Thai PBS television channel decided to cancel the broadcast of the last programme of its talk show series discussing the issue of constitutional monarchy, after a group of about 20 ‘Thai patriots’ protested at the station on the evening of 15 March.
The programme, entitled ‘Tob Jote Prathet Thai’ or ‘Answering (or Tackling) Problems of Thailand’, had run its previous four programmes in the series since Monday night. Each of the first three programmes had a different guest, former Foreign Minister Surakiart Sathirathai, Thammasat lecturer Somsak Jeamteerasakul, and former palace police chief Pol Gen Vasit Dejkunjorn, while the last two programmes covered a debate between Somsak and social critic Sulak Sivaraksa.
However, just a few hours before the second half of the debate was to go on air, the group gathered at the television station and demanded the cancellation of the broadcast of the programme, claiming that Somsak and Sulak talked about the monarchy improperly and harboured the intention to amend Section 112 of the Criminal Code.
Consequently, the TPBS executives decided to air an earlier programme about a slain Muslim leader in the south instead.
On 16 March, Phinyo Traisuriyathamma, the host of the programme, announced that he and the production team would cease to produce the programme.
The first half of the debate
, which was broadcast on the night of 14 March, started with Somsak and Sulak continuing the argument they had previously had on Facebook over the recent Bangkok gubernatorial election.
Before the 3 March election, Sulak on his Facebook page urged Bangkokians to vote for the Democrat candidate Sukhumbhand Paribatra on the grounds that he considered the Democrat Party, despite his own distaste for the party, a ‘lesser evil’ compared with Thaksin Shinawatra’s party. He blamed Thaksin for his arrests for lèse majesté in recent years, and concluded that Thaksin had tried to destroy the monarchy.
In the televised debate, Somsak, who said that he would not vote for the Pheu Thai candidate either, although for different reasons; i.e., for example, the party has done too little regarding political prisoners, saw that Sulak contradicted himself as a self-proclaimed reformist of the monarchy by throwing his support behind the Democrat Party which had long exploited the institution for political gain.
Sulak agreed that the Democrat Party had made use of the monarchy, but said that he saw no other way to counter Thaksin’s power, insisting that he would do anything to prevent the Pheu Thai candidate from winning the election.
He had supported Thaksin during Thaksin’s first year in office as Prime Minister until he turned against poor people shortly afterwards, Sulak said.
Strangely, Sulak said that he ‘could not help loving the royals’, and he felt grateful to Sukhumbhand’s grandfather Prince Paripatra, who he said had done much good for the country. Prince Paripatra, a son of King Rama V, was forced into exile by the People’s Party after the 1932 revolution and died in Java, Indonesia. ‘If there hadn’t been a People’s Party, Sukhumbhand would by now have ascended to the throne.,’ he said.
‘I saw the evil of the Democrat Party long before you did, but now there is no other choice,’ he told Somsak.
Somsak said that the idea to support the Democrat Party in order to oppose Thaksin was wrong from the standpoint of those who claim to want to reform the monarchy.
Sulak insisted that although he himself had not been impressed by Sukhumbhand’s performance in the last four years, the Democrat Party candidate was still his ‘lesser evil’ choice.
Somsak said that the Democrat Party had been exploiting the monarchy and supporting military coups, and the number of lèse majesté cases had skyrocketed during the Abhisit administration.
While admitting that the previous Democrat administrations had been ‘inefficient and spineless’, Sulak said that the police had operated as ‘a state within a state’, directly answerable to Thaksin, and the Democrat Party could not control it.
‘I was arrested for lèse majesté under both the Thaksin and Abhisit administrations, but the police chief did not listen to Abhisit at all,’ he said.
He said that Thaksin had used Section 112 of the Criminal Code to destroy the monarchy, citing His Majesty the King’s speech which says that the use of the law is tantamount to hurting the King himself.
He went on to refer to the late Maj Gen Sanan Kachornprasart, Minister of Interior under the Chuan Leekpai administrations in 1994-95 and 1997-2000, who had claimed that HM the King had told him not to arrest anybody for lèse majesté.
He blamed the Ministers of Interior under the Abhisit administration for incompetence and being unable to command the police, which he said was under Thaksin’s control.
He said that he had once told parliamentarians of the need to change the lèse majesté law, and ridiculed them for not having the ‘guts’ to do so, as they had been under the control of someone and Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra had already said that the law would never be changed.
‘If Yingluck claims to be loyal, she has to change the law,’ he said.
Somsak argued that Sulak’s idea was grotesque as most of those who had been arrested for lèse majesté were Thaksin’s supporters.
Somsak said that, however, the more important point was that those who claimed to want to reform the monarchy, like Sulak, who had gone on the People’s Alliance for Democracy stage, should never use the accusation against anybody, because the accusation would only reinforce the undemocratic nature of the institution.
This accusation would never make any sense if we want to reform the monarchy into a democratic institution, he said.
Sulak said that he would not mind if anybody wanted to overthrow the monarchy as they were entitled to their rights, but he would oppose to anybody with wealth and political power who wanted to do so as it would be dangerous.
‘We have to admit that the Thai monarchy is not yet really democratic, but we have a chance to help make it more democratic. […] The Democrat Party, if it has a modicum of conscience, has to abandon its evil behaviour of the past, stop exploiting the institution and admit its wrongs since the 1947 coup. But I’m not sure if it has yet been enlightened,’ Sulak said.
‘The monarchy will only collapse because of itself and those surrounding it such as the Crown Property Bureau. If the CPB gets too close to the institution and uses its high-handed power to evict poor people in the name of the King, it will be dangerous. […] The military also has to keep away from the monarchy,’ he said.
‘The Privy Councillors, who hold a position seemingly above the law, have talked to foreign diplomats. This is not acceptable. They must have ethical courage. If anything, they have to talk to HM the King directly, not to foreigners, as have been leaked through WikiLeaks. Those who claim to be loyal must have ethical courage to make their criticisms before HM or through the media,’ he said.
Somsak insisted that Sulak’s tactic was wrong, because to use the accusation against anybody does not allow them to prove anything under the undemocratic circumstances regarding the institution. And even if he wanted to criticize HM the King’s well-known speech in 2005, which Sulak and other royalists have always referred to, he couldn’t, because of the lèse majesté law.
However, they seemed to agree that according to democratic principles, constitutional monarchs should never make public addresses by themselves, or else their speech would be subject to criticism by the public.