The World Today for May 01, 2024

NEED TO KNOW

A Wan Smile

THAILAND

A single clinic on Thailand’s border receives 500 refugees fleeing neighboring Myanmar’s civil war every day as Myanmar’s military fights pro-democracy and local ethnic rebels, reported Sky News.

Critics told Nikkei Asia that the Thai government was not prepared to handle the approximately 90,000 refugees that have sought refuge in the country’s eastern region since the fighting erupted in Myanmar in 2021.

But Thailand has not shirked from addressing the crisis diplomatically. As the Bangkok Post discussed, Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin has sought to partner with Indonesia, Laos and Malaysia to hash out a peace plan that would bring the fighting to an end.

These moves are occurring as Thailand tries to boost its soft power in the region and improve its standing abroad, while also attempting to address its sluggish economy.

Thavisin’s government, for example, has been focusing on the so-called five Fs – food, films, fashion, fighting (as in Muay Thai kickboxing), and festivals to grow the country’s economy, explained the East Asia Forum.

These policies might be working. Thai entertainment studios produce gay-romance TV dramas, for example, that are wildly popular throughout Asia, including in countries like China where legal bans, religious intolerance, and cultural disapproval prevent homegrown “boy-love” TV shows, wrote Deutsche Welle.

Still, commentators note that the prime minister doesn’t seem to be investing much in the democratic institutions that would likely help many of his cultural and diplomatic initiatives succeed. For the past 17 years, coups and other political crises have undermined the country.

Thai election officials have filed a petition with the country’s top court asking the justices to dissolve the Move Forward Party, the main opposition party, for instance. Move Forward won a majority of parliamentary seats in a May 2023 general election but faced too many hurdles to form a government, wrote Human Rights Watch. The party faces allegations of “high treason” for seeking to reform laws that forbid insulting the country’s monarchy.

The Thai Senate, in particular, blocked Move Forward from assuming power. This year, however, explained Reuters, the chamber’s powers will be reduced under a constitutional change that includes a complicated indirect vote in June for senators. Now the Senate won’t be able to thwart elections or veto legislation. Though it retains the power to examine legislative proposals and appoint members to independence commissions, the change eliminates what has effectively served as a veto for the powerful military on who leads the country, the newswire added.

Thavisin, meanwhile, leads the ruling Pheu Thai Party. The royalist military supports Pheu Thai at present. But officers overthrew the party’s government in 2014 and massacred Pheu Thai supporters who took to the streets in protests in 2010, Al Jazeera reported.

Writing in World Politics Review, Joshua Kurlantzick, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, says it’s crucial for the government to win the trust of voters at home for the country to solve its problems and move forward. Still, that’s not necessarily going to happen, he added. If it doesn’t, the progressive parties will trounce Pheu Thai in the next election. And next time, the powers that be may not have a choice but to let the would-be reformers take control.

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