Throughout this conflict, the great unmentionable, not just for the Thai press but also for most foreign reporters, has been the role of King Bhumibol, his family and their closest courtiers. The world’s most ferociously enforced law against lèse-majesté (offending the crown) prevents even the mildest discussion of the palace’s role in Thai public life. Such laws are mostly in disuse elsewhere, but Thailand’s was harshened in the 1970s. Absurdly, anyone can bring a lèse-majesté suit. The police have to take seriously the most trivial complaints. All this makes the law a useful tool for politicians and others seeking a way to damage their foes. Often, the press is not allowed to explain the nature of any supposed offence against the crown, so Thais have no way to tell whether it really was so disrespectful.
The lèse-majesté law is an outrage in itself. It should not be enforced in any country with democratic pretensions. Worse is that the law hides from Thais some of the reasons for their chronic political woes. For what the king himself calls the “mess” Thailand is in stems in many ways from his own meddling in politics during his 62-year reign (see article). In part, the strife also reflects jockeying for power ahead of the succession. With the king celebrating his 81st birthday on December 5th, that event looms ever larger.
Much of the story of how the king’s actions have hurt his country’s politics is unfamiliar because Thais have not been allowed to hear it. Some may find our criticisms upsetting, but we do not make them gratuitously. Thailand needs open debate if it is to prepare for the time when a less revered monarch ascends the throne. It cannot be good for a country to subscribe to a fairy-tale version of its own history in which the king never does wrong, stays above politics and only ever intervenes on the side of democracy. None of that is true.
In the imagination of Thai royalists their country is like Bhutan, whose charismatic new king is adored by a tiny population that prefers royal rule to democracy. In reality, with public anger at the queen’s support for the thuggish PAD and the unsuitability of Bhumibol’s heir simmering, Thailand risks the recent fate of Nepal, which has suffered a bitter civil war and whose meddling king is now a commoner in a republic. The PAD was nurtured by the palace and now threatens to engulf it. An enduring image of the past few days is that of PAD toughs shooting at government supporters while holding up the king’s portrait. The monarchy is now, more clearly than ever, part of the problem. It sits at the apex of a horrendously hierarchical and unequal society. You do not have to be a republican to agree that this needs to be discussed.
As The Economist went to press, on the eve of the king's birthday, he was reported to be unwell, and unable to deliver his usual annual speech to the nation. So he had still not repudiated the yellow-shirts' claims to be acting in his name. His long silence has done great damage to the rule of law in Thailand. He could still help, by demanding, as no one else can, the abolition of the archaic lèse-majesté law and the language in the current charter that supports it, and so enable Thais to have a proper debate about their future. He made a half-hearted stab at this in 2005, saying he should not be above criticism. But nothing short of the law’s complete repeal will do. Thailand’s friends should tell it so.
Well, what can I say? This is only one story The Economist did. The other one is much more critical.
On a personal level, I don't like the idea of attacking HMTK on his birthday, especially when he is old, sick and just lost his older sister.
On the other hand, everything here needs to be said and somebody has to get the ball rolling. Sixty one years is a long time to wait for the international media to awake from it sleepy slumber.
The Economist will be attacked by the Thai intelligentsia, probably will be banned, and its reporters will be persona non grata in Thailand, like Paul Handley. Of course, there won't be any intelligent arguments allowed, only right-wing nationalist attacks against The Economist by all and sundry. I am sure the opinion writers over at The Nation are waiting in anticipation of attacking The Economist this week. After all, The Nation went into hysterics over the You Tube videos, and they have had a vendetta against The Economist for years, because it has never accepted The Nation's lies and propaganda concerning Thaksin. The hysterics over in the "free speech" Democrat Party will probably propose the death penalty for lese majeste after these recent articles.
Outside of the The King Who Never Smiles, I don't think I have ever read articles as critical as the monarchy as these pieces. That should tell us something about the professional integrity of the international media the last 60 years, which has been as obsequious and uncritical of the monarchy as the Thai media.
Here is the link the other article
Here is another article on the monarchy that made it into the International Heral Tribune this week also.