Prime Minister Hun Sen yesterday publicly welcomed the Pheu Thai Party’s victory in Thailand’s national elections on Sunday, calling this a chance to reverse more than two years of bitterness in relations between the neighbors.
In Bangkok, Prime Minister-elect Yingluck Shinawatra said her government would review the corruption conviction against big brother and former Thai premier Thaksin, the driving force behind the party and a former adviser to Mr Hun Sen.
“With the Pheu Thai, we strongly hope that all the problems [between Thailand and Cambodia] will be solved peacefully,” Mr Hun Sen said during a groundbreaking ceremony in Kandal province in remarks that followed a personal letter to Ms Yingluck on Monday.
“We are stepping into a new era of cooperation between the kingdoms of Cambodia and Thailand. We encourage the government-elect and hope that we will work on behalf of cooperation, the Mekong sub-region, Asean and other issues,” the premier said.
Under Thailand’s outgoing Democrat Party, relations with Cambodia had been marked both by bitter words and sporadic border fighting around Preah Vihear temple and other contested parts of the two country’s shared border.
In 2008, by contrast, a pro-Thaksin government backed Cambodia’s successful bid to place the temple on the World Heritage List, a move denounced by the Democrats Democrats, and their ultra-nationalist base, ever since. Thumbing his nose at the new regime in Bangkok, Mr Hun Sen in 2009 named Mr Thaksin—ousted in a 2006 coup and on the run since his 2008 conviction in absentia on graft charges—to a brief stint as his economic adviser.
“We wish the Thai people, the Pheu Thai Party and the prime minister-to-be, Yingluck Shinawatra, to create the government and be a good partner with Cambodia,” Mr Hun Sen said.
The lead-up to the election came with much speculation that the Thai military would intervene if the Pheu Thai eked out a narrow victory. According to Thai media, though, military officials have vowed to respect the results.
In an interview with CNN on Tuesday, meanwhile, Ms Yingluck confirmed pre-election speculation that her government would reopen the case against her brother “along with others” in pursuit of the party’s pledge of seeking political reconciliation.
“We have to think about the whole group of people who have not been followed by the rule of law and due process,” she said. “His will be one of the cases with every other case, but the final will have to be fair to everyone.”
Despite Mr Hun Sen’s past with the former Thai premier, Foreign Ministry spokesman Koy Kuong described the potential return of Mr Thaksin—now based in the United Arab Emirates—“purely an internal case of Thailand.”
He also declined to speculate about the possibility of Royal Pardons for convicted Thai spies Veera Somkhwamkid and Ratree Pipatanapaiboon now that a friendly Thai government was on its way in.
The nationalist Thai activists were arrested inside Banteay Meanchey province on Dec 29 and sentenced to six and four years in jail respectively on charges of espionage and illegal entry. Mr Hun Sen publicly ruled out Royal Pardons for the pair until they had served at least two-thirds of their terms.
“We have not yet thought about this issue since it is a legal and judicial problem,” Mr Kuong said yesterday.
In related news, the Bangkok Post reported that an advance team from Indonesia had arrived on the Thai side of the contested border with Cambodia near Preah Vihear temple to lay the groundwork for observers. Thailand and Cambodia in February agreed to host the observers to monitor a cease-fire.
(Additional reporting by Zsombor Peter and Neou Vannarin)