BANGKOK — Only one opposition party is planning to raise the issue of the excessive use of the royal defamation offense when the Parliament reconvenes for a censure debate next month.
Move Forward MP Wiroj Lakkhanaadisorn said his party will slam the enforcement of the draconian law, also known as lese majeste, which he views as an attempt to intimidate dissidents. But other parties have indicated they will not touch the issue, even as nearly 60 people have been charged under the offense in just two months – a reluctance that disappoints pro-democracy activists interviewed for this story.
“We will take to the floor and speak about the intimidation of protesters by the Emergency Decree and Article 112,” Wiroj said, referring to the lese majeste law. “Its enforcement is not transparent. Different MPs will discuss the issue from different perspectives.”
The politician also said Move Forward will push for reforms of libel laws, including lese majeste, after the censure debate is over. The amendment is expected to start by the end of February at the earliest.
“The draft to amend Article 112 is being revised right now,” Wiroj said. “I confirm that the party will try to do it after the no-confidence debate concludes. Perhaps within February, but definitely within the first quarter of this year.”
He continued, “We have studied lese majeste laws used in other countries and consulted with academics, so we’ll know what they think. The punishment has to be suitable for modern context. It cannot be disportionately high.”
But the overture by Move Forward is unlikely to be taken up by its allies.
Although the formal motion of the no-confidence debate accused PM Prayut Chan-o-cha of “using the monarchy as an excuse to deepen the division in the society,” Pheu Thai Party sec gen Prasert Jantararuangpong said that the party has no plan to raise the issue of the lese majeste during the censure debate or support the law’s amendment.
“If there are important points in the future, we’ll consider it again,” Prasert said by phone on Tuesday. “We didn’t include monarchy reforms in the motion either. We only wrote it broadly, that PM Prayut damages the confidence in democratic regime with the King as Head of State.”
The Pheu Thai leader also said discussions about the monarchy during a parliamentary session are generally discouraged.
“There are restrictions … we cannot mention His Majesty the King unnecessarily,” Prasert said.
Seri Ruam Thai Party leader Sereepisuth Temeeyaves said he will not touch on the lese majeste law or the monarchy reform either.
“I won’t talk about it in the censure debate,” Sereepisuth said. “I’ll be talking a lot about COVID problems.”
Reforming the monarchy and abolishing the lese majeste are among some key demands put forth by pro-democracy protests throughout the latter half of 2020 – an unprecedented movement that invited intense, sometimes violent, backlashes from the royalists.
Opposition parties initially supported the protests, which started as a rebuke to PM Prayut’s administration, but later distanced themselves from the campaign when the monarchy issue took the forefront.
Benja Apan, a student activist from the United Fronts of Thammasat and Demonstration, said she was disappointed to learn that many voices in the Parliament will be silent on the crackdown under lese majeste law.
The 21-year-old said she believes the only solution is to abolish the offense entirely, not just amend it.
“I feel disappointed. Many people in Move Forward campaigned against Article 112 in the past,” Benja said. “But when we’ve reached this point, when so many people were arrested, they’d settle with only amending the law And as for the Pheu Thai Party, I’m disappointed to the point that I have no feeling left for them.”
Benja was arrested and charged with lese majeste after reading a statement about His Majesty the King’s stay in Germany during a demonstration to the German Embassy in Bangkok in October.
She said a lack of solid actions from parliamentarians to rein in lese majeste means demonstrators will have to take the matter to the streets again.
“I think there’ll be a campaign to gather signatures to abolish the law. I think it’s an idea that a lot of people are having,” Benja said. “Let’s see the situation first. I think we’ll see some action by midyear.”
Protest leader and former lese majeste convict Somyot Prueksakasemsuk said he was also less than pleased, but acknowledged that an attempt to reform the law could be a promising start.
“It’s a good initiative,” Somyot said by phone. “But Pheu Thai still lacks moral courage. It will only worsen and prolong the problem of political divisions.”
He went on, “Whatever parties that won’t speak about it in the censure debate, I’m deeply disappointed in all of them. They don’t have enough courage. They cannot proudly call themselves representatives of the people.”
Earlier this month, ruling Phalang Pracharath Party deputy leader Paiboon Nititawan and Democrat Party spokesman Ramet Rattachaweng told Khaosod English that their parties will oppose any move to amend the lese majeste law.
Previous attempts to reform Article 112 were spearheaded in 2011 by a group of law scholars called Nitirat. Their campaign hit a deadend in 2012 when the Pheu Thai-majority Parliament refused to debate on the proposal.
One of the Nitirat founders, Piyabutr Saengkanokkul, later formed the Future Forward Party, which placed third in the 2019 general election, but he declined to revive the bid to amend the royal insult law.