Saturday, May 24, 2008

Gearing up for a right royal fight


LEAVE the monarchy out of politics, warns Surayud Chulanont, a member of the Privy Council (the royally-appointed group of advisors of the Thai king).

Media should boycott politicians who involve the monarchy in politics, urges Admiral Sathiraphan Keyanon, the Navy Commander-in-Chief.

Armed forces remain concerned about politicising the monarchy, cautions General Anupong Paochinda, the Army chief.

THESE breaking news flashes by The Nation on its website early this week beg the question why Thailand’s revered royal family is being dragged into politics.

According to Worapol Promigabutr, Thammasat University associate professor of sociology and anthropology, a political force in Thailand which he calls the oligarchy (politicians, bureaucrats and businessmen who benefited from Thailand’s previous coups) is playing the explosive royalist card to destabilise the four-month-old Samak Sundaravej government.

“The oligarchy has failed to rally the masses by using methods such as money (paying protestors) or issues (fortune teller predicting chaos or Manchester City fans emblazoning Thaksin Shinawatra’s name on the national flag during a match in England) against the Samak government, so now it is using the revered status of the monarchy to stir up emotions,” explains Worapol.

“If there is popular unrest, the oligarchy can use it as a pretext to overthrow the Samak government (which is a coalition government led by the pro-Thaksin, People Power Party or PPP).”

Central to the running political battle between the Samak government and the oligarchy is the government’s plan to amend the army-drafted constitution that was approved by a slim majority in a national referendum on Aug 19, last year during military rule.

“The 2007 constitution favours the oligarchic power and it would do anything to block any attempt to rewrite it,” Worapol notes.

The oligarchy’s current punching bag is Jakrapob Penkair, a minister in the Prime Minister’s Office. The 41-year-old firebrand politician is accused of offending the monarchy in his speech delivered at a talk organised by the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand (FCCT) in August last year.

Last week, the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD), which in 2005 and 2006 led street protests against then prime minister Thaksin for alleged disrespect of the monarchy and corruption, issued a statement saying the current “puppet government” was tolerant when certain ministers expressed views that were “perilous to the monarchy”.

“To allow people like this to stay in the Cabinet is a threat to the constitutional monarchy,” the PAD added.

Jakrapob is accused of lese majeste (a French expression which means ‘insulting the monarchy’) because “when you attack Jakrapob, you are also attacking the Samak government and the PPP,” notes Worapol.

“The hope is to ignite the people’s anger and direct it towards the Samak government, and that the people would go take to the streets to in protest against it,” he explains.

“For the Thai people, the royal family, especially King Bhumibol Adulyadej, is semi-sacred. And when they hear that Jakrapob has insulted the monarchy it will stir negative emotions against him.”

On the night Jakrapob gave his controversial talk at the FCCT in Bangkok, Worapol was also a guest speaker.

“My memory tells me he did not criticise the royal family. That night Jakrapob tried to be an academician by giving an analysis of Thailand’s patronage system during the Sukhothai period (1238 to 1438),” the sociologist recalls.

Jakrapob has defended himself in a television programme, saying the accusation rose from a translation error from English to Thai.

The phrase “patronage system” was mistranslated into “royal patronage” so when he criticised the patronage system it was translated as if he was criticising “royal patronage.”

Despite his explanation, Jakrapob’s critics have continued to attack him.

To get an idea on how this lese majeste controversy will play out, let's look at The Nation’s breaking news flashed in the later part of the week.

DAAD to back Jakrapob all the way, says Jatuporn Prompan, a member of Democratic Alliance Against Dictatorship, an alliance of anti-coup organisations which Jakrapob co-leads.

Jakrapob to hold press conference on Monday. This news flash announced that the embattled politician plans to distribute translated copies of his speech as proof of him having no intent to violate the revered institution.

(Published in The Star on May 24, 2008)


Craig said...

The LM event at the FCCT was not over a year ago as U and Jakapob say but less than a year ago

Anyone with half an education knows that he is a guilty traitor