Saturday, 30 April 2011

History points to negotiation as the only answer

via CAAI

Published: 30/04/2011
Newspaper section: News

The continuing fighting between Cambodian and Thai troops along the porous and ill-defined border causes trouble and inconvenience for ordinary folks on both sides, not counting the deaths and injuries inflicted on soldiers, noted a Thai Rath editorial.

Thai Rath said folks on both sides had been living in peace with each other for a very long time. An example is Nong Chan village, Khok Sung district, Sa Kaeo province where villagers grow rice and raise animals peacefully on a common field with Cambodian farmers even though a definite border demarcation has yet to be settled. Village chiefs on both sides have pledged that once a definite border demarcation is established, any farm land that may extrude through the border line will be cut off from the original plot and taken possession of by the other side willingly without any protest.

It is true that the border disputes occur because both sides rely on different maps and thus claim ownership of disputed areas. When both sides allow politics to dictate their actions, it is inevitable that peaceful settlement is hard to reach. As long as definite demarcation is not implemented, border disputes can always occur, but they should not necessarily lead to skirmishes. Diplomatic means are still the best choice, advocated Thai Rath.

The current skirmishes at Ta Kwai and Ta Thom temples and previously at Preah Vihear temple have not only resulted in several deaths and injuries, the conflicts have also left a bitter legacy for future generations. The more the skirmishes go on, the harder it becomes to reach a border settlement. Thai Rath cited an example of the Sino-Vietnamese border war in February 1979 which resulted in about 26,000 deaths on the Chinese side while the Vietnamese death toll was 37,000 before both sides agreed to sign a formal border demarcation. This should provide a lesson that no matter how many troops die in border conflicts, the problem can only be settled through negotiation.

In the present circumstance, Thailand may find it difficult to hold bilateral talks with Cambodia to settle the conflict because Cambodia does not seem to want to talk without any intervention from a third party due to political reasons and the desire to own and manage 4.6 sq km of disputed area surrounding Preah Vihear temple. It is certainly the case that whenever there is a skirmish, the Cambodian government promptly sends a letter to request that the UN Security Council step in to mediate in the dispute. At the same time the Cambodian government whips up nationalistic fever among its people to rally for the people's support.

With no cooperation from the other side, it is no surprise that the Thai government has failed to bring peace to the border. Thai Rath sympathises with the Foreign Ministry in trying to convince the other side to sit at the negotiating table.

Both sides should know that battles can never settle the conflict. Eventually, both sides have to sit down and negotiate for peace and implement border demarcation. Isn't it wiser to do this sooner rather than let skirmishes go on and on and soldiers on both sides die in large numbers before agreeing to talk?

Thaksin bets all in bid to win election

Last week saw an all-out effort on the part of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was barred from politics for five years, to personally dictate Pheu Thai party's election policies in a live video feed from abroad on April 23. By doing so he risked the chance of Pheu Thai being dissolved for allowing a barred politician to get involved in the party's activities, noted Matichon.

Pheu Thai is different from other political parties in that there are not so many people in the executive committee (17) and that four had already resigned before Thaksin's live video-link appearance. So if the worst comes to worst, only 13 party executives could be barred from politics by the Constitution Court for five years.

It is not only Thaksin who is not afraid, his brother-in-law and former premier Somchai Wongsawat also are not. Mr Somchai has chaired several meetings of Pheu Thai MPs as well.

The all-out gamble by Thaksin in openly defying the 5-year ban from politics is seen by political pundits as worth the risk by personally taking charge. Thaksin can lead Pheu Thai to a win in the general election, scoring at least half the number of MPs in the House and then his sister Yingluck Shinawatra would become the first female prime minister of Thailand.

If it comes to pass that Pheu Thai is dissolved, only 13 insignificant executives will be barred from politics for five years. A spare party has already been registered with the Election Commission.

Veteran politician Chalerm Yubamrung explained that Pheu Thai must use the "Thaksin" name to sell its platform because the Thai people accept his capability and because his populist policies were successful. To make sure that people vote for the party, Pheu Thai must push Ms Yingluck as their prime ministerial candidate to represent Thaksin as no other politician can be said to be as loyal as Thaksin's own kin.

