A group of Thai students at Oxford University plans to petition Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva today, calling for a reform of the lese-majeste law and the Computer Crime Act while the PM visits the school to speak at his old college.

The group, which told The Nation they have been “discouraged” by the Thai Embassy in London from protesting, for fear of creating a “bad image”, will ask Abhisit to return power to the people as soon as possible.

They said the head of the Thai diplomatic mission in London “unfortunately is also an Oxonian, is more sympathetic to Democrat/PAD [People’s Alliance for Democracy] causes”.

Concerning the sustainable development of democracy in Thailand, we, a group of Thai students undersigned, petition the Prime Minister of Thailand, Abhisit Vejjajiva, upon his address at St John’s College on 14th March 2009**.

We propose:
1) That the freedom of speech and publication is fundamental to the functioning of a democratic system. The abuse of censorship laws, both the lèse majesté[1] and the Computer Crime Act[2], is detrimental to people’s freedom to seek accountability from those in power. The argument that these laws apply equally to everyone, and therefore are fair, is irrelevant, since the real problem lies in their ambiguous contents, which can be interpreted in ways that contradict democratic principles. The Prime Minister should engage all concerned parties in reforming these laws immediately.

2) That the present B.E. 2550 Constitution is undemocratic in many parts. The Constitution opens ways for non-elected powers to intervene in politics, and allows the Judiciary too much power over the Legislature and the Executive. This has proved to be an impediment to a sustainable development of Thai democracy. Political parties have been dissolved easily, and thus have only limited chance to develop into stable political institutions. Now that the Prime Minister has the opportunity to push for a reform of the Constitution without being accused of having any conflict of interest, he should do so as soon as possible.

3) That the political events that preceded, and opened way for him to become Prime Minister, are still being remembered and questioned by Thai people. The swift dissolution of the then-governing party after the airport siege by protesters, and the military influence in setting up the new coalition government with a broken faction of Members of Parliament from the then-governing party[3] [4], have raised public skepticism towards his rise to premiership. The Prime Minister himself admitted in a CNN interview: “I’m not happy with the way things are. If I could choose my path, I would love to get into power after elections”[5]. Hence, we propose that, as soon as the two proposals above are met, the Prime Minister should consider dissolving the parliament to allow for a general election. Only by doing so could he claim the people’s mandate for his leadership.

[1] Article 112 in Criminal Code states: “Whoever defames, insults or threatens the King, Queen or the Heir-apparent, shall be punished with imprisonment of three to 15 years.” Note that what constitutes as violation is unclear, and often is interpreted too liberally. It also allows third parties to bring charges against each other, making it a convenient means for personal or political gains.

[2] Computer Crime Act 2007 allows ‘competent officials’ to seize hardware and arrest computer owners/users in case the data are deemed ‘a threat to national security’. The recent raid on Prachatai, an independent online news outlet, is widely believed to be a threatening move to stem the voices critical of the government.

[3] “Democrat govt a shotgun wedding?” http://nationmultimedia.com/2008/12/10/politics/politics_30090626.php

[4] “I advised but did not meddle: Army Chief” http://nationmultimedia.com/2008/12/12/politics/politics_30090795.php

[5] http://www.cnnasiapacific.com/press/en/content/391/


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