The 3-year long political standoff in Thai politics has flared up in recent months, most recently in mass street protests in Bangkok and the disruption of ASEAN summitry in April. The two groups, the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) and the United Front of Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD), or the yellow-shirts and the red-shirts - as they have come to be popularly characterized, appear to symbolize the deep divide between Thailand’s disparate interest groups.
The discontent in Thailand has evolved beyond personality politics to become a popular referendum on the state of Thai politics itself. In his capacity as the leader of the Democratic Party since 2005, Abhisit has not won the electoral mandate to rule. He boycotted the general elections of 2006, and was defeated in the 2007 elections. Instead, the 2005 elections were won by Thaksin, and the 2008 elections by a coalition of Thaksin’s allies. Mr Abhisit was elected Prime Minister by parliamentary vote, after his Democrat Party formed a coalition with defecting supporters of the previous government. Mr Abhisit lacks both influence and legitimacy, though his performance thus far has been credible. To earn both, he will need to face the voters. Indebted to the royalists who brought him to power, he is unlikely to encourage debate on the monarchy’s future.
The events in Thailand have ramifications far beyond its borders. The failed ASEAN+6 summit in April was not just a failed gambit on the part of Abhisit to affirm the return of normalcy to Thai politics, but also represent a missed opportunity for Asian leaders to discuss the severe economic downturn that is causing most of the region’s export-dependent economies to contract. It illustrates the challenge facing ASEAN as Thailand, one of its key member states struggles to come to terms with its internal issues. Whether it does so will have a pivotal impact on ASEAN’s ability to present a strong and cohesive front in order to maintain international credibility and move forward as a regional organization.
Join us as Dr Mike Montesano shares his in-depth analysis on the current Thai political unrest and its impact on the region.
6:00 – 6:15pm Arrival of Guests and Light Reception
6:15 – 6:20pm Opening Remarks by Moderator
6:20 – 6:50pm Speaker's Remarks
6:50 – 7:20pm Question and Answers
7:20 – 7:30pm Closing Remarks by Moderator
Michael Montesano is a visiting research fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies. He was educated at Yale, the University of the Philippines at Los Baños, and Cornell. He served as a United States Peace Corps volunteer in southern Thailand during 1983-85; has been a visiting researcher at Thammasat, Chulalongkorn, and Walailak Universities; and spent nine years on the faculty of the Southeast Asian Studies Programme at NUS. His published work concerns both Thai social and economic history and contemporary Southeast Asian affairs. His a frequent media commentator on matters relating to Thailand. With Patrick Jory, Montesano is co-editor of Thai South and Malay North: Ethnic Interactions on a Plural Peninsula (NUS Press, 2008).
Dr. Montesaro spoke to SIIA’s members on Thailand’s political turmoil on 18 May 2009. He opened the session acknowledging that it was an excellent time to review the political developments in Thailand, given that it was just over a month past the events of 11-14 April, which saw the invasion of the ASEAN Summit hotel and the cancellation of the ASEAN summit.
Photographs and images used are obtained from publicly-accessible resources. No copyright infringement is intended.