Wednesday, 27 July 2011

The job nobody wants: next foreign minister

The new Thai foreign minister, whoever is appointed, will face many complicated and difficult tasks as the previous government has left some "hot potatoes" for whoever takes up senior ministerial post.

The hottest job is complying with the International Court of Justice (ICJ)'s order to withdraw troops from the court imposed 'demilitarised zone' at the border adjacent to the Hindu temple of Preah Vihear.

The outgoing government under Abhisit Vejjajiva could not make a decision on the issue as it had lost its mandate - by losing the election. Abhisit did not even spell out whether Thailand should comply with the court's injunction, or how it might do this. All the Prime Minister could do was offer an expression of satisfaction over the court's order.

It remains unclear whether the troop withdrawal needs approval from Parliament in accordance with Article 190 of the current Constitution.

Officials at the Foreign Ministry are unlikely to have any clear idea about the legal implications of the ICJ injunction.

The decision to comply or not to comply with the ICJ's order is a major political burden and a decision-maker must take the consequences. Abhisit and the Democrat Party, who are about to become the opposition soon, would never hesitate to blame Pheu Thai Party for any deal with Cambodia. If the new government fully complies with the court's order, Abhisit would say Thailand stands to lose. Unless the new government complies, Abhisit would say the decision had damaged Thailand's international reputation.

The court's decision not only involves a bilateral deal between two neighbours, Thailand and Cambodia, but also involves Asean as Indonesia, the organisation's current chair, which is seeking to send a team of observers to inspect the area and monitor the situation.

During Abhisit's time in office, the military insisted many times they were not willing to allow foreign observers to enter the border area due to the fear of interference in Thai sovereignty over disputed territory.

Abhisit, since an agreement with Cambodia and Indonesia in February, has for the past month used delaying tactics to stall the arrival of Indonesia's team of observers.

With the court's injunction, Thailand cannot resist the plan anymore but it is the duty of the Foreign Ministry and the new government to convince the Army to comply. Unfortunately, relations between Pheu Thai and the military are never good.

Another complicated issue is the Boeing 737 seized by a German court over an investment conflict with a German construction firm, Walter Bau. The case is being considered by the court.

The jet is not a normal one, since it is often flown by HRH Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn. HRH the Crown Prince made clear he understands the situation, but it is the duty of the new foreign minister to employ his or her diplomatic skills to try to get the plane released.

Further, the new minister has to balance foreign policy and the demands of Pheu Thai Party's de facto leader, Thaksin Shinawatra, who fled overseas just prior to being convicted of corruption by a Thai court.

Thaksin's legal status is that of a fugitive and he has sought asylum in many countries, including the United Arab Emirates and some in Asean. The new foreign minister may face pressure from the opposition and many of Thaksin's enemies to hunt him and bring him to justice.

Abhisit's Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya spent a lot of his time in office hunting Thaksin, but failed to get him sent back. The outgoing regime suffered bad relations with Cambodia because of its efforts to bring Thaksin to justice over the years.

Handling Thaksin's case will be difficult for the new foreign minister and a hard one to explain to the public. For example, what do they do and what do they say if Thaksin wants to get back diplomatic and official passports revoked by Abhisit's government?

No comments:

Post a Comment