Bangkok– Following his landslide victory in the Feb 6 general elections, Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra has solidifiedhis status as the longest-serving elected leader inSoutheast Asia. But whether that status will earn him the coveted role of the region’s leading statesman remains to be seen.
According to unofficialprojections,Mr Thaksin’s Thai Rat Thai party – which had benefited greatly from the Premier’s huge personal popularity and populist policies – is tipped to win more than 370 of 500 parliamentary seats.
Mr Thaksin said on Feb 8 that he would end a coalition partnership with the Chart Thai party and form a one-party government.
On the domestic front, many analysts expect the second Thaksin government to continue with its give-away policies and domestic-stimulated, export-led economics.
Mr Thaksin is also likely to continue with his military crackdown against Muslim militants in the troubled south – a strategy that will not only widen the gulf betweenThailandand its Muslim majority neighbours,IndonesiaandMalaysia, butmay also hamper his regional ambitions.
The two countries have already expressed unhappiness over “Thailand’s lack of diplomatic finesse in dealing with sensitive southern issues”, said The Nation in an editorial.
Mr Thaksin’s diplomatic style, such as his penchant for using the media, rather than diplomatic channels, to air his concerns, has also not endeared him to some of his Southeast Asian counterparts.
In December, Mr Thaksin raised eyebrows in Malaysia and Indonesiaby suggesting thatThailandhad failed to quell the year-long insurgency in the southbecause the militants had been trained in the two countries.
Recently, a war of words broke out betweenMalaysiaandThailandafter Mr Thaksin pre-empted Kuala Lumpur by announcing thata wanted militant from the south had been captured inMalaysiaand that he was seeking the suspect's extradition.
A commentator in the Bangkok Post wrote: “The southern instability has dented Mr Thaksin's ambitions to become a regional leader onpar withMalaysia's Mahathir Mohamed orSingapore's Lee Kuan Yew. But he is still likely to renew his quest for regional leadership through such major foreign policy forays as the Asia Cooperation Dialogue,the Bangkok Processon Burma's political dialogue and bilateral free trade agreements."
* PM’s challenges, here and abroad (The Nation, Feb 8)
* Thaksinology and the state of politics (Bangkok Post, Feb 1)