Instability In Thailand Challenges ASEAN’s Credibility
By Nehginpao Kipgen
Thailand, a tourist-thriving nation in Southeast Asia, has a history of political unrest.
Starting with the bloodless Siamese coup d’état of 1932 that transformed the country from absolute to constitutional monarchy, Thailand’s political system has been intermittently disrupted.
The lingering uncertainty in November 2008 ended with the court dissolving prime minister Somchai Wongsawat’s government, which paved a way for the incumbent prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva.
Because of protests, the 14th summit of Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) was postponed from December 2008 to the end of February 2009. While the 2008 summit was cancelled before it actually took place, the most recent protest on April 11 erupted after the ASEAN leaders have arrived at the summit venue, Pattaya.
This latest development may be seen a success by the protesters as they managed to force the summit cancelled. Conversely, it is an embarrassment for Abhisit who assumed office barely four months ago with the goal of restoring normalcy and political stability.
The current string of political turmoil started back in September 2006 when former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra was ousted by a military coup. The protesters’ demands include the resignations of prime minister Abhisit and three advisers to king Bhumibol, who the protesters accuse them of helping to oust Thaksin, and holding of fresh elections.
If the protesters, who vowed to continue their agitation in Bangkok until Abhisit resigns, go forward with their plan, this could bring a more precarious situation in the country. It could lead to further violence and confrontation between red-shirt protesters and blue-shirt royalists or the regrouping of yellow-shirt protesters.
To prevent the country from deeper split, the two opposing sides should come together and find a common ground.
The besieged attending leaders were airlifted, while the plane carrying Australian prime minister had to be diverted back. This whole development is a credibility challenge for the regional bloc. This happens at a time when ASEAN works to promote its leverage in international politics.
During its summit held at the end of February, the association made a historic headway by forming ASEAN Human Rights Body. By removing trade barriers and integrating economically among member countries, the regional bloc envisions to becoming a European Union-style single market by 2015.
The abrupt cancellation of Pattaya summit was a missed opportunity for ASEAN community. The gathering planned to discuss widening of free-trade in the region, mobilizing a coordinated response to the global financial crisis, and how to respond the April 5 North Korea’s rocket launch.
The summit was anticipated to be a significant one with six other nations joining the regional leaders. The meeting was scheduled to include the non-ASEAN members such as China, Japan, South Korea, India, Australia and New Zealand.
Meetings of ASEAN +3 (China, Japan and South Korea) did not happen, but the latter three nations managed to meet and agreed for a “strong message be issued unanimously at an early date” on North Korean rocket launch.
Other leaders who were scheduled to attend the weekend summit are: Ban Ki-moon, the U.N. secretary general; Robert B. Zoellick, president of the World Bank; and Dominique Strauss-Kahn, managing director of the International Monetary Fund.
Had the summit proceeded smoothly as planned, members of the regional bloc could have received financial assistance from the World Bank and International Monetary Fund. During its April 2 summit in London, the G-20 nations pledged to help developing nations to revive their ailing economies.
Thailand has become a nation in record that has cancelled two ASEAN summits in four months’ time from December 2008 to April 2009.
Nehginpao Kipgen is political analyst and general secretary of U.S.-based Kuki International Forum (www.kukiforum.com). He has written numerous analytical articles on the politics of Asia published in different leading international newspapers.