An Open Letter to Ultra-Royalists

Ultra-royalists denounce U.S. Ambassador Glyn Davies in Chaing Mai at one of more than a dozen nearly identical, coordinated protests staged Nov. 30 in provinces throughout the nation. Photo:

By Pravit Rojanaphruk
Senior Staff Writer


Dear Ultra-Royalists,  
How surprisingly delighted I was to read that hundreds of you
gathered at the U.S. Embassy and throughout the provinces during the past week to oppose the criticism of the lese majeste law by new U.S. Ambassador Glyn Davies and call for his ouster. It’s good and yet ironically surreal to see all you folks exercising your freedom of political assembly – despite the supposed junta ban on any political gathering of five or more people – to exercise your freedom of expression to further curb others’ freedom of expression.

\While I respect your ideological and political views with regards to the monarchy, I was disappointed that the venerable monk Buddha Issara, who led protesters Nov. 27 to the U.S. Embassy, claimed to be speaking on behalf of all Thais.


I have no qualm with him saying “we are not slaves of the U.S.,” and if I may add, we should be slaves to no one. Yet his venerableness was also quoted in the media as speaking on behalf of all Thais. “The monarchy is a sacred symbol that all Thais are ready to defend with their lives,” were his words Nov. 28 in Bangkok Post.

“All Thais” is quite broad and leaves no space for diversity of thought among Thai citizens.

Did your leader not know or had conveniently forgotten that just back in 2012, at least 39,185 signatures were collected in a bid to petition the parliament to amend the lese majeste law?

As much as I would never claim to speak for ultra-royalists, other people should try not to speak for me, for I know that there are Thais who find the lese majeste law not just an embarrassment, but an anachronistic, draconian and even barbaric law under which people are sentenced to prison for up to 15 years for simply stating something negative or critical about the monarchy.

Like any complex society, there’s no single way to be Thai, no single Thai view but a multiplicity of Thai ways. Your nationalism may be focused on a few key institutions, but my patriotism is for the greater liberty and equality of all.

Where there arises important disagreement, we should discuss, debate, deliberate, seek common ground and hopefully strike compromise instead of pretending it doesn’t exist.

Unfortunately, there are some Thais who think there exists no debate about the appropriateness of the lese majeste law in the 21st century and assume that all endorse it.

The debate about the merit of the lese majeste law will continue, no matter what one side claims or whether a foreign envoy mentions it or not, until there is an acceptable compromise that’s acceptable to most, if not all.

Foreigners like Ambassador Davies who spoke at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand on Nov. 25 are just stating the obvious from a different point of view that no one should be jailed for peacefully expressing an opinion. It’s easy to blame the “ugly Americans” poking their noses into internal affairs and forget the existence of the internal debate on the issue which is far from settled.

Such critical views against the lese majeste law is not exclusively held by Western liberals but by a good number of Thais, who aspire to see a more free and open Thailand where people can publicly articulate about this important institution without fear or having to resort to gossip, and where people like myself can write without having to censor myself to the extent that only positive things about the monarchy are fit to be published. Alas, some Thais are now seeking to even make criticism of the law itself a taboo. They now want not just the monarchy to be above criticism but the law to be above criticism too. They have mistaken criticism of the law as ill-intended and malicious toward the monarchy. This is like saying those who oppose capital punishment must support heinous crimes, while the fact is that they are for a right to life and chance for criminals to redeem themselves.

Let us not see things in black and white. Let us not fool ourselves and others any longer and make a mockery of Thailand in front of the world and pretend that we all have a consensus on the issue.

The truth is so embarrassingly clear when foreign journalists interview prisoners of conscience or those who are against the law. We owe it to our posterity to sort out our differences in a calm, civilized, rational and amicable way.

And just because we think differently on the issue does not means we have to regard each other as mortal enemies or fill up social media with hate speech.

Let the light of reason prevail.

With my best wishes to all of you and to all Thai people,

Pravit Rojanaphruk



P.S. By the way, I wouldn’t be too worried about the call for the removal of the American Ambassador. Davies used to handle North Korea, and I don’t believe anything in Thailand will put him off balance. But all of you have the right to continue calling for his ouster. Incidentally, as I recently told two curious U.S. diplomats, although there are not many of you, there are enough to overrun their embassy.


Pravit Rojanaphruk can be followed on Twitter at @PravitR