Finally Asean has issued a statement on the situation in Thailand, where the military recently staged a coup d’etat after declaring martial law and a 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew. The statement expresses “full support for a peaceful resolution to the ongoing challenge in the country through dialogue and full respect of democratic principles and rule of law.” It also affirms “confidence in the resilience of the Thai nation to overcome the present difficulties and [Asean stands] ready to extend all appropriate support based on the principles provided in the [Asean] Charter.”
You don’t feel the earth move under you when you read that statement. But, funny, some Asean countries aren’t comfortable with it, and only reluctantly agreed to its release. They’d have preferred to stay in their comfort zone and let Asean commit the sin of silence.
From snippets of reportage, the story goes that the idea of issuing a statement was first broached by Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen during the 14th Asean Summit earlier this month. Nothing happened then. At that time Yingluck Shinawatra had just stepped down as prime minister by virtue of a court decision. Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa drafted a statement well before the Thai military disbanded the caretaker government. Myanmar as Asean Chair revised the draft. Media reports intimate that the Asean foreign ministers struggled before reaching a consensus on releasing it.
Meanwhile the Thai military has taken into custody Yingluck, members of her family, and leaders of the ruling Puea Thai party. Their whereabouts are unknown, although the military avows they’re well treated. The media are muzzled. Enraged bands of Red Shirts — Shinawatra loyalists — are confronting soldiers. Civil war is a clear and present risk.
Now there’s talk that Thaksin will set up a government in exile. God forbid that Cambodia or any other Asean country be host to that expatriate government. That could be fatal to Asean solidarity. And make things worse for Thailand.
For those with true concern for Thailand, this is no time for silence or inaction. Asean as a whole — not just Indonesia — should be exploring options in anticipation of contingencies, and chewing over with the United Nations various scenarios. It should be sketching out ways by which the World Organization can lend support to regional initiatives. It should also be taking a good look at its Political-Security Community blueprint: there should be something useful there for dealing with the Thai situation.
Marty has done right to call on “the armed forces of Thailand and various relevant civilian elements to work together in a reconciliatory atmosphere to quickly restore the political situation in Thailand.” This means that without undue external interference, all the Thais will have to sort out their differences themselves, instead of just the military prescribing a “new order.” All national stakeholders should be consulted in the shaping of Thai democracy. Their political animosities can’t be so huge they can’t set these aside for the sake of the nation.
It will take great effort, but Asean in cooperation with the UN and the international community can create the regional political environment wherein Thai democracy can recover and then thrive.
In this enterprise, Asean must take the lead if it is to become the Political-Security Community that it has envisioned. A Community of nations that shares the same values of democracy and love of human rights. And is responsible for its own internal security.
A Community that isn’t tempted to be silent when it should speak. That doesn’t dither when the situation calls for diplomatic initiative.
Will Asean become such a Community? Until it has dealt with the Thai problem the way a Community should, the jury is out.
Jamil Maidan Flores is a Jakarta-based writer whose interests include philosophy and foreign policy. He is also an English-language consultant for the Indonesian government. The views expressed here are his own.
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