Academic journal article Southeast Asian Affairs

SOUTHEAST ASIA IN 2007: Domestic Concerns, Delicate Bilateral Relations, and Patchy Regionalism

Academic journal article Southeast Asian Affairs

SOUTHEAST ASIA IN 2007: Domestic Concerns, Delicate Bilateral Relations, and Patchy Regionalism

Article excerpt

During 2007, issues of domestic stability and internal security continued to preoccupy several Southeast Asian governments, notably in Thailand, the Philippines, TimorLeste and Myanmar. Indonesia, however, seemed considerably more stable: not only did peace consolidate in Aceh, but both the Jemaah Islamiyah terrorist group and piracy in the Malacca Strait seemed to have been subdued. At the same time, relations between Southeast Asian states remained sensitive to domestic political conditions. Largely for this reason, progress towards closer multilateral political and security cooperation was only tentative, despite the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit adopting the ASEAN Charter in November 2007. In the light of concern over ASEAN's continuing intramural tensions, the underdeveloped nature of regional security institutions, and concern over the region's changing balance of power, Southeast Asian governments prudently cultivated their extraregional security links.

Thailand's Political Travails

In Thailand, the military regime which had held power since the armed forces ousted Thaksin Shinawatra's administration in September 2006 attempted - unsuccessfully as it turned out - to engineer a restoration of democracy that would continue excluding Thaksin and his Thai Rak Thai (TRT) party from the corridors of power. At the same time, Bangkok continued to confront significant security challenges from Muslim insurgents in the south, where conflict escalated during 2007.

Though the 2006 coup had been executed peacefully, diverse groups in Thailand opposed the military's takeover. The army's political intervention severely undermined the cohesion and strength of Thaksin's TRT, but the former leader's huge political sway nevertheless meant that his supporters constituted the main source of resistance, particularly in the north and northeast where the military junta, which called itself the Council for National Security (CNS), still feared "undercurrents" of well-funded pro-Thaksin activity.1 Despite the ex-premier's claims that he would not be a candidate in the next general election, the worst fear of the CNS was that Thaksin might return to Thailand, posing a serious dilemma: whether to allow him to mobilize support using his wealth and his extensive network of local officials and politicians; or to arrest him with the risk he might become a martyr figure akin to neighbouring Myanmar's Aung San Suu Kyi.

Interim Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont became increasingly beleaguered during early 2007 as he faced criticism from not only the democracy movement and activists supporting debt-ridden farmers (formerly the beneficiaries of the TRT's rural largesse) but also General Sonthi and his junta, the CNS.2 Amid questions over Surayud's health, continuing pressure from the democracy movement, and increasingly public disagreement between Surayud and the CNS, there was persistent speculation that military hardliners might stage another coup.

In April, the military-appointed Constitution Drafting Council (CDC) published the draft of Thailand's proposed new Constitution, with the intention that after being debated by the 200-member Constitution Drafting Assembly it should be subjected to a referendum later in the year.3 The gist of the draft charter was that popular political participation would be curtailed. The parliamentary lower house would be reduced from 500 to 400 members, including 80 "party list" members intended to enhance representation for smaller parties and to obviate the possibility of a single party dominating parliament as Thaksin's TRT had done. The senate, previously consisting of 200 elected members, would be scaled down to 160 appointees. Prime ministers would be limited to two four-year terms in office, and would not be allowed holdings in private companies. It would also be easier to impeach prime ministers. The leaders of both main political parties, the TRT and the Democrats, roundly criticized the draft. …

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