A Statement of Concern Regarding SOAS’s Hosting of the Seminar,

SOAS and the coup

Thai Coup
New Mandala has received the following statement from Dr
Patrick Jory who is based at the National University of Singapore. A
full version of the statement, complete with detailed footnotes
is available here: Jory statement on SOAS seminar.

A Statement of Concern Regarding SOAS’s Hosting of the Seminar, “Thailand under CEO Thaksin”, Scheduled for October 7, 2006.

On October 7 2006, only weeks after the royalist coup d’état
dismissed the democratically elected government in Thailand, the
Department of the Languages and Cultures of South East Asia and the
Islands and the Centre of South East Asian Studies at the School of
Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) will hold a seminar titled,
“Thailand under CEO Thaksin”. It will be the first seminar about
Thailand staged at SOAS following the coup, and it is reported to have
been rescheduled in response to the coup. Speakers will include the
owner of the anti-Thaksin newspaper, The Manager, and leader of the
“People’s Alliance for Democracy”, Sondhi Limthongkul; and another
staunch critic of Thaksin, Senator Kraisak Choonhavan. Thailand’s The
Nation newspaper reported that the seminar will be attended by a
“Member of the Thai Royal Family”. Former PM Thaksin, who is currently
in London apparently in exile, has not been invited, nor have any
speakers representing the former government.

I wish to express my disappointment that an academic institution
as internationally prominent in the study of Asian societies as SOAS
has apparently allowed itself to be used in a politically partisan way
by leaders of the anti-Thaksin political movement, only weeks after the
objective of this movement has been achieved in the worst possible way,
a coup d’état. At the very least, if the seminar is to be held in the
spirit of free, rational inquiry and debate, one should ensure that
there is a representative of the former government of similar standing
to the other speakers in attendance at this seminar. I am concerned
that SOAS is being used to lend its considerable intellectual authority
to political supporters of the coup. This concern was heightened when I
learnt that Mr. Sondhi – who since March has been calling on the King
to dismiss Thaksin and appoint a new Prime Minster – has been promoting
the seminar heavily on his cable TV station, ASTV.

In addition to the absence of representatives of the deposed
government, as the Southeast Asia experts at SOAS must surely be aware,
the attendance of a member of the Thai royal family at this seminar
will ensure that any discussion by Thai participants in the seminar of
the key role of the monarchy in legitimizing the coup d’état will be
effectively (though subtly) forbidden. In Thailand criticism of the
monarchy under the lèse majesté law is punishable with up to 15 years
in prison, and has in fact been a violation of the many versions of the
Constitution since 1932. The key to understanding the crisis in
Thailand since late last year is the conflict between the Thaksin
government and the monarchy, yet in Thailand debate about the
monarchy’s political role is almost impossible. An issue of an academic
journal devoted to a discussion of the monarchy has been banned and the
editor formally charged with the offense of lèse majesté. A popular
academic website that hosted a lively discussion of the monarchy was
closed down by its internet service provider. A controversial book on
the monarchy by a foreign journalist has also been banned and access to
the page advertising the book on the Yale University Press and Amazon
websites has been blocked. While former Prime Minister Thaksin was
criticised relentlessly by the print media and academics over the past
year, no such discussion has been possible about the monarchy’s role,
despite its political interventions in the democratic process on
numerous occasions this year.

The coup group, calling itself (in Thai) the “Council for
Democratic Reform with the Great King as Head of State”, has also
appealed to the foreign media to avoid any association of the monarchy
with the coup. Yet one of the main topics for discussion on Thai
websites is the role of the Chairman of the Privy Council and the
King’s closest advisor, Gen. Prem Tinasulanond, in approving, if not
instigating the coup. Today (30 September) a member of the King’s Privy
Council and a former Army Commander, Gen. Surayudh Chulanond, has been
appointed Prime Minister. If SOAS intends to host a seminar assessing
the rule of former Prime Minister Thaksin then in the interests of
intellectual freedom there should be a fully free discussion of the
role of forces close to the monarchy in destabilizing his government
over the past year and indeed in carrying out the coup. This will not
be the possible if the discussion is effectively censored by the
presence of a member of the royal family.

As I write this letter, one of the best-known forums for
academic discussion about the coup, Midnight University, has been
blocked by the Thai Information Communications Ministry. Other
web-boards are practicing a high degree of self-censorship (although on
many of these websites there is great anger at the coup and the coup
plotters). The mass media is fully controlled by the military junta.
Four members of the Cabinet remain under arrest. Officers in the Armed
Forces and the Police Forces appointed by the former democratically
elected government are being purged and replaced by officers loyal to
the coup group. Activities by political parties are forbidden.

The fact that the coup was carried out less than two months
before planned national elections was precisely because the coup group
refused to allow the Thai people decide their political future by
choosing their own government. In hosting this seminar I am concerned
that SOAS may be seen to be giving moral and intellectual legitimacy to
the same forces that support this disenfranchising of the Thai people,
because the effect of the seminar, produced by its theme, its invited
speakers, and the presence of a member of the Thai royal family, will
be to discredit the Thaksin government in order to justify the coup. At
the very moment when criticism of the coup makers is heavily censored
in Thailand, it is extremely disappointing that an institution of the
standing of SOAS appears to be willing to hold a one-sided seminar that
will give international academic recognition to two of the strongest
supporters of the undemocratic overthrow of the Thaksin government.

Dr. Patrick Jory
Visiting Research Fellow
Asia Research Institute
National University of Singapore

Entry Filed under: Thailand, Thaksin

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