Interview: Commoners’ party insists on the need to amend the lèse majesté law

While the ruling Pheu Thai Party has disappointed its red-shirt voters over the controversial blanket amnesty bill, the idea of an alternative political party has been discussed more and more among red shirts. As if this was the perfect moment, Thanaporn Sriyakul, who was banned from politics for five years from 2008 as deputy leader of now-defunct Matchima Thippatai Party, disbanded because of electoral fraud, is working closely with veteran politician Somsak Thepsuthin to pass on his experience to political science students at Mahanakorn University of Technology. About to regain his political rights next month, he has announced an alternative political party which vows to give priority to the amendment of the lèse majesté law. The abolition of the law is even an option, he said. The establishment of autonomy in the restive Deep South is also a campaign highlight. Thaweeporn Kummetha talked to Thanaporn about this dream party of liberals. 
 
What is the name of the anew party? 
 
We’re finalizing the party name. The party name will express the concept of the common people in order to reflect the party’s core principles of equality and the need for Thai society to be ruled under international standards. We may name it the Common People Party in English and abbreviate it as CPP. 
 
Why common people?
 
Hierarchical thinking has led to misunderstandings in society and also to discrimination. [Discrimination] has led to a widening conflict. 
 
Why do you give priority to the amendment of the lèse majesté law?
 
Since the coup d’etat in 2006, we can see the rise in the number of 112 cases simply because the law was politicized. While the monarchy cannot respond, we usually see people claiming the monarchy to limit the rights of common people. If we let this continue, it will lead to a chronic problem. Letting anyone politicize the monarchy is a worrying trend. 
 
How do you want to amend Article 112?
 
Abolition of the law is an option. Another option is to rewrite the law to remove the loophole that allows the law to be politicized. For example, a state agency could have the sole authority to file lèse majesté complaints, instead of letting anyone file complaints. Moreover, offences against the monarchy should be separated from offences against the state. The stability of the monarchy should be kept separate from the stability of the state. After we make that distinction, then defamation of the monarchy will be considered as a libel suit. However, as the monarch is the head of state, the penalty may be harsher than for defamation of individuals.
 
Who are the party’s target voters?
 
Whatever colour. We target anyone who wishes to see real democracy, not Thai-style democracy, who wishes to see the rule of law, who wishes to see parliamentarians talk about structural problems, who wishes to narrow economic disparity, who wants Thailand to ratify ILO Convention 87, the Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise Convention 1948 of the International Labour Organization, and who wishes to see the Thai parliament enact a Competition Law for fair markets for all.  
 
The issue of Article 112 is very controversial. Are you afraid that campaigning for the amendment of this law would deter a number of supporters and allies? 
 
We give priority to the amendment of Article 112 as this manifests the party’s core principle, so whoever disagrees with this is not welcome. I don’t care. At least we are proud that this is going to be the first party to put this issue of amendment on the table. Thai academics have talked about this a lot but Thai politicians pretend that it has never happened. 
 
Are you afraid of being accused of having a hidden agenda against the monarchy?
 
Let the accusers accuse. Our actions will prove our innocence. I don’t see any connection between amending Article 112 and the abolition of the monarchy. The monarchy has existed in Thai society for a long time and this situation will continue.  
 
What is the party’s stance on the amnesty issue?  
 
We want to amend Article 309 of the Constitution in order to eradicate the consequences of the coup d’etat and bring all sides into the normal judicial process. Abhisit Vejjajiva and Suthep Thaugsuban must be tried by the normal procedure. Regarding Thaksin, this is not to whitewash Thaksin, but to have him enter the normal judicial process. 
 
How about the party’s policy toward the southern insurgency? Can you elaborate on the proposal to establish autonomy in the South?
 
Ten years have proved that the current policy toward the restive Deep South doesn’t work. If we want to stay together, we have to accept our differences and voluntarily stay together. We wish to establish autonomy like in Hong Kong. 
 
How long have you be planning to establish this political party? Did you choose the timing when the amnesty issue has divided the red shirts and the ruling Pheu Thai party?  
 
I have planned to set up a party since 2010. It’s just a happy coincidence.