Giles Ji Ungpakorn
Recently there has been a flurry of arrests and lèse-majesté accusations against police officers and others, including army officers, who have supposedly been claiming “false connections” to the Palace for personal gain. Two detainees have died in prison. This is some weird internal row among the elites connected to the purging of people associated with the odious Crown Prince’s divorced ex-wife. In general terms it is of little interest to those campaigning for freedom and democracy, but it does raise the question of the use of lèse-majesté.
Of course the backwoodsmen defend the existence of lèse-majesté in Thailand on the basis that it protects the monarchy. Apart from the question of whether the country should even have such a parasitic and out-dated institution, there is also the question of why a public institution should require such draconian protection. It seems to be a symptom of extreme unease and lack of confidence in the stability of the monarchy on the part of the elites. This gives the lie to the claim that the monarchy is “much loved by all” and “regarded as a semi-god” by the population.
The King is a weak and manipulated individual and the Crown Prince will be equally weak. The monarchy exists in order to justify the actions of the military and other elites. What the military and the conservative elites fear most is that their “mascot” or “puppet” will crumble to dust.
When we look at the victims of lèse-majesté, we start to see a pattern. During the political crisis over the last 10 years, lèse-majesté cases have mushroomed, especially under the harsh authoritarian regime which came to power as a result of the Prayut military coup of 2014. The vast majority of cases have been among left-leaning pro-democracy activists. This is also the pattern since the Second World War. So apart from the odd cases against people like Sulak Sivarak, lèse-majesté is a weapon used by the Thai ruling class against the Left.
Another use of lèse-majesté is as a weapon, used by those factions in power at any particular time, against their rivals, people who need to be purged, or people such as foreign journalists who express “inconvenient” views. This was the case before under Taksin and before the current political crisis. It characterises the recent purges mentioned above.
However, when we look at the recent charges of claiming “false connections” to the Palace for personal gain, the biggest offender is Prayut’s coup d’état gang and all the previous military dictators in Thailand. These self-appointed dictators have all claimed to be acting on “connections” with the Palace and the need to protect the monarchy. Once in power they have then proceeded to line their own pockets, increase the military budget, and appoint their cronies to high positions. Most top military officers have accumulated wealth way beyond their state salaries.
Another group of people who have claimed “false connections” to the Palace for personal gain are the middle-class yellow shirted thugs, including Sutep’s gang, who have played such an important role in the destruction of democracy and are hoping that the military-backed anti-reforms will allow them more influence in Thai society in the future.
Naturally, neither the military nor the middle-class thugs face any lèse-majesté charges, which just goes to show who benefits from the monarchy and the one-sided manner in which lèse-majesté is used. This abominable law cannot be reform. It needs to be scrapped.