From an Asean partner, fair criticism

opinion August 07, 2018 01:00

By The Nation

What goes around comes around as a Jakarta newspaper columnist jabs Thailand for its undemocratic backsliding



Thailand can cry foul and cite Asean’s long-standing policy of non-interference all it wants. But an opinion column published last week in the Jakarta Post – “Don’t let Thai junta chief chair Asean next year” – should be a reminder that what’s going inside our borders is of sharp interest to people on the outside.

The Indonesian writer, specifically citing setbacks to democracy here, called on the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to deny Thailand its due turn chairing the regional bloc next year and instead pass the job on to another member-country. “Thailand deserves the right to chair Asean, but not under a junta that has continued to cling on to powers it stole from the people four years ago,” the commentary said.

Thailand’s gutter politics and colour-coded rivalries may not have a direct impact on the wellbeing of Indonesia and its people. But because the two countries are members of the same regional group, there is an obvious connection – and thus impacts to be felt, whether directly or indirectly.

Membership in the 10-nation Asean should be more meaningful. It cannot be based solely on geographical location. As such, we appreciate hearing a non-resident of Thailand take the Kingdom’s government to task while reminding other regional leaders that membership should not be taken for granted. 

Asean began as an anti-communist front, only refocusing on trade matters after the Cold War ended. But, in terms of developing common political values, the group has little to show for all its boasts of unity.

Yes, there is a mechanism in place safeguarding human rights, as well as an emergency-response team. But when abuses take place and natural disasters occur, such mechanisms remain largely idle.

The Jakarta Post commentary called on the Indonesian government to oppose Thailand’s chairmanship of Asean until after its military rulers allow an election. Not surprisingly, the suggestion raised hackles in Bangkok. Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, sending out word through Government Spokesman Lt-General Sansern Kaewkamnert, said Thais shouldn’t make an issue of the ruckus lest it widen the political divide further.

“It’s still unknown who will form the next government after the election, so the prime minister doesn’t want to see anyone use this issue to create rifts in society,” Sansern said. The logic is odd. The election is currently slated for February. The government subsequently formed will be the one chairing Asean. Suggesting that seeing a link between national politics and the chairmanship could cause domestic trouble seems like a mere scare tactic. It would indeed be better if Prayut were to speak honestly about what the future holds for us.

He should remember the incident at a Pattaya resort hotel in which red-shirt protesters stormed an Asean-Plus summit, making a mocking of a vow by then-premier Abhisit Vejjajiva that it wouldn’t be allowed to happen. The leaders of China, Japan and South Korea were sent scurrying. Another premier at another time, Chuan Leekpai, criticised Myanmar over atrocities committed against ethnic minorities, who were fleeing into Thailand. Our country was being directly affected. We had to say something.

Today, the junta prefers to turn a blind eye to atrocities committed in Myanmar on a much larger scale, against the Rohingya. Who would give a country that occupies the moral low ground the rudder of Asean, even for a year?