Somsak is interesting but, like other Thai liberals, academics etc has no real strategy or plan as to how to get his ideas into a position where they could have access to power.

There is this almost teenage-style take on politics amongst the Somsaks, NGO types and Bangkok-based liberals which is riven with an immature attitude towards power which seems to believe that the application of power will always be a bad thing. The only rights "libertarianism" and "anarchism" have ever secured are the rights of the powerful to crush the weak.

So while I like a lot - not all - of what Somsak says I'm still waiting for him or his supporters to put into play the things they believe in.

For example, freeing political prisoners. What steps, beyond continually complaining in seminars, opeds and meetings has Somsak taken to change that situation? Is he lobbying the government directly? Is he building consensus with other groups and people? Or, as it seems with some other people, is he just using the political prisoners as a vehicle to increase his own, personal appeal, without ever having even a plan to get his hands on the levers of power that would be necessary to free them?

What, beyond talking talking talking, is Somsak's and his supporter's effective strategy to free the LM and political prisoners?

If he and his supporters have none then they are little better than the Pheu Thai government they condemn.

Debate IS democracy. Apart

Debate IS democracy.

Apart from persuading Thai people of the wrongs of 112, there are few other options left open to Somsak.

It would be very different if the Thai army organised another coup. Then the gloves would be off.

But the Thai army is obviously afraid to go in that direction. That in itself is a victory for those you say simply "talk, talk, talk".

Ultimately, it is up to Thai people to decide what to do about the problem in Thailand.

"Debate IS democracy". Not on

"Debate IS democracy".

Not on its own it isn't.

And this is the conundrum liberals and academics like Somsak face.

In order to achieve freedom of expression they will need power to do so.

"Rights" - such as the right to freedom of speech - can only be achieved by the application of power.

So when will Somsak et al come up with an effective strategy to achieve this?

Will he form a political party, that seeks to create a broad base of support, reaching out beyond his relatively small constituency of Bangkok "activists" and academics, that creates policies and the effective means to change the existing power structures in Thailand and bring economic and social justice to Thais?

Given that Somsak and his relatively small constituency of Bangkok "activists" and academics won't support Pheu Thai, which may be understandable, surely it's not too much of an ask for them to come up with something better?

They haven't and "the natives", as much as you, Somsak and others may hate it, have spoken.

They want a Pheu Thai government with a strong Thaksin influence.

If Somsak et al want to change that they should engage, fully, with democracy and seek to get them voted out.

Of course, Somsak et al can't duck that they just allowed Sukhambhand and Democrats - a party more fully committed to LM than PT - back into power in Bangkok.

What kind of political strategy is that to end the LM law?

No wonder Somsak et al have continually failed to change anything.

Sometimes there is a limit on

Sometimes there is a limit on what a university professor can do without losing his/her job. I don't think Somsak is capable of lobbying the government directly. He is not influential enough. You can't overlook the effects of seminars, op-eds, etc. In my opinion, he has contributed a lot to the movement. He sparked a national debate about the role of the monarchy. Some people who would otherwise not be interested in this subject are talking about it. He is providing the intellectual groundwork that other activists will pick up on. This is why free speech is so important in the first place -- because speech actually matters.

You can't compare him to the Pheu Thai government. They are actually in a position to effect the change they promised. He is not. I think it is completely fair for someone to criticize the government for failing to deliver what they promised.

As of now he faces public outrage and receives numerous death threats. I don't think I can blame him for not doing enough. The responsibility does not fall on him alone to change everything. Also, there are people working with LM prisoners. A lot of university professors actually spent their own money to bail some of them. Unfortunately, it is very hard to do much without changing the law.

You can't compare him to the

You can't compare him to the Pheu Thai government. They are actually in a position to effect the change they promised. He is not.

Bingo!

PPT notes that the Ministry of Disinformation has posted the opinions of a portion of the Great Unelected.

Joe, "Sometimes there is a

Joe,

"Sometimes there is a limit on what a university professor can do without losing his/her job."

100 of your fellow Thai citizens lost their lives in 2010. Just in case you forgot. Many where Thaksin/PT supporters and maybe weren't "correctly educated" like Somsak and the Bangkok "activists" so don't get a mention?

And we're not allowed to criticize Somsak? OK. Bit ironic though, don't you think?

As for bail money and other financial and legal support for those accused of LM - actually plenty of it was provided by Pheu Thai. Lots of commentators like Somsak and Prachatai journalists know that but because it doesn't fit the Thai liberal narrative it doesn't get mentioned.

And maybe you're not aware of the debates being held far far beyond the Bangkok academy, up country, by all those "uneducated" people about the monarchy? I'm not sure many of those people even know or care who Somsak is never mind having attended a "seminar" where, lets face it, if they did show up, the Bangkok NGO types would just sneer at them anyway.

Are the Pheu Thai government in a position to effect change?

There's a false rationale happening here.

On the one hand Somsak etc argue that the monarchy have undue influence over the democratic process and then, suddenly, they expect the elected government to operate as though Thailand is a normal democracy.

