Friday, May 23, 2008

The week Thai politics got paranoid

Whenever police officers issue warnings to political parties, and army generals think it is their place to comment on civil society issues, then you have pretty good indication that something is up. This week, the Bangkok Post reported that "At least 20 websites are being investigated for content deemed to be critical of or offensive to the monarchy." (In truth, several of these websites are simply pro-Thaksin). Thai police chiefs are sticking their noses into affairs that should be of no concern to the police in a democratic country:
Pol Col Yanpol Yangyuen, chief of the DSI's Information Technology Office, yesterday took to task individuals who made details of inappropriate websites public. He said they were causing divisiveness in society.

"Political party leaders should tell their members to be more careful, about what is appropriate and what is not. Don't bring down the institution to justify their cause," he said.

He warned politicians and academics not to discuss the institution, as it could become a game to generate publicity for certain individuals.

"Political parties, educational institutes and academics alike should stop giving false information and should not pick up the issue."

"Like terrorist activities, the more we discuss it the more we give them publicity," he said. He said the DSI, the Information and Communication Technology Ministry and private webmasters were monitoring those websites deemed to be a threat to national security.

The military also urged the media to refrain from publicizing remarks which could offend the monarchy or involve the revered institution in politics. Navy chief Adm Sathiraphan Keyanont said the military was gravely concerned about the current references to the monarchy and felt the media could help by not giving it space in the news.

'Supreme Commander Gen Boonsrang Niempradit said political groups should avoid implicating the monarchy altogether. "His Majesty has devoted himself to the people and the nation and it is inappropriate that some people or groups invoke him for their own benefit," he said.

Thai politicians have long used the laws against defaming the monarchy as a way to score points against their political opponents. But this week, with the naming of various websites, it got out of hand.

The underlying issue is that the elected government of PM Samak wants to amend the constitution which was written by a committee appointed by the previous coup-installed interim government. The constitution includes some provisions that favor the royalist faction, and those who plotted the coup of September 2006 do not want to see their hard work undone.

Some debate concerns how to amend the constitution. The public relations and legal offensive of the opposition is to discredit people associated with the elected government and portray them as disrespectful to the monarchy (more here).

Bangkok Pundit (BP) has posted a list of the 29 websites under police investigation that the Democratic Party wants banned.*

BP and another fellow Thailand-based blogger, Fonzi of TJS, have noted a precipitous decline in the intellectual quality of commentary in the country's leading English language newspapers this week. Fonzi compares The Nation to a Thai newspaper that was recently accused of inciting violence against people it considers disrespectful of the monarchy. BP sees both The Nation and The Bangkok Post as "having sunk to new lows this week not seen since August 2006." Needless to say, in the September that followed, there was a coup.
* Update: I see that Fonzi also has a list of the 29 websites -- his list is clicakable, so easy to browse.

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