Manit Sriwanichpoom, ‘112’ In the Silpa Wattanatham column of Siamrath Weekly
Yr. 59, Vol.23, 24 February – 1 March.
“Fight! Negotiate!” These words aptly describe our country at this point.
Not Thai fighting Khmer or battling Hun Sen somewhere, but Thai fighting Thai. Fighting each other. Even though people watching from outside see no guns or spears being taken up, nobody being run through – as happened in April and May last year - even so, the war is not over. It has only changed shape and form, becoming a submerged current, a volcano just waiting to erupt.
The “Love Thailand! Go Forward Thailand!” event was no more than a shameless self-congratulation by the government of Yingluck Shinawatr and cronies for their failed response to the problems of the floods. Yingluck Shinawatr met with ‘Pa’ Prem, General Prem Tinsulanonda (whom Taksin and the red shirts accused of masterminding the 19 Sept. 2006 coup). Prem presided at the event which was aimed at generating a public relations image of ‘reconciliation,’ finally arrived.
Many who watched the live TV broadcast may have felt no little surprise that this ‘reconciliation’ by Mrs. Yingluck, the Puer Thai party and the red shirts could happen so easily. Just invite ‘Pa’ Prem himself and all will be well. I don’t think it will be that easy. They may be reconciled with the soldiers who opposed them, but will they be reconciled with the people who cling to what is right and just? That will be more challenging and difficult. In any case, we should watch this episode of the Thai political melodrama as the orchestra plays on. There are still many scenes remaining to be acted out.
If anyone has been following politics in the mere two months since the floods, they’ll see some distinct changes. First of all, they’ll see that Taksin Shinawatr, the Puer Thai party and the red shirts have been distancing themselves from the Nitiraht group in the matter of making changes in Article 112 of the criminal code. Previously, they had supported and defended [the Nitiraht initiative]. Article 112 addresses cases of lèse majesté.
Taksin, Pu Yingluck’s government, the Puer Thai party and the red shirts [now] announce in a ringing chorus that they do not support any alteration in Article 112. It is difficult to find any explanation [for this turnabout], except that some clandestine pact has been made with ‘an influential individual outside the Constitution’ about this and other matters ( including assurances that there will be no coup against Pu’s government, as Jatuporn said when he came out beating on a pan and telling the media.)
In any case, the noise about Article 112 is only the start of a negotiating game. You have to keep watching closely: Pu’s government is moving to change the whole constitution (not just one article). How will the negotiation game between Taksin and his enemies turn out? Will Taksin be able to return home unblemished and not have to serve jail time? We will have to wait and see.
Back for a moment to the issue of the calls concerning Article 112 by the Nitiraht group. There have been accusations that this group may have received some assignment from Taksin. However much the group and their supporters may deny this, it just so happens that their call for change will involve overturning some actions of the 19 Sept. 2006 coup, which would, in fact, be useful to Thaksin. So some part of society cannot but go on feeling suspicious and dubious.
This [Nitiraht] group is asking too much. They go further than just correcting the process of considering guilt and punishment in Article 112. They propose to greatly change the relationship and status of ‘the monarchy and Thai society’. They want to strictly control the king when he speaks on television by having someone draft any speeches to be read on air. (Such a proviso seems to date back from the era of Field Marshal P. Pibulsongkram, who worried that the point of view of the king might not be perfectly neutral in political matters.)
Speaking of royal addresses on television, they are one way for the king to communicate directly with the people, his subjects. Mostly, such speeches take place only on important occasions – they are not simply indiscriminate ramblings. Matters must be judiciously considered. If things go as Nitiraht wants, what will the status of the monarchy be? Will it be symbolic, or will it resemble a puppet manipulated by the Thai government? How far will the rights and freedoms of the throne be limited?
