Saturday, February 4, 2012

Thailand • Irony Piles Up

A List of Interesting Ironies

A few days ago, the University in Thailand that most prides itself on promoting free speech and democratic ideals placed a ban on a moderate, apolitical group of academics seeking an open discussion of Thailand's lèse-majesté law.

A couple of weeks ago, there was an open letter signed by several of the most blue-blooded descendants of royalty in Thailand suggesting that this law be amended.

Those currently in power, often accused by their political opponents of wanting to subvert the revered monarchical institution of this country, have turned out to be the most knee-jerk and draconian advocates of the law.

Designed with the noble purpose of protecting that which Thai people hold most dear, the law has in the last decade been used as a political stick, a rallying cry for witch-hunters, or a way of entrapping old men and teenage girls.

The King himself, the person being protected by this law, has publicly stated in completely clear words, understandable to all, that he is troubled by the way this law is applied.  Yet those who claim most stridently to be protecting him have completely failed to take the King's own thoughts into account.

I would submit that some of the loudest voices, competing to outdo each other in nationalism and royalism, are hypocrites.

The King of Thailand has never endorsed the way this law is used, yet it is always he who gets international bad press when extremists apply the law in ways that contravene basic human rights.

I would suggest that those who truly love this country, and who truly love this King who has done so much for this country, should start off by cooling their rhetoric and actually listening to what His Majesty has had to say on the issue.

I would also want to state that a strong, stable and progressive system of constitutional monarchy is in no way whatsoever inconsistent with open, rational discussion of that system.  Indeed, such discussion makes the system stronger.

Democracy and Monarchy are not opposites.  If that were so, why is Great Britain so successful a monarchy, and so successful a democracy?

I believe that the sharp turn towards a muzzled society, which began in the Thaksin era but which was not repaired by any subsequent government, cannot disguise the fact that Thailand's spirit is essentially a free spirit.

The best that is in the Thai people, including the love of freedom, is embodied in the person and the institution that Thais cherish the most.

I urge those in power not to desecrate that institution while loudly proclaiming to be protecting it.  The people of Thailand are not idiots.


  1. First of all Mr. Somtow, I do agree that the use of lèse-majesté law has much hidden political agenda: slander the enemy, rally up support and invoke anger towards a specific etc. But your stance on the matter is equivocal at best, What do you suggest we do with the law?

    If the law has exploited thus far, won't amending it be the right course?

    I say, from countless contradictions in your post, you have been a victim or even the perpetuator of hypocrisy you sought to criticize.

    "I would also want to state that a strong, stable and progressive system of constitutional monarchy is in no way whatsoever inconsistent with open, rational discussion of that system. Indeed, such discussion makes the system stronger."

    An open, rational discussion of this system. Lèse-majesté law prevents this! Any critical comments against the Monarchy is considered illegal and if not, will be reinterpreted by the opposition to make it so. How so can we have a rational discussion when all the speakers are jailed, everyone refuses to listen and the judicial system and the press cannot discuss or publish what has been said?

    "Democracy and Monarchy are not opposites."

    They are polar opposites Mr.Somtow. Can I argue that the Roman Republic and the Roman Kingdom were under the same form of government? Democratic country is for the people by the people, elected by majority vote. A Monarchial is a country ruled by one man, absolute or not, the man has higher status than anyone else and he is above the law. A constitutional monarchy still has the king at top but under the constitution, in which, certain articles grant him benefits. Be sure to make your point.

    "If that were so, why is Great Britain so successful a monarchy, and so successful a democracy?"

    Oh, why so Mr. Somtow. Because there's no lèse-majesté law to exploit and abuse nor free speech is ever restricted. Have you seen the countless satires of the UK's royalties? Have you seen the consequences of trying to do so in Thailand? We had youtube blocked for a year, that's what happened, god forbid you get jailed there.

    "Thailand's spirit is essentially a free spirit"

    No. No. No! Free? A country which never shed it's feudalistic nature, the stark contrast between the rich and the poor and it's oppression of the poor by the rich, Thailand, is a free spirit? Do we have an equivalent of the American dream where all has equal freedom and opportunity to pursue what they want and succeed? No. Are we all equal? The much negative and condescending sentiments of the rich towards the poor. And the elephant in the room, the commoners and the royalties? How can you say, that the spirit of the country is free?

    Criticizing others as hypercritical while your own rhetoric doesn't escape the same label. The ironies pile up, Mr. Somtow. And you're a part of it.

  2. Dear Jman,

    Thanks for your comments, though I do think that you have missed the irony of ny column entirely because you're a bit clouded by preconceptions about the kind of person you think I'm supposed to be. In fact most of what you said has not so much disputed my comments so much as made their subtext clear. I would refer you to Shostakovich's Fifth Symphony, which was able to be seen by the authorities as wholly laudatory whilst by its audience as subversive. This is how people who are actually able to think are forced to express themselves. I don't think that my stance is in fact that equivocal. You have just assumed there's nothing between the lines.

    All best