If there’s any court ruling that would have ramifications far beyond those directly involved, it’s the one made by the Constitutional Court on Wednesday. On that day, the court ruled that leaders of the monarchy-reform movement acted unconstitutionally by exercising their rights and freedom in an attempt to overthrow the democratic system with the king as head of state, thus treacherous.
A key part of the ruling worth noting at length, with my translation, read: “Any action with the intention to destroy or causing the monarchy institution to disintegrate, be it through speech, writing or various other actions that cause the subversion, denigration or weakening [of the monarchy] revealed the intent to overthrow the monarchy institution… The actions of the three [complainants] only cited rights and freedom without consideration to the principles of equality and fraternity… The three complainants… violated the rights of privacy of others through revile, disturbance of personal space, incitement with distorted information. It is apparent that the actions of the three complainants involved network group formations and with continuous use violence. In some incidents, the three complainants played a role in igniting speeches that incite violence in the country, causing divisions among the people, thus destroying the principles of equality and fraternity. The results of the actions of the three lead to the overthrow of the democratic system with the king as the head…”
Intentionally or not, the ruling effectively lump the whole movement into that of the republican movement.
Yes, there are people who are anti-monarchists and want to see Thailand turning into a republic among the movement, whether they are explicit about it or not, but there are also those who merely wanted to see the Thai monarchy transitioned into ones they see in the United Kingdom, Japan or Sweden where the rights to criticize the monarchy are guaranteed and the elected government as well as the people can hold the monarchy accountable.
The court may have rightly noted in its ruling that the colour blue, which represents the monarchy, was removed from the national flag at some rallies, or “repeated vandalizations of the portrait of the king” but that doesn’t mean all are republicans. Now the court ruling risks lumping them all as anti-monarchist and leaving no room for genuine calls to reform the monarchy.
We will never know for sure if any or all of the three complainants, Arnon Nampa, Panusaya “Rung” Sitthijirawattanakun and Panupong “Mike” Jadnok, are republicans or not because under Thai law, it’s an act of treason to call for the overthrow of the monarchy and turning the kingdom into a republic. The same can be said about other monarchy-reform protest leaders and protesters.
What’s clear is that the ruling will most likely affect the on-going lese majeste charges against at least 154 people now facing the charge of defaming the monarchy, which carries a maximum imprisonment term of 15 years. It will also most likely lead to legal petitions to dissolve and ban politicians running the two main opposition parties, Pheu Thai and Move Forward, since the parties and some of its MPs expressed support, or at least sympathy, to the monarchy-reform movement.
Beyond the protest leaders and party politics, the Constitutional Court’s ruling risks deepening the already very deeply polarized ideological and political divides and makes any calls to reform the monarchy from now on a possible act of treason.
Protesters became infuriated and the website of the Constitutional Court was hacked Thursday, less than a day after it passed the ruling. The site’s name was changed to “Kangaroo Court” and linked to a music video from American hip hop group Death Grips, “Guillotine (It Goes Yah).” On the same day, Prime Minister Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha urged students at the National Defense College to “be brave” and stand during the royal anthem in movie theaters. The remark stems from a growing trend among moviegoers to sit during the pre-screening anthem as a symbolic act of indifference if not disapproval.
These ramifications means Thailand is entering a new phase of ideological struggle where more and more people became radicalized and see the situation as a zero sum game. Some genuine monarchy reformists have been expressing republican views on social media as they are losing hope for a peaceful reform while ultra-royalists got the confirmations from the court to see things in a more simplistic black and white divide. This new phase is even more precarious and unpredictable for Thailand.