There can be no struggle for democracy which ignores lèse majesté – so why is the Free Thai Movement silent about this?

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

During a trip to Denmark a few months ago I met with Thai pro-democracy activists. Many of them were former Red Shirts who now identify themselves with the Free Thai Movement. To my surprise I discovered that the Free Thai Movement were reluctant to have any public discussion or any public position about the lèse majesté law.

A few weeks ago in another discussion with two activists from the Free Thai Movement, who are based in Europe, it was confirmed to me that there was a policy of remaining silent about lèse majesté. It was argued that Thai society “was not yet ready” for a campaign against the law. They explained that “Ordinary villagers would not understand” such a campaign and people would accuse the movement of wanting to overthrow the monarchy. They believed that it would be a “diversion” from the struggle for democracy.

Somsak Jeamteerasakul believes that the position of the Free Thais on lèse majesté originates from Taksin and the Pua Thai Party. This seems a reasonable conclusion, given that Taksin has never said a word about the need to abolish lèse majesté and Pua Thai’s disastrous amnesty bill at the end of 2013 specifically excluded lèse majesté political prisoners while proposing to give amnesty to state killers. On this, Pua Thai and the supporters of the present military junta are in total agreement. For these people lèse majesté is a “holy law” which cannot be touched. In their view the so-called crime of lèse majesté is worse than murder and is an “extremely serious threat to national security”.

On this last point, the threat to national security, these various members of the elite have a point. Both the conservative elites, especially the military coupsters, and their elite rivals in the opposite Taksin camp, use the monarchy to justify defending their privileged positions. This is what they mean by “national security”. For all of them the monarchy is their justification for ruling class power and inequality, a mask for them to hide behind. The only difference between the two sides is that for the Taksin’s camp, democratic elections and overwhelming electoral support was an important legitimising factor.

None of this implies that the King has any power. As I have argued in other articles and posts, he is merely a tool of the elites, especially the military. He is a “synthetic god” created by them for use in ruling over the rest of us.

But returning to the question of lèse majesté; the expansion of Thailand’s democratic space is impossible without the abolition of this draconian law. Any movement or human rights organisation that remains silent about lèse majesté, and the prisoners who are languishing in jail because of this law, will be totally ineffectual in helping the struggle for democracy.

Both Somsak and I believe that those who have prominent positions in the democracy movement have a duty to lead and part of that leadership should include campaigning against the lèse majesté law. Without such leadership how can the majority of ordinary people in Thailand be persuaded to oppose lèse majesté? How can ordinary folk who are subjected to one-sided royalist propaganda be forced to think and choose sides? And if this law is not abolished how can there ever be freedom of speech and democracy?

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