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APEC summit: Bush, Surayud and dubious definitions of democracy

Updated On: Nov 21, 2006

Last week’s APEC meeting was Thai PM Surayud’s first appearance at an “international” forum. He deftly used the chance to explain the Thai situation to the other statesmen, assure foreign investors and restore Thailand’s reputation.

To a certain extent, Surayud scored a bull’s eye. He convinced US President George Bush of the exigencies of the Thai situation such that the Bush declared a sympathetic “understanding” of the coup. This is despite the strident criticisms in the coup aftermath and the withdrawal of aid.

According to the Nation, Surayud told reporters at the APEC summit, “He used the words ‘military intervention’ and he understands the Thai position, and he also expressed himself that he is in a difficult position.” This statement was reiterated by Philippine presidential spokesman Ignacio Bunye who said, “The US president said that they in effect agree with what’s happening... there is a road to normalcy as far as the Thailand situation is concerned… But as far as the Myanmar [Burma] situation, this is something that is totally unacceptable.”

Difficult position or not, as a self-proclaimed defender of the American ideals of democracy and freedom, Bush’s statement casts doubts on whether he understands what democracy or political governance really is.

On another note, Surayud seems to have also made inroads in making Thailand’s situation appear more acceptable to others. The Bangkok Post noted that Surayud assured his audience that “genuine democratic reform, a chance and to ensure that transparency and good governance are given more than lip service”. His interim cabinet would resign after a new constitution was ratified by a referendum and free elections held.

His assurance of how the sufficiency economy would be driven won him praise. American business leaders (from Chevron, Citigroup Inc, ConocoPhillips, FedEx, Hewlett Packard, IBM, Johnson & Johnson, Merck & Co, Microsoft, New York Life International, Oracle, PricewaterhouseCoopers, etc) reiterated their “commitment to do business in Thailand” after meeting Surayud at APEC’s sidelines. Matthew Daley, president of the US-Asean Business Council, told the Bangkok Post, “I think the audience emphasised the commitment to Thailand and determination to continue business operations in Thailand. Everybody who spoke made that affirmation… We welcomed the prime minister's articulation of policy. There is recognition that there would be continuity in economic policy. He said that he believed his term in office will be only one year and so he's conscious that with some projects he can lay the foundations but perhaps will not see them through to completion.”

While American sentiment may be changing towards Thailand, domestic disapproval continues. The Campaign for Popular Democracy (CPD) adviser Pipop Dhongchai has recently criticized the Surayud government and the Council for National Security (CNS) for incompetence.

Public dissatisfaction is so high that CNS president and key coup-maker Gen. Sonthi has again come out to defend “the CNS and himself against public frustration at the slow pace of its administration”. The Thai people are impatient with the slow corruption probes and there is increasing perception that the junta is fattening itself at the public’s expense with high salaries and positions on the boards of state-enterprises.

Sources:

CNS can now only sack the PM: Sonthi (Nation, 20 November 2006)

Thumbs down for govt (Nation, 20 November 2006)

American business leaders affirm their support following Surayud's 'frank and professional articulation of policy' (Bangkok Post, 20 November 2006)

Bush says Burma situation 'unacceptable', unlike Thai's: ASEAN chair (Nation, 18 November 2006)

Bush 'understands' Thai situation: PM (Nation, 18 November 2006)

US firms 'committed to Thailand' (Nation, 18 November 2006)

PM justifies military intervention at meet (Bangkok Post, 18 November 2006)

PM: Bush now understands Thai political reforms better (Thai News Agency, 18 November 2006)