Which is it?

If Thailand was a normal democracy, then yes, Somsak and others' charge that the Pheu Thai government bears full responsibility would be correct.

But, as you yourself recognise, Somsak and others have spoken for a long long time about the monarchy's power in Thailand.

Yet, suddenly, and as if by magic, they expect that power to have evaporated when a government is elected?

It's a nonsense and reveals, partly, why Somsak and other Bangkok liberals have failed for decades to construct a progressive, broadbased coalition against the most oppressive elements in Thai society.

I agree PT have acted in a cowardly fashion over prisoners and LM but Somsak can't have it both ways.

And surely, scrutinizing Somsak here, in a sane, rational fashion can only improve the arguments of those opposed to LM?

Or do we have to just accept, blindly and without critique, Somsak's take on LM?

Now where have we heard that kind of slavishness before.

Hi Andrew

Hi Andrew

"Hi Andrew" Isn't it great to

"Hi Andrew"

Isn't it great to witness Hobby's debating skills take on an argument with incisive insights and commentary?

Sigh.

What argument? (FWIW, I think

What argument?
(FWIW, I think its up to Somsak to decide if he wants to form a political party, but to criticize him for not doing it is so idiotic its not worth arguing over)

Hobby So any critique,

Hobby

So any critique, comment or debate about Somsak and the arguments put forward by him is "idiotic" and should be ignored?

Awesome.

And you wonder why there's no effective opposition in Thailand...

The argument I put forward is pretty clear - if Somsak wants to change the law what's his plan to do so? Surely it's quite correct that he should be asked that. Forming/joining a political party could be one single part of that but it isn't really necessary.

Secondly if Somsak and others believe that Thailand is not really a properly functioning democracy and that elements connected to the monarchy have an overbearing influence on democratic norms, right up to and including coups that overthrow democratically elected governments, mass murder and the imprisoning and state intimidation of people for the mildest criticism of the monarch, how then, in the context of Somsak's own analysis can a democratically elected government be criticised for not operating a normal democracy?

The first of these points is important to broaden the understanding of the issue - and possibly to change it, something Somsak and others claim they want to do.

The second point is alluding to a basic failure in the rationale of many in the anti-LM debate something that would need to be overcome to move the debate forward.

Just waiting for Somsak to tell everyone in the anti-LM debate what to think is absurd and recreates and perpetuates the very social/cultural elitist hierarchies that sustain the monarchy.

Does an 8 point proposal for

Does an 8 point proposal for reform count as a plan?
(he copped a lot of heat over it, so at least some must think so)
You also seem to forget that Somsak was against the 'song mai ow' position taken by other academics at coup time, his main objection that they were openly criticizing the legitimacy of Thaksin, but not the other.
So if Somsak has criticised the current government, I'm sure he has done so for sound reasons.

Apart from turning an academic into a politician, do you have any other suggestions for speeding up the reform process?

My own view is that its near impossible for much more reform to happen under the current reign unless it comes from the top (of whichever camp), and the stuff Somsak is saying just lays groundwork for what might be able to happen under the next reign.
(and, overall, instead of criticizing him, I think you should be giving him credit for having the skill to move the debate along, and the guts to stick his head up in such a toxic environment)

Hobby Maybe I am being too

Hobby

Maybe I am being too harsh on Somsak and yes, 100%, this guy has worked tirelessly for a very long time to keep this issue going and deserves huge respect, no doubt of that.

Point I am trying to make is not just in regards to Somsak but to whole issue - what comes next? 8 point plans are all well and good but without any proper widespread support there will be NO change. That's just a simple fact.

And waiting for those at the top to deign to make change to LM is delusional.

Is there anything in all those coups, massacres and imprisonments that points to these elites wanting to give up one single iota of their power?

The only time that has happened is when a larger more broad based resistance has emerged - and even then that is problematic.

The Thai liberals have failed to organise themselves effectively because, in my view, they are as much prisoner to their own micro version of the elitism that secures the dominance of the ennobled powerful as that which sustains the whole sorry circus. They simply don't know how to reach out to ordinary Thais with their arguments and don't seem to want to learn how to do so either. Democracy starts at home...

We´ll see who was right,

We´ll see who was right, Sulak or Somsak, when Ekachai is sentenced on March 28th for lese majeste.

The fact is, Thaksin is continuing the LM persecution from where killer Abhisit left off.

It's not a question of which of these two individuals Thai people should support, but rather, if Thai people will ever support each other.