"If Pheu Thai do not use Thaksin's name as a selling point, who else can compete against Mr Abhisit? I have been thinking for two years now that Yingluck is most suitable as she is successful in running businesses. No need to deny that Yingluck is Thaksin's nominee because Pheu Thai, Thai Rak Thai and People Power Party all belong to Thaksin. Pheu Thai's headquarters is at OAI Tower. O is Oak [Thaksin's son], A is Aim, I is Ink [Thaksin's daughters]. Why should the party be afraid of being known as Thaksin's nominee?" Mr Chalerm said.

Even though during the live video link Thaksin did not openly anoint a real Pheu Thai leader, insiders unanimously say that Ms Yingluck is 99% sure to be the party's prime ministerial candidate.

Insiders also reveal that Thaksin has bet everything in openly dictating the party's general election strategies in a live video link because he deems that by personally declaring the party's policies, he can boost Pheu Thai's electoral victory chances. If Pheu Thai is to be dissolved, it would take time before all investigations and court cases reach their conclusion. By then, Pheu Thai could have formed a single-party or two-party coalition government headed by Ms Yingluck.

To boost the party's chances, Puea Paendin's leader Pol Gen Pracha Phromnok has been recruited. The departure of Mingkwan Saengsuwan, who is disappointed at not being anointed as the prime ministerial candidate, the resignation of Gen Chavalit Yongchaiyudh and the U-turn of Sanoh Thienthong do not worry Thaksin as the three are considered "outsiders", not Thaksin loyalists.

It seems that for Pheu Thai and its spare party, the party leader and executives are "cursed" positions that seasoned politicians would rather not get involved with. They prefer to be ordinary party members and run for MP seats with the chance to be a minister or prime minister, concluded Matichon.

Parties geared for polls

Thai politics is now gearing for the general election. The Election Commission has finished drawing up 375 single-MP constituencies in 77 provinces in line with the amended constitution. Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva has said again and again that he will dissolve the House of Representatives on May 6. Former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra unveiled Pheu Thai party's election policies in a video link to the party faithful on April 24, reported Thai Rath.

The only hitch is the persistent rumour that the military would stage the coup, often claimed by UDD red shirt leader Jatuporn Prompan. However, Thai Rath discounted this rumour as long as Thai politicians do not create conditions/disturbances that allow the military to step in. If this happens, it will be a disaster in the eyes of the global community.

Since the new election method will be a single constituency (one man, one vote) and the party list MPs will be a countrywide constituency with no minimum percentage required to win a listed MP seat, several small political parties believe that they have a greater chance to win in some specific constituencies and that nationwide they can score one or two listed MPs. Moreover, they believe that they can join the coalition government and earn a cabinet seat or two even though they may lack MPs.

The only exception is the New Politics Party which was initially enthusiastic in joining the fray to contest the upcoming election. However, when news was confirmed that Mr Abhisit would soon dissolve the House and call for an early general election, the yellow shirts movement (People's Alliance for Democracy) leaders decided to boycott the election and urge the Thai people to cast a "No" vote as a protest against corrupt politicians. The yellow shirt leaders' stance caused a split within the PAD because some executives of the New Politics Party would like to contest the election but they could not oppose the majority in the party who follow the PAD leaders' instructions.

What is most prominent in the upcoming election is the two major parties, Pheu Thai and the Democrats constantly issuing populist policies to sell to the grass-roots. All in all, Thai Rath could not distinguish much between the two parties in terms of populist policies, but it seems that Pheu Thai had a slight edge because it was personally delivered by Thaksin himself.

What is common about the two major parties is that they want to court votes by offering short-term goodies instead of talking about policies that lead to the country's structural reforms in terms of power decentralisation, agriculture, water resources management, education, political reconciliation/conflict reduction and social inequality.

The two parties fail to address the issue of how to make the Thai people stand on their own feet without waiting for perpetual hand-outs from the state.

It is good that both major parties promise to help the farmers but this is aimed at courting votes in the short term. It will not turn Thailand into the "Kitchen of the World" because that would mean restructuring the whole agriculture sector, ranging from irrigated lands, what to produce, marketing, agri-industry development and water resources management.

Thai Rath wondered how the populist policies promised by both parties will be financed as it needs a very large budget outlay. The two parties don't dare to say specifically that taxes need to be raised to finance their various populist schemes as this would certainly create a backlash. When asked, they just say there is plenty in the fiscal reserves waiting to be tapped.

If both parties can only do this much, the real problems in Thailand can never be solved, Thai Rath said.

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