The second matter is the proviso that the king must swear to defend the constitution. This proposal would have to be called ‘extreme’. It shows that the Nitiraht group lacks firm trust and belief in the monarchy, despite the affirmations that the king has always been required to make before ascending the throne. That is, he pours lustral water and solemnly affirms that he will govern the kingdom according to the Ten Divine Rules of Kingly Ethics. It is not clear if the Nitiraht proposals trespass upon the honor of the king or attempt to draw him into a cycle of conflict over political power among soldiers and politicians. It could impede the ability of the royal institution to remain above politics in future.
Finally, all those appointed as judges and high ranking soldiers in the various branches of the military will swear their allegiance to the prime minister (representing the king) before assuming their new rank.
This point, it should be clear, diminishes the status of the Crown, and may be in conflict with Section 2 on the Monarchy, Article 10 of the Constitution. The king is ranked as the head of all the Thai armed forces. But [in the Nitiraht idea] the status of the prime minister becomes equal to the president in a republic. In this case, the relation between the monarchy and the Thai military will change: we will no longer hear it said that, ‘We are His Majesty’s soldiers.’ Rather, it will become, ‘We are the Prime Minister’s soldiers.’
I wonder. Try asking all those judges and all those ranking soldiers to whom they really want to pledge their allegiance, if they have to choose between a king and a politician. (In such a case, if I were Taksin, I would certainly go along with Nitiraht.) You can see that Nitiraht has a hidden agenda which goes much further than just asking to correct the criminal code of Article 112.
As for myself, I used to write about this subject and I have long supported some corrective changes in Article 112, both concerning the sentences involved (they should be lighter) and the right to bring charges (not just anyone should be able to do it). But who should the plaintiff be? That is a matter that requires further consideration. [I have also written about] the issue of releasing the court’s decision, about the question of what the lèse majesté actually was in order to create understanding and for further study; and about the status and manner of considering the case. A similar law could be passed that doesn’t involve the ‘national security’ classification.
Progress on this issue should be transparent and straightforward. If the Nitiraht people need to change and correct the role of the Thai monarchy, they should announce themselves clearly – take off the wrappings. Do they truly want the Thai king to be a mere ‘symbol’ or ‘rubber stamp’ for career politicians? Don’t cover it up! Let the whole society see the picture of the new relationships between the royal institution and the people. How will it be? Will we want it? This indeed will affect everyone in the whole country.
As for Taksin, the proposal of the Nitiraht group about correcting Article 112 is merely part of the game to regain power: release this group to create pressure on the royal institution and those associated with it. At the same time, secret negotiations can go on to regain what is needed: many cards are being played at one time. You will see that the Nitiraht group and the red shirts are moving to increase the power of elected politicians. They think that they will take the former or the existing power of the institution of the monarchy and give it to politicians. No need to refer to, or speak of, or waste any breath saying that Thai politicians lack ethical and moral quality. How did they get to where they are today? Who chose them? How did they rot? They rot and don’t change. Only the faces change.
If this Taksin that you love really comes back to rule, we may have a new 112 liable law to protect the prime minister especially: “Article 112. Who commits liable, insults, or threatens harm to the prime minister and his family will be punished with imprisonment with a sentence of 3-15 years.”
Think about it. Even though Taksin is abroad, in Thai parliamentary discussions, they still don’t refer to him by name. What will it be like, then, if he actually comes back to Thailand?
I want the Nitiraht group to rethink what they are doing. Instead of limiting or reducing the role of the monarchy and increasing the role of untrustworthy politicians, why don’t they think of giving more power to the people, as their name suggests.
I propose that when someone is to become prime minister or assume a leading rank in the armed forces, they should take the oath before a host of the people at Sanam Luang. The occasion should be something holy. There should be a calling upon of all the gods. The holiest Buddha images should be assembled. Images and altars of other faiths should also be present [to join in sanctifying the occasion]. And there should also be a guillotine set up for anyone who is found to have been corrupted. Behead them!
Whatever has to be done to evoke a conscience in politicians, to persuade them to work on behalf of all Thai people, that is what should be done! They should not be allowed to go on talking and evading and viewing the public as nothing more than numbers of votes which will get them into a corrupted position of power where they only take benefits for themselves and their cronies.
When that happens, doubts about the intentions of Nitiraht will melt away.