Worried neighbours come knocking

opinion May 13, 2014 00:00

By The Nation

Asean has delivered a statement of concern over our domestic crisis; those engaged in this fierce battle must listen

Less is better than nothing. The Association of South East Asian Nations (Asean) made the right decision in issuing a statement of concern over the political crisis in Thailand.
Sunday’s statement from the meeting of regional foreign ministers is mild, but it underlines the trading bloc’s readiness to help founding member Thailand take peaceful steps out of its political difficulties.
The Thai crisis is no longer merely a domestic one. It has become a regional issue that is likely affecting Asean affairs. Notably, transport projects for regional connectivity have been delayed because the caretaker and interim Thai governments have lacked the authority to approve them. 
Meeting host Myanmar was forced to change the arrangements for Sunday’s summit because Thailand was unable until the last minute to name anyone to head its delegation. Even when it did, the Thai representative had no mandate to make any commitments. Luckily no crucial issue arose over which the Thais would have needed a political mandate to say yes or no.
The Asean ministers’ statement on Thailand’s domestic troubles proved that the grouping still holds a place of central relevance in the region’s political and security architecture. It would make no sense for Asean to sit still and do nothing over Thailand when other international organisations, including the United Nations, have reacted in timely manner to the worsening situation.    
For Thais, the Asean statement is a positive development – but only if we interpret it correctly. Rejecting it with the narrow-minded view that this crisis is purely a domestic affair would do nothing to lift the country out of trouble.
The key message from Asean is that the bloc is set to lend its full support to a peaceful resolution through “dialogue and in full respect of democratic principles and rule of law”.
The warring groups in Thailand who claim to be fighting in good faith for the benefit of all citizens must wage their battles within the framework of democracy and the rule of law, maintaining peace at all costs.
The terms “democracy”, “rule of law” and “peace” belong in the same package. Actions taken without the electorate’s consent cannot be democratic. “Rule of law” really means implementing the laws with justice and fairness. Twisting the course of justice for political purpose violates the law. To be more precise, a judicial coup in any form violates both the principle of democracy and the rule of law. Finally, peace simply means “no violence”. Any moves that threaten to bring violence should be abandoned immediately. Preserving lives, no matter what political ideology people follow, must be the priority for the conflicting parties.
The Asean statement will be all but useless if the citizens of Thailand don’t heed it. Good wishes and efforts on the part of our neighbours’ leaders and ministers are meaningless unless those of us engaged in this fierce battle listen, and realise the importance to Thailand of its place in the wider regional community.