On Wednesday, May 11, 2011, throngs of supporters of the right to speak, including many so-called “Red Shirts”, will again lay siege to the Nag Lerng Police Station in downtown Bangkok. Another reminder of the packed room of the Faculty of Law, Thammasat University in late April, when a press conference was held by the Nitirat Group (http://www.enlightened-jurists.com/) and a lecturer who was facing intimidation and imminent legal actions for his exercise of the right to freedom expression.
Somsak Jeamteerasakul, a history professor from Thammasat University, will report to police in Bangkok to answer accusations that he violated Section 112. He has made sharp criticisms over the misuse of the lèse majesté law (Section 112 of the Penal Code) and called for reform of the monarchy to make it more suitable to a changing democracy. After the arrest of Surachai Danwattananusorn, a core leader of Red Siam, a splinter group of the Red Shirt movement, and Somyot Prueksakasemsuk, a core leader of the 24th June Group which is spearheading the collection of 10,000 signatures for the amendment and repeal of Section 112, now the three persons with the initial S have fallen prey to the law which provides ridiculously high penalties (3-15 years of imprisonment), spells out dubious application and allows anyone to make the complaint.
Such use of the law is obviously an impediment to the right to freedom of expression, a very basic and indispensable right enshrined and made applicable by national and international instruments. The question is, when will the Pheu Thai Party which claims itself as “more democratic” than other political parties in Thailand come out to take a clear stand to uphold the right to freedom of expression, without which any system merely deserves to be called a mockery of democracy? The Party always claims to command the loyalty of the Red Shirts or members of the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD) who have paid dearly for the fight for democratic rights including the right to speak.
It is fine for the Pheu Thai Party to keep selling its policy gimmicks, the so-called “populist policies” to garner support from “Red” constituents. But to live up to its word as being a more democratic party, the Party has to make its stand clear as to whether it will support the right to differ and how it will address the law and the misuse of the law to serve vested political interests and trample on the democracy they claim to hold dear to their heart.
Previously, the Pheu Thai Party announced a “two-pronged” policy basically to separate the activism of the Red Shirt movement from their political campaign bracing for the forthcoming general elections. Without much scrutiny and with proper sanity, one can conclude that the distancing of the Party from the Red Shirt movement simply stems from their fear and concern over the misuse of the lèse majesté law to persecute dissenting voices. The Party’s stand was simply a response to the latest announcement by the Department of Special Investigation (DSI) which threatened to press more charges against those committing breaches of Section 112. And of course, a natural response to the Royal Thai Army which has announced and already pressed charges against those accused of violating the law. Judging from the number having to stand accused in court on lèse majesté charges in the past few years and the sheer number of them affiliated or are known to be siding with the Red Shirts, it was to no one’s surprise that such a laughable and flawed “two-pronged” policy was brought out as a tactic for the Party to disown them and save themselves.
The traditional Thai term Prai connotes the very core identity of the Red Shirts. Such a commonly viewed derogative word has been proudly adopted by the Red Shirts from the core leaders down to those occupying the two main sites in Bangkok for almost three months last year. Equally echoed out loud is the term Ammart, or literally “courtiers” or “aristocrats”, which has been symbolically used by the Red Shirts to identify the powers that be, the “exalted ones”, they are vehemently opposed to.
But in terms of the battle against the Ammart, from Thai Rak Thai to its reincarnation, Pheu Thai, have they shown any distinctive difference to other political parties? The answer is perhaps “no”.
In late April this year, the House of Representatives (217 or 272 MPs) passed in three readings the Public Demonstrations Bill. For pundits, the law will be an important weapon for the government to suppress the rights to freedom of expression, association, and peaceful assembly. It will be a sharp blade that cuts deeply into the core freedoms that people in a democracy deserve. What have the 188 MPs of the Pheu Thai done to oppose this undemocratic bill? They simply pulled out of the Special Committee of the House of Representatives to review the draft of the Bill (which simply means they have no say whatever as far as amendments to the draft are concerned).
Have anyone heard from the Pheu Thai Party, officially or unofficially, if they have any clear and tangible policy to uphold the right to freedom of expression? Has the policy announced by Thaksin during the recent launch of the Pheu Thai’s candidates given any consideration to upholding the right which is so essential to keep checks and balances against the state power?
Clicking on the homepage of the Pheu Thai Party (http://www.ptp.or.th/default.aspx), one will only find their gimmicks about increasing salaries of university graduate, increasing the minimum wage to 300 baht per day, a guaranteed price of 20,000 baht per ton for jasmine rice, etc.
It’s time for the Red Shirts, if they are the real supporters of the Pheu Thai Party, to hold the Party accountable and take them to task. And it is time for the Party to refrain from excusing itself by claiming that “we’ve got to win the elections first!” As an eligible voter, I won’t buy it and I shall not vote for any political party that present no concrete stand and solutions to untangle the misuse of this repressive law.