THE THAI government needs to pay more attention to political developments in Myanmar and its capital Nay Pyi Taw. It doesn’t matter whether|Aung San Suu Kyi is able to assume the presidency
First and foremost: the nature of the new administration in Nay Pyi Taw is totally different from the outgoing one and notably from the current Thai regime. President Thein Sein, who will step down at the end of the month, is a former commander who heads the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP). It would be more precise to say that the USDP is the civilian political wing of the Tatmadaw (Myanmar Armed Forces).
The NLD-led government will be different because it has no strong linkage with the military. The party has fought against military rule since the beginning. With victory in the general election, the party has more confidence and stronger popular support to take more political space from the military.
The party will not give up its mission to amend the constitution, not only to allow Suu Kyi to take the top position in the country, but also to reduce the role of the Tatmadaw in politics and state administration.
The current Thai government was, of course, installed by the National Council for Peace and Order, the military junta which toppled an elected civilian government in May 2014. This regime is somewhat similar to what Myanmar had before the reforms more than half a decade ago. While Myanmar is in transition to full civilian rule, Thailand is on the way back to military rule, if not to the same degree as Myanmar used to be, but similar perhaps to the quasi-democracy that Thailand had in the early 1980s.
Secondly, the Thai military has rarely engaged with the NLD. The top brass here, as in Myanmar, generally believed they could sustain power forever. They believed military-to-military relations would dominate state-to-state ties. They clashed in the past, but also had personal relations. Myanmar’s top commander Senior General Min Aung Hlaing had close connections with many Thai commanders, notably the chairman of the Privy Council, General Prem Tinsulanonda, who now acts like the godfather to the Thai Army.
Meanwhile, many Thai politicians – not only Pheu Thai’s Yingluck Shinawatra, the former premier, but also Democrat leader Abhisit Vejjajiva – never cut their relations with Aung San Suu Kyi and the NLD. When she was in office, Yingluck visited ‘The Lady’. And Suu Kyi made a high profile visit to Thailand when she was in opposition and Yingluck was Thailand’s PM. Yingluck is now playing the role of Thailand’s Suu Kyi in her crusade against the military regime.
Thirdly, Thailand and Myanmar have a lot of issues and problems to deal with jointly. Large sections of the border between the two countries are undefined grey areas, as only a small portion of the boundary line has been properly demarcated. And there’s no need to mention other issues such as narcotics and arms smuggling, as well as human trafficking. The Tatmadaw is still in charge of these matters, of course, but policies from now on will be issued and enforced by the NLD-led government.
And along the border, some armed ethnic groups have yet to reach peace solutions with the government. President Thein Sein managed to bring some of them in, but many others are still outside the ceasefire agreement and continue to engage in armed struggle. Recent Thai governments should be given some credit, though, for helping to facilitate peace talks between the Myanmar government and ethnic groups.
Some questions are still unresolved, as some ethnic groups – not only those in the peace process but many outside it – plus the government in Thailand, are still unaware of NLD policy in regard to these matters.