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Reconciliation Talks in Thailand Will Be Litmus Test of Parties’ Sincerity
By Noelan Arbis
Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra is pushing forward a reconciliation forum on September 2 in an effort to address the political divisiveness in Thailand in recent years. The government has invited key figures from the ruling Pheu Thai party, the opposition Democrat Party, and foreign leaders to participate in the forum. While the Thai private sector and international community welcome the initiative, politicians will have to act beyond their own interests to make the reconciliation talks meaningful.
The discussion on political reconciliation comes at a time when Thai politics is highly polarized. On August 16, the Democrat Party and the anti-Thaksin group People’s Alliance for Democracy announced they will form an alliance to fight a government-backed amnesty bill that would absolve charges for protestors involved in political disturbances since September 2006. The Pheu Thai party will likely use its overwhelming majority in parliament to push the bill through.
More public rallies will probably ensue as the bill goes through its second and third rounds of parliamentary readings. Almost constant protests in Bangkok have become a tremendous security concern not just to Thai officials and the public, but also to the international community.
A Suan Dusit poll released on August 18 showed an overwhelming 73 percent of Thais believe now is the time for political reform, and that political divisiveness, corruption, and abuse of power are the main impediments to the country’s development. Consumer confidence in the country reached its lowest point of the year in July, partly due to the pending protests against the government-backed amnesty bill.
For the Thai business community, political stability is critical for long-term business planning. Influential private sector organizations in Thailand, including the Thai Chamber of Commerce, the Federation of Thai Industries, and the Thai Bankers Association, have agreed to join the political reform council. A wrong turn in Thai politics could lead to a drop in both domestic and foreign investment. For example, a government-backed bill to inject $64 billion into the country’s infrastructure has already been delayed due to the political battle surrounding the amnesty bill. Euben Paracuelles, a Singapore-based economist with Nomura Holdings, estimates the delay in implementing new infrastructure projects could slow GDP growth by 0.3 to 0.5 percent.
Former British prime minister Tony Blair and former Finnish president Martti Ahtisaari, among other foreign observers, will attend the forum in early September. Although government detractors criticized the decision to engage international actors in the talks, they could bring a vast body of experience in democracy consolidation and conflict resolution to the Thai environment. These experts could even serve as a bridge between Thailand’s sharply divided political parties.
More importantly, the international presence could push both Pheu Thai and the Democrat Party to show greater commitment toward reconciliation. No current Democrat Party leader has accepted an invitation to join the political reform talks. If Democrats are committed to reconciliation, they should join the forum without issuing pre-conditions.
Ultimately, both Pheu Thai and the Democrat Party will have to sacrifice their own political gains if they want this round of reconciliation talks to be fruitful. As host to the talks, Yingluck and Pheu Thai should commit to follow the forum’s recommendations, even if that means giving up on their other major platforms, such as the hotly-contested amnesty bill. Some question Yingluck’s sincerity in reaching political reform, after her government largely ignored recommendations from the Truth for Reconciliation Commission in 2012.
The upcoming reconciliation forum could provide a litmus test whether any of the Thai parties are sincere about achieving peace and political stability.
Courtesy: This post originally appeared on the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Washington D.C. cogitASIA blog
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