Asean must raise its voice over Thai crisis

opinion May 06, 2014 00:00

By The Nation

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Our neighbours cannot stand by idly while our predicament damages regional integration

The region’s leaders must do more than just whisper among themselves when Thai delegates to the Asean summit in Nay Pyi Taw next weekend update them on our political conflict. The truth is that Thais need advice on how to solve their deadlocked crisis.
It is rare for Thai politicians to admit in front of their Southeast Asian peers that they have political difficulties at home, and even more rare for them to ask for advice.
Thais are proud of their political development and democracy. Over the decades, Thailand has played crucial roles in helping solve political disputes in neighbouring countries, notably Cambodia and Myanmar, where it aided moves towards reconciliation and democracy.
But ever since 2006, when Thailand’s elite took the misstep of attempting to solve the corruption problem by staging a military coup, our claim to be a genuine democracy has foundered. 
The political rift here has widened, even drawing in Cambodia when groups exploited nationalistic sentiment over the Preah Vihear territory dispute for political gain. A domestic conflict was exported and damaged relations with Phnom Penh in a dispute that ended up at the International Court of Justice. It will take years to mend those ties. The tensions have eased, but the case is not yet over, because the two countries have much work to do to comply with the court’s verdict. The ongoing dispute has hampered the work of peace-brokers on both sides.
Thailand’s eight-year-old political crisis has already damaged opportunities for active participation in many plans and projects to bring about integration for Asean.
Thailand enjoys a central geographical position in mainland Southeast Asia. As such it is a potential transport hub and bridge to link the region. But political conflict and related disagreements over development schemes have delayed, if not completely killed, many transport-related infrastructure projects.
Laos is moving ahead on a high-speed rail link with China, meaning Thailand is likely to become the missing link in a regional railway network. 
Myanmar is luring international investors who are helping to build special economic zones and deep-sea ports to link with other countries in the region and in the world. But a crucial part of the Dawei port and economic zone faces the prospect of further delay because Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, who has poured a lot of energy into this project, is now busy with the political struggle at home.
The acting prime minister plans to attend the coming summit in Myanmar to reassure members of Asean that her administration is doing everything possible to maintain democracy and the rule of law in the Kingdom. But, it is difficult to believe that even Yingluck herself will survive this fierce battle.  
As the Thai political conflict poses potentially serious consequences for regional development, Asean members cannot just simply sit and do nothing. Their advice and recommendations, officially or unofficially, are necessary for Thailand at this moment.
Nobody is asking our Asean neighbours to take sides in this battle, but their message to all parties and stakeholders in Thailand must be loud and clear: regain peace and stability at all costs.