The General’s Heart
I recall the time in 1992 when students and the public campaigned against the National Peace Keeping Council (NPKC) and later joined forces to oust General Suchinda Kraprayoon from the premiership. One of the most colorful activities that attracted the demonstrators' interest were "games". Effigies of "Su-The-Tuy" (nicknames of the three generals who led the 1991 coup) were made for people to throw darts at or to paint on. Even though the three generals were much more powerful than the CNS is now, they did not bother to pursue any legal action against the demonstrators. Today things are different with the libel action launched by General Saprang Kalayanamitr against Sombat Boon-ngam-anong. (General Sondhi Boonyaratkalin later asked to be a co-plaintiff.) Sombat was charged with organizing an activity in which mock portraits of the two generals were made for anti-coup demonstrators to throw darts at. And now his detention has been approved by the court.
It could be that the three NPKC generals were fumbling as the media did not take their side, or perhaps their lack of reaction really stemmed from their "broadmindedness". But whatever reasons they had, the fact that they refrained from pursuing any legal action against the demonstrators' protest tactics helped to provide spaces for differences and substantially reduced tension and hatred. It really helped to alleviate the kind of life or death confrontation that is happening now.
And this legal action will not benefit Saprang himself. Even those who used to like him and those who helped to oust Thaksin could easily notice the difference between Saprang and Thaksin in terms of their broadmindedness.
Saprang is infuriated by the "darts game" organized by Sombat, which hardly made any news anyway. But Thaksin and many others were indifferent to being dubbed "square face" or to the satitical pictures and activities that were widely used to criticize him during the demonstrations of the People's Alliance for Democracy.
Maybe Saprang forgets that he is a public figure who lives off public money and uses our tax payments to purchase weapons which he used to take over state power. Politicians on the other hand have to pay from their own pockets to design policies that will get them elected.
With due respect to a straightforward person like Saprang, this action will change the image of the "military". They will be perceived as power-crazed, with a tendency to abuse the weak, and lacking in fair-mindedness. These are all subtle cultural issues and have nothing to do with the law.
The suit launched by Saprang is of course legally viable. But it will create fallout in the cultural arena. The cultural issue is very important. Gossiping and playing darts are low-cost tools at the disposal of people to use to gain social control. They give ordinary people a chance to check the power of their rulers.
That the court approved the detention of Sombat will make it more difficult to check the rulers' power. It could be interpreted as protection for the actions of the powers that be whether they are right or wrong. Thus, only people who have access to the justice system or polite intellectuals can have the chance to keep public figures in check.
The approval of the detention order in the case of Sombat and other leaders of the United Front of Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD) show how narrow-minded Saprang is and how heartless the justice system. They look only at the legal aspect, not the promotion of rights and freedom of expression, checks and balances, and justice.
In essence, isn't it ridiculous that while playing darts is taken as slanderous, impolite and maybe unlawful, the taking of tanks onto the streets to overthrow people's power was received with big applause and has been legitimized? What kind of justice are we talking about?
Translated by Pipob Udomittipong