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Opposing Views Must be Heard in Thailand



ANTI-AMENDMENT: Deputy Democrat spokeswoman Chitpas Bhirombhakdi, right, leads a public campaign near the Royal Plaza against a movement by the Nitirat group to amend the lese majeste law. PHOTO: THITI WANNAMONTHA


CHIANGRAI TIMES – Thailand is at an interesting period in its politics, both nationally and internationally. The country’s political and social history is likely to be reshaped by a string of issues that have engulfed national politics at the moment, and by their outcomes. The issues are the constitutional crisis, the polarization of public opinion and general ideological clashes. At present the lese majeste law is the issue that has come right to the fore, largely because it is being debated openly in public by both its proponents and opponents.

The Nitirat group of Thammasat University academics’ proposal to amend Article 112 of the Criminal Code has roused the whole nation amidst growing discontent from certain civic and academic groups. It is clear that the proposed amendment of the lese majeste law has to an extent radicalized certain sections of Thai society, which already remains politically divided.

While this kind of partisan competition is to be expected in an open and free society, the situation in Thailand could soon reach an extreme and dangerous level. If it does, it will quickly become an apparent cause for critics to label the governance of Thailand as unstable. In order to peacefully get through this turbulent chapter in our political history, the government and Thai public need to re-examine recent eras in both local and international political history to avoid repeating past mistakes.

A woman holds a flag calling for an amendment to Section 112 of the Criminal Code, also known as the lese majeste law. She was attending a forum organised by law academics from the Nitirat group at Thammasat University, Tha Prachan campus, yesterday. THITI WANNAMONTHA

Thailand is at a critical juncture politically and socially. This is a period when, in our own national politics, we are aware that paradigms have shifted. What we had thought was impossible has become entirely possible. We are faced with the fact that much of our political life seems to be based on nothing much except the exchange of accusations and attempts to muzzle and prosecute those with opposite views. The academic group’s proposal to amend the lese majeste law is just one of the controversies that reflect the sad realities of Thai society at present.

Last Saturday’s gathering of pink-clad supporters of the lese majeste law at the Royal Plaza saw the burning of effigies of Vorachet Pakeerat and other law lecturers, who have spearhead a campaign to amend this law. The scene smacks of the horror of October 4, 1976 when rightist students accompanying the police lynched several leftist students and burned their bodies at Thammasat University. Forty-two people were killed and 200 more injured on that day alone.

Was the Saturday gathering a harbinger of worse to come? Whatever the future holds for Thailand, it’s clear from the event that public opinion is hugely divided on key issues. Is our society mature enough to discuss this highly sensitive issue in a rational manner? This is a very similar question to that which other countries have had to face due to a reluctance to openly discuss certain sensitive issues such as race or religion. The emotional debate in such situations can lead to even greater complications.

Nonetheless, in order for a democratic political system to thrive, people must learn to listen to opposite views. But, in a democratic political system, it’s also necessary to develop a consensus on important issues among diverse interest groups and personalities.

Educators and intellectuals must also ensure that certain issues of high sensitivity will be brought into the discussion in a rational manner that does not lead to disarray or create further misunderstanding and polarization. Unfortunately, in Thailand, the exchange of views so far has been conducted in a provocative manner rather than as a constructive discussion.

All sides need to foster a higher degree of liberalism to accommodate untrammelled intellectual debate on ideologies. Basically it’s about the need to tolerate the impulses of public opinion and maintain an atmosphere of liberalism and vibrant freedom of expression necessary for antagonistic and antithetical views to exist. We need to cherish the idea of diversity within the nation and to believe that it is beneficial for progress. Only this kind of tolerance can help prevent stagnation and create an environment for improvement. However, it is our belief that we must ensure that whatever we debate, we must at all costs protect and preserve our traditional institutions and customs, the source of our national pride and statehood.

The Nation

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