A serious loss of credibility on the world stage - by Sarinna Areethamsirikul, a PhD candidate in Development Studies, University of Wisconsin-Madison
- From: Chim <ChimS1@xxxxxxx>
- Date: Fri, 10 Oct 2008 16:13:17 -0700 (PDT)
Saturday October 11, 2008
A serious loss of credibility on the world stage
The unruly state of Thailand's politics has worsened since the
Constitution Court last month disqualified the unpopular Samak
Sundaravej from carrying on his job as prime minister. Shackled by his
confrontational disposition, the short-lived administration of Mr
Samak did little to help the weakening economy and failed to restore
Thailand's credibility on the international stage.
His successor Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat is not faring any
better; and being the brother-in-law of Thaksin Shinawatra isn't
helping matters. Soft-spoken and seemingly conciliatory in nature, Mr
Somchai started off promising reconciliation with the anti-government
People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD). But as the events of Oct 7 have
clearly demonstrated, he is little interested in walking a fine line.
The government-condoned police crackdown on protesters and the
resulting violence that unfolded in front of Parliament - in the wake
of which his deputy resigned in a show of responsibility - has made it
evident that no satisfactory method of defusing the current
confrontation is forthcoming. In fact, the future of Mr Somchai's
government is now in doubt.
This prolonged instability of Thai politics has caused what is known
as a "double-negative" impact. Since the 2006 coup, political
development in Thailand has been frozen and the governments have been
nearly paralysed. Frequent changes of government do more harm than
good because it postpones the time that otherwise would be spent on
unravelling economic, social and security problems on the home front.
As a consequence, the implementation of economic and social policies
is interrupted, or even discontinued. Particularly at this moment, the
ongoing political turmoil harmfully shifts attention away from the
global financial crisis and the alarming signals of Thailand's
In the regional and international arenas, Thailand has forfeited its
chance to initiate or continue negotiations with other countries on
serious talks in economic and security cooperation. Under such a
scenario no significant agreements can be concluded. In fact, the
country clearly lacks direction.
At the same time, foreign countries have dithered on investing in any
serious negotiation or cooperation with Thailand.
Last month at the annual meeting of the UN General Assembly in New
York, newly-appointed Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister
Sompong Amornvivat skipped his speech and cancelled 20 bilateral talks
with Thailand's country partners. Mr Sompong told reporters that since
"the government has not yet announced its policy to Parliament, I
should not say anything about policy commitments to the international
community". He added: "I regard the meetings on the sidelines of the
UN as a routine matter, not a policy commitment."
That Thailand is in limbo vis-a-vis the international community is a
very serious state of affairs.
In the same vein, Thailand's leadership in the Association of
Southeast Asian Nations is diminishing. In retrospect, during the good
old day of the 1990s, Thailand had a prominent role in pushing for the
establishment of the Asean Free Trade Agreement (Afta) and as a
representative in the Asean troika that monitored Cambodia's 1998
Most importantly, the Democrat party-led government of Chuan Leekpai
put democracy and human rights issues at the forefront of Asean
affairs, and was strongly supported by the Philippines. The regional
role of Thailand in Southeast Asian affairs was significant and
At that time, Surin Pitsuwan was foreign minister in the Chuan
government and a strong supporter of the principle of "constructive
engagement" in Asean and the development of democracy in Southeast
Asia. Today Mr Surin is Asean secretary-general, a position which
carries the significant task of moving Asean forward to its goal of
institutionalisation as a cohesive regional community. However, the
political commotion at home leaves him in a quandary.
Among Asean members, Thailand in the 1990s was hailed as a pro-
democracy nation, but may now be seen as an obstacle in promoting this
principle due to the situation at home (e.g. the 2006 military coup
and resulting interim government did little to lend credibility to
Thailand's position of claiming to promote democracy).
Under the breakthrough Asean Charter, the regional community will be
formalised and become a legally binding entity for the first time,
promoting democracy and protection of human rights. The question now
is whether some Asean members, Burma in particular, will in fact
implement these values. As well, the teetering position at home allows
other member countries to cast doubts on Thailand's commitment to
Thailand ratified the Asean Charter just weeks before Mr Samak's
government was forced to disband. The Philippines ratified it last
week. While Indonesia has yet to ratify the charter, it is interesting
to note that Indonesian lawmakers are very active in making sure that
this charter will work. They have been asking Asean to iron out the
"nuts-and-bolts" issues, by for example adding the dispute settlement
issue to the charter.
And although she failed to achieve her demand, Philippine President
Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo had called for the release of Burma's Aung San
Suu Kyi as a condition for ratifying the charter.
In Thailand, we have no clue as to whether Parliament had questioned
or seriously discussed the details of this charter before ratifying
The coup of September 2006 has been followed by nearly two years of
economic and political decay - seen as "the lost years of Thailand" in
the eyes of regional and international communities. It is a matter of
absolute urgency that Thailand get back on track and restore its
international credibility, as well as stave off an economic
Sarinna Areethamsirikul is a PhD candidate in Development Studies,
University of Wisconsin-Madison, United States.
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