Saturday, July 9, 2011

Border row set to test Yingluck's leadership

July 9, 2011
Source: Bangkok Post

It has been widely speculated that Thai-Cambodian relations will bloom again now the Pheu Thai Party has won the election and is taking the helm of government.

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen has made it clear that Pheu Thai's victory will improve ties between Thailand and his country.

He said the election outcome marked the start of "a new era of cooperation" and differences between the countries should be resolved peacefully.

Hun Sen: ‘Pheu Thai win marks new era’

The Thai-Cambodian relationship has had more downs than ups over the past two years since the Democrats took office in December 2008. Ties went rapidly downhill in 2009 when Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen appointed Thaksin Shinawatra as his economic adviser.

The controversial appointment led Bangkok to downgrade its diplomatic relationship with Cambodia by recalling its ambassador to Phnom Penh. The situation improved a little after Thaksin resigned but became hostile again when seven Thais were arrested at the Thai-Cambodian border last December.

Among the seven were former Democrat MP Panich Vikitsreth and Thai Patriots Network coordinator Veera Somkwamkid and his secretary Ratree Pipattanapaiboon.

The Thai government succeeded in negotiating for the release of five but Veera and Ratree were sentenced to eight and six years jail, respectively, for espionage. Hun Sen said they would both have to serve two-thirds of their jail terms before a royal pardon or prisoner exchange programme could be sought.

Thai-Cambodian ties spiralled downward and turned deadly earlier this year when troops clashes several times between February and May.

Hun Sen always refused to deal with the matter bilaterally despite continuing efforts to reach a peaceful solution by both sides' armies. He eventually brought the issue to the international level, asking the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and the United Nations intervene.

It remains to be seen if the Pheu Thai-led government will be able to turn the sour relationship between the two nations into the sweeter one.

Since the issue is very sensitive, Pheu Thai's No.1 party list MP-elect Yingluck Shinawatra, who is tipped to become prime minister, should not hastily make public the country's position without fully vetting it with the Thai public.

There are also growing doubts in certain sections of Thai society over whether Ms Yingluck would put the benefit of the country above that of her brother Thaksin when dealing with the Thai-Cambodian border dispute.

Thaksin has been accused by the Democrats and yellow shirt People's Alliance for Democracy of trying to secure an oil and gas concession in the Gulf of Thailand with Cambodia.

Ms Yingluck's statement on Wednesday _ that the new foreign minister must be competent in negotiating the issue of Thai-Cambodia relationship and must be accepted by the international community _ may not be enough to make some people believe that the Pheu Thai government will be able to handle the Thai-Cambodian issue effectively.

To prove her true leadership in directing Thailand's foreign policy, Ms Yingluck must not allow Hun Sen to dominate the border talks or she might fail to create public confidence in handling of the Thai-Cambodian dispute.

No comments: