Surapong's appeal for UN chief to mediate makes no sense

opinion March 02, 2014 00:00

By The Nation

Foreign minister's outreach reeks of political opportunism instead of national interest

Caretaker Foreign Minister Surapong Tovichakchaikul has asked the United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to mediate in the escalating political conflict in Thailand.
Surapong, who is also deputy prime minister and chief adviser to the Centre for Maintaining Peace and Order (CMPO), said he had telephoned the UN chief to seek his advice on how to resolve Thailand’s political impasse.
He thinks the UN chief is the most suitable person to come up with a solution to the ongoing crisis in Thailand. 
Surapong tried hard to show the Thai public that he had their interests at heart and by reaching out to the UN at this point in time – before (in his own words) Thailand becomes another Syria, Ukraine, Egypt or Rwanda – the country could be rescued from such atrocities. 
Even before setting foot in the Foreign Ministry, rescuing Thaksin Shinawatra has always been the top priority for Surapong. We cannot forget the humiliating episode when he lied to the public about how Japan wanted to invite Thaksin to see the devastation caused by the tsunami so that the Japanese people could learn from his wisdom. Tokyo immediately clarified that the initiative to get Thaksin to Japan was Surapong’s, not theirs. 
Since the beginning of this Yingluck administration, able people at the Thai Foreign Ministry have been forced to work on two fronts: one is to save Thaksin and the other to serve the interest of the country. 
But the interests of the two can’t always coincide. With the latest move of reaching out to the UN chief, it is clear where Surapong’s interest lies. Obviously it is not with the country.
A UN intervention at this particular juncture would set a bad precedent for the country’s diplomacy and international relations. This is not to say that the UN and the international community are not concerned about Thailand. Many deeply care about Thailand and they all want Thais to resolve this problem themselves. 
Surapong likes to give briefings to the diplomatic corps but he never has much to say. His real aim is to gain sympathy for the Yingluck government. 
Yes, the UN does get involved in other countries but those are cases involving mass killings and ethnic cleansing as witnessed in Bosnia, Rwanda or in Cambodia three decades ago.
Even worse, Surapong is acting on his own without consulting the country’s diplomats when he issued the invite to Ban. His logic was simple: get the UN into the picture and if the anti-government forces don’t go along with it, they would look like the big bad wolf. 
Ban has issued a statement saying he is prepared to help Thailand any way he can, but that does not mean he is going to come here on his own and mediate between the two sides. 
Behind-the-scenes talks are taking place and Surapong needs to give this quiet initiative a chance to work. Already, the People’s Democratic Reform Committee is retreating to Suan Lumpini and removing the protest sites around Bangkok, starting tomorrow.
Needless to say, Surapong is trying hard to divert attention from the real issue with his invitation to Ban. If the UN secretary-general wants to come and play referee, that should be fine. But he needs to understand that he is being used for shallow, short-sighted political gains. If PDRC leader Suthep Thaugsuban was behaving like Khmer Rouge’s Pol Pot or Ugandan warlord Joseph Kony, then an intervention would be understandable. Thankfully, we are nowhere near that point. Let’s hope we don’t go that far.