Govt orders King’s birthday celebrations amid amnesty bill tensions


Military chiefs pledge to protect monarchy as Parliament debates potential pardons for lese majeste offenders

Defence Minister Sutin Klungsaeng has ordered the military to organise elaborate events for His Majesty the King's 6th Cycle Birthday Anniversary in July amid heightened tensions over a political amnesty bill. 

Preparations for the King’s 72nd birthday on July 28 come as Parliament deliberates whether to include Article 112, which carries up to 15 years in jail for lese majeste, in the amnesty bill. The draft bill for "Political Amnesty in the Auspicious Year” is currently being reviewed by a House of Representatives special committee.   

Chiefs of the Royal Thai Armed Forces responded to Suthin’s order on Wednesday by reaffirming their commitment to safeguard the monarchy, pledging to uphold its dignity and prevent disrespect towards the institution.

The draft amnesty has sparked fresh divisions in Parliament, particularly over the fate of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra. Thaksin, patriarch of the ruling Pheu Thai Party, is due to appear in court on June 18 to answer a charge of lese majeste stemming from an interview he gave to South Korean reporters in 2015.   

Sutin, whose Pheu Thai Party is advocating for the amnesty, is seeking to gauge the military's response to the draft law. The minister will reportedly attend the Defence Council on June 26 to solicit feedback from the armed forces, before reporting back to government.

The military chiefs have traditionally rejected an amnesty for lese-majeste offences. The current cadre of military commanders has ordered all personnel to refrain from discussing the matter, insisting on the constitutional principle that the monarchy is above politics and deserves reverence.

Hence, Sutin is likely to receive carefully crafted statements from military commanders underscoring their commitment to upholding the rule of law and the Constitution at the June 26 meeting.

The military is rumoured to have held talks to gauge consensus on whether to extend leniency to lese majeste offenders, especially youngsters.  

However, the majority reportedly opposed leniency, citing concerns such as repeat offences. They argued that lese majeste cases must be dealt with by the legal system, with repentant offenders able to seek royal pardons.

The government's stance on the amnesty law and recent lese-majeste prosecutions, particularly involving Thaksin, remains to be seen.