I'd hate to stir up the pot,

I'd hate to stir up the pot, but this phraseology about letting "the natives handle their own affairs" is possibly the best cop-out for non-interference I have come across in nearly seven decades on this orb of sanity we all live on.
According to the principles enshrined in the Thai criminal code, if any Thai does or says anything that impacts or is deemed to have an impact on anyone in the world, then those affected have every right to sue Thailand and Thais involved for defamation and a host of other charges. Thailand has already demonstrated its own enforcement of this convoluted justice by interrogating US nationals inside the United States without due process or permission from the US government.
As to "the natives" - who, exactly are they? Human rights abusers? Nope, not possible because it's their affair. Freedom of speech enemies? Nope, because freedom of speech has been curtailed by laws passed by the natives. Well, then, when we discuss "the natives" are we not talking about those people in a country who have a right to self-determination? That is, in essence, what the phrase "Let the natives handle it" really means. It means that those choosing to make a decision should not be interfered with. But then the great exception raises its head - when a people interfere with one another it is not interference.

As to that demonstration against the program, a couple of program supporters should have gone out, accompanied by a police guard detail, and taken photos and video of the protesters and placed it all online for all of us to "appreciate," together with the standard Royal Thai Police details of individual names, addresses and phone numbers, so that we might inquire with them directly as to why they can't obey their own monarch's advice.

What exactly is the monarch's

What exactly is the monarch's advice?
He says he can be criticized?
He says he doesn't want anyone arressted for LM?

Sec 6 of the Constitution: "The Constitution is the supreme law of State. The provisions of any law, rule or regulation, which are contrary to or inconsistent with this Constitution, shall be unenforceable."

Sec191 of the Constution: "The King has the prerogative to grant a pardon."

You know the answers to your

You know the answers to your own questions. Being smart means not jumping down the throat of others trying to bring sanity to Thailand, but in facing the truth.

Agree completely about facing

Agree completely about facing the truth, and I can guess at the answers, but how can I know the truth when there are so many conflicting views?
The monarch says something, but sane voices like Anand, Sulak, Somsak all have different views of what it means (and that's after dismissing the views of the less sane, like Tul & co:)

I think the idea that the

I think the idea that the natives ... whether here in Thailand or, for instance, in the United States ... have to be the ones to effect change.

Whether it's the UDD in Thailand ... with its core leadership on the billionaire's payroll ... or the corporate law party in the US, for instance ... no change will ever come from that quarter.

No change, top-down. Change, bottom-up ... not apparent, and it will have to be truly massive to prevail.

So what are the prospects for change? Not good. Unfortunately.

And our predicament ... environmentally, economically, and vis-a-vis the empire ... grows daily more dire.

PPT posted a very good link

PPT posted a very good link in a different connection : 14 October 1973 Student Movement in Thailand.

It's interesting that here we have 20 "very special people", apparently, deciding what 63,000,000 million Thais can or cannot watch, can or cannot talk about, on the "public broadcasting service".

I wonder if it is profitable

I wonder if it is profitable to compare those charged with lese majeste under the Inquisition with Galileo, Kepler, Tycho Brahe, or ... Giordano Bruno.

It seems that in Thailand it is political science, or attempts at something like it, that are claimed as the exclusive realm of the priests and denied to the scientists, rather than the astronomy and cosmology of the Roman Inquisitors.

I'm just reading now that René Descartes destroyed his own work, Le Monde, after hearing what had happened to Galileo. We'll never now know what was in it. What insights are being denied us all due to the Bangkok Inquisitions' dogmatic proscriptions here in Thailand?

Eppur si muove ... episode 5

Not profitable, perhaps, but

Not profitable, perhaps, but at least academically accurate.

PPT alerts that Prayuth takes

PPT alerts that Prayuth takes aim at TV monarchy debate

"It's within the constitutional rights of the media and TV producers to present a programme," Gen Prayuth said yesterday.

So .. end of story. Thanks Wassana.

The show was the first to publicly discuss whether the monarchy needs to be protected against defamation by the lese majeste law. ... Gen Prayuth said the only way the monarchy can be protected is by Section 112 of the Criminal Code, known as the lese majeste law. ... He said this is not the right time to make changes to the lese majeste law.

Oops, I guess not. I guess Wassana/Prayuth are miffed because they weren't invited on the programme? And so are availing themselves of the constitutional right (?) of the Royal Thai Army chief and his mouthpiece to have the last word in any debate they choose?

Gen Prayuth said he was confident most people in the country
1. revere the monarchy and
2. want it to be protected.

S/He conflates the two issues :
1. the monarchy and
2. the Royal Thai Army's Article 112 decree of 1976, made right after their massacre and coup of 6 October.

And further asserts her/his confidence that the Thai people do too. And so support the constitutional right (?) created by the RTA's 1976 decree of arbitrary detention and draconian punishment ... Article 112.

But we'll have to take her/his word for it because discussion of the point ... finding out what people actually do think ... is not "an appropriate thing to do during this time when political conflicts remain sharp." And political conflicts always remain sharp, says s/he, seated at her/his whetstone.

What would happen it there were a referendum on Article 112 and the people voted it down?

"People who are in the minority must accept that," he said. "If they are uncomfortable living here because of the [defeat of the] lese majeste law, then they can find somewhere else to live."

Will there be a referendum on Article 112?

The House panel on political development, media and public participation will today decide whether to probe a complaint against Thai PBS for insulting the monarchy by airing the broadcast.