Opening the discussion, Dr Charas Suwanmala, the dean of the political science faculty, said that “as academics, we want to learn more about how monarchy works in Europe and in Japan.”
The discussion, hosted by the Institute of Security and International Studies (ISIS), took place just days after His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej celebrated his 82nd birthday, with thousands of Thais taking to the streets of Bangkok to catch a glimpse of the long-serving monarch.
Dr Charas said “organizing a forum with four very busy ambassadors has not been an easy task. ISIS has been trying to put together this panel since August, and the only time the ambassadors would be available in the same morning before the end of the year is this morning. The timing of this panel is thus coincidental. Indeed, if we do not do it this morning, we may have to wait another year or two before Your Excellencies are all free at the same time.”
Representing Japan, Norway, Spain and the Netherlands, the diplomats outlined the respective histories behind their current systems of government, and shed some light into the ongoing popularity of royal heads-of-state in contemporary western society and in Japan, the world’s second largest economy.
The discussion was limited to comparison between and analysis of the four countries represented by the ambassadors.
All four countries feature lese-majeste laws, which sit in the statute books alongside robust freedom of speech and expression regulations. In the case of European countries, these include the European Court of Human Rights and the Council of Europe.
Ambassador H.E. Tjaco Theo van den Hout of the Netherlands described how contemporary Dutch lese-majeste cases are taken by national law enforcement agencies, which determine whether it is in the interest of the monarchy to have a particular issue brought to the courts or not.
“It can be counter-productive to the status of the monarchy, in some cases, to bring every potential incident of lese-majeste in the Netherlands to trial, ” he said.
Norway is not a European Union member-state, but has “a highly-egalitarian culture” and legal system, according to Her Excellency Mrs Merete Fjeld Brattested. She recounted that the last lese-majeste case taken in Norway was in 1878, and outlined that Norwegian citizens cannot sue each other for this offense.
Spanish Ambassador H.E. Ignacio Sagaz Temprano outlined the poignant recent history of the Spanish monarchy, with the current King Juan Carlos retaining high public esteem and a vestige of moral authority, dating back to his decisive intervention to prevent a military coup in 1981, which would have reversed Spain’s short-lived democratic reforms, after the death of General Franco in 1975.
Going back farther, he said that “unified Spain would not have been possible without monarchy, and that is why Spanish people still value this system.” A Spanish kingdom along the lines of the current Spanish state came about in 1492, with the marriage of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, bringing together the two largest kingdoms (Aragon and Castille) in what became modern Spain, under one dynastic roof.
Japanese Ambassador H.E Kyoji Komachi said that the position of the Japanese Emperor “derives from the will of the people,” according to the 1946 Constitution. He said that 82 percent of the Japanese people support the Emperor’s status as symbol of the nation, with similar approval ratings for monarchs in the three European countries under discussion.
Only one of Norway’s political parties has any republican leanings, according to Ambassador Brattested, and apparently those are half-hearted as a majority of Norwegians see the royal family as role models and want the country to remain a constitutional monarchy, well over 200 years after the American and French revolutions made republicanism a central tenet of political reform.Show