Political exploitation of Pridi’s name

The name of Pridi Banomyong has been shamelessly exploited by elements out to discredit the rector of Thammasat University, for his insensitive reference to the highly respected late statesman when criticising the Nitirat group’s controversial proposal.

My sympathy and support for Thammasat University rector Somkit Lertpaithoon, who has come under heavy fire from some Thammasat alumni, red-shirt people and opponents of the Sept 19, 2006 coup for an insensitive comment made in his criticism of the Nitirat group’s controversial proposal.

Like Vorajate Pakeerat and his six associates from the law faculty of Thammasat University who floated the proposal in the name of the Nitirat group to vilify the coup back in 2006 and to nullify all actions and decisions made by the military junta, including, among others, the decisions to set up the Assets Scrutiny Committee and the Supreme Court’s Criminal Division for Holders of Political positions, Mr Somkid is free to express his views on the issue.

On Sept 27, the Thammasat rector posted on Facebook 15 questions pertaining to the Nitirat group’s “thought and controversy provoking” proposal. The 11th question reads: “If we scrap a law which was already scrapped, can we nullify all the actions [taken under that law] and punish many groups of coup makers – namely Suchinda (General Suchinda Kraprayoon), Thanom, (Field Marshal Thanom Kittikachorn), Praphas (Field Marshal Praphas Charusathiara), Sarit (Field Marshal Sarit Thanarat), Field Marshal Por (Plaek Pibulsongkram), and Ajarn Pridi (Pridi Banomyong)?”

It was the Thammasat rector’s reference to Pridi in such a way which sparked the discontent, initially from Mr Pridi’s daughter, Dusadee Boontassanakul, and subsequently many other admirers of Pridi.

Mr Somkit’s inclusion of Mr Pridi among the group of coup leaders was deemed by his critics as showing contempt to the late statesman, who was also the founder of Thammasat university.

Ms Dassadee’s response on Facebook two days after to Mr Somkit’s reference was purely intended to protect the name of Pridi. “Did you misunderstand something when you referred to Ajarn Pridi and the coup? Please clarify and please go back and read the ajarn’s public interview.”

Mr Somkit later wrote back saying he understood Pridi well enough and he merely wanted to say that a coup and a revolution are totally different and he wanted the public to use their wisdom and rationale in judging all the events.

Clearly the Thammasat rector blundered in his reference to Mr Pridi among the names of the coup leaders. He would not have provoked the uproar had he been a bit more sensitive and omitted the names of the coup leaders.

The Pridi factor is not the main point of his argument against the Nitirat’s proposal. However, there are many opportunists lurking in every corner of our society looking for an opportunity to make a strike for their own vested interests.

Of course, there are true Pridi admirers among his critics but many of them appear to be politically affiliated opportunists who did not hesitate to exploit the incident for political gain. As such, Mr Somkit’s whole argument against the Nitirat proposal was sidelined as his critics tried to paint him in a negative light as a crony of the military junta.

A group of Thammasat alumni who include former red-shirt leaders Veerakarn Musikhapong has demanded that the university council investigate Mr Somkit for alleged contempt of Pridi. Unsurprisingly, Ji Ungpakorn, who is on the run on lese majeste charges, also jumped on the bandwagon in the bashing of Mr Somkit.

Do all these Thammasat alumni truly respect Pridi and his strong support for democracy? I wonder. If they really do, they should be less emotional, more rational and more open-minded to divergent views. To vent their wrath over a small blunder which is a sideline to the issue under debate – the Nitirat proposal – would not be the wish of a very decent gentleman like Pridi.

I believe there are many more Thammasat alumni who are sensible and reasonable enough not to allow themselves to be dragged into this ridiculous, dirty, colour-coded political game.

And if the Nitirat proposal is to be further explored and debated, all divergent views must be welcome, including those of Mr Somkit.

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