King sets example for Thai leaders by saying: “Even I am human; criticisms must be tolerated”

5 December 2005
Source: Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA)

Bangkok- Speaking for the first time on political and free expression issues that had seen his name dragged and invoked by many opposing camps, Thailand’s King Bhumibol Adulyadej said on 4 December that he is not infallible and is open to criticism.

As highly anticipated as it was, the King’s speech still surprised
Thais by its candor. Addressing his Kingdom on the eve of his 78th
birthday, the King refuted the tradition in the constitutional
monarchy which insists that “the King can do no wrong.”
The Bangkok English-daily “The Nation” quoted the King as saying, “If the King can do no wrong, it is akin to looking down upon him because the King is not being treated as a human being. But the King can do wrong.”

Thailand still has lese majeste laws which make it illegal to
criticise the monarchy. Section 8 of the Thai Constitution states:
“The King shall be enthroned in a position of revered worship and
shall not be violated. No person shall expose the King to any sort of
accusation or action.”

But His Majesty the King said criticism can be constructive in that it
keeps leaders informed and helps to correct any mistakes.
“If you say that the King cannot be criticised, it suggests that the
King is not human,” His Majesty said, according to The Nation. “If
someone offers criticisms suggesting that the King is wrong, then I
would like to be informed of their opinion. If I am not, that could be
problematic… If we hold that the King cannot be criticised or
violated, then the King ends up in a difficult situation.”
The King’s birthday eve address appears to seek to calm the political waters of Thailand after weeks of rising charges against Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. Highly intolerant of criticism, the Prime Minister has filed libel and defamation suits against his staunchest critics, who have accused him, his family, and his friends of corruption, conflict of interest, and of profiting from his term in office.

The Prime Minister’s legal assault on his most vocal critics have in
turn given rise to concerns that he is cracking down on Thailand’s
free press.

In recent weeks, both Thaksin and his detractors have been invoking the King’s name while accusing the other side of besmirching the same.

Thais thus looked forward to the strongly beloved King’s annual
birthday speech, anticipating crucial guidance and signs as to where
Thai politics and policies might be headed.

The King’s first direct address on the matter of citizens’ right to
criticize their leaders appeared to offer himself up as an example to
the Prime Minister and other Thai political figures.

Referring to recent discussion in the newspapers, radio, and
television regarding the proprieties and legalities of criticizing the
monarchy, the King said, “actually I want them to criticize. Because
whatever I do, I want to know that people agree or disagree.” The
Nation quoted the King as adding: “I must also be criticised. I am not afraid if the criticism concerns what I do wrong, because then I know.

Because if you say the King cannot be criticised, it means that the
King is not human… They say that the King “can do no wrong”, as the privy councillors like to say in English. But when you say the King can do no wrong, it is wrong. We should not say that.”