No lèse majesté for Aussie elephants!-New Mandala

March 17, 2010

Baby elephants and lese majeste

Nicholas Farrelly

New Mandala: March 16, 2010

http://asiapacific.anu.edu.au/newmandala/2010/03/16/baby-elephants-and-lese-majeste/

It is natural at times of street confrontation and political standoff to get distracted by the cut-and-thrust of the moment. Thailand’s current political situation clearly deserves our attention and concern.

But it can be a pity when the drama of current affairs overwhelms our more reflective tendencies. Long-time New Mandala readers may recall that last year Andrew and I launched a campaign to have a new baby elephant at Taronga Zoo in Sydney named “Suwicha” (สุวิชา) in honour of lese majeste prisoner, Suwicha Thakor. That campaign was unsuccessful, although we hope it generated some more awareness of Suwicha’s predicament.

Most New Mandala readers would not, however, be aware that Taronga’s six Thai elephants have recently been joined by a healthy new calf. The little fellow emerged after experts had initially suggested that he was stillborn. The jubilant staff at Taronga Zoo have now been joined by the Daily Telegraph in announcing a new competition to name this new elephant.

Instead of the open-ended and relatively democratic competition for “Suwicha” (who was eventually given the banal moniker of “Luuk chai”), the new elephant will be named from one of the seven names on the following short-list.  None of the options are particularly imaginative:

Name 1: Pathi Harn – meaning miracle

Name 2: Tay Wan – meaning boy in heaven

Name 3: Ming Khwan – meaning good internal strength, good attitude

Name 4: Nam Chok – meaning brings with him good fortune

Name 5: Mongkon – meaning auspicious

Name 6: Boon Thung – meaning merit has lead to reaching this life

Name 7: Chok Dee – meaning very good luck

Suwicha, and others, are still locked up in Thailand.  And, somewhat disappointingly, the short-list format of this elephant naming competition will stifle any further effort to invert the public diplomacy of zoo “exchanges” to draw attention to the injustices that come with the enforcement of Thailand’s lese majeste law.

As Andrew and I wrote last year, “[b]oth Suwicha Thakor and the baby elephant are going to spend a long time behind bars [and] we have no doubt that the elephant will have a much more pleasant time of it than Suwicha.”

And, as things in Bangkok remain tense, and the outcome of this current standoff uncertain, please spare a thought for Suwicha Thakor, and the others like him, who are locked up for lese majeste.

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