Opposition party leader Sam Rainsy warmly welcomed the election of new Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva in a letter of congratulation Tuesday to the leader of Thailand’s Democrat Party, the SRP’s political brethren in a coalition of Asian liberal parties.
Sam Rainsy expressed his trust and confidence in the new Thai premier—the third in four months—and his ability to restore stability in Thailand, after weeks of protests that also delayed the resolution of the country’s border dispute with Cambodia.
“It is also my strong belief and hope that your vision for regional harmony will see peaceful solutions and the strengthening of economic and cultural ties that will bring mutual progress and prosperity to our peoples,” Sam Rainsy wrote, also praising Abhisit’s commitment to fighting corruption and protecting democracy.
But Abhisit is also the man who led the charge against former Thai Prime Minister Samak Sundarajev in a no-confidence debate in the Thai Parliament last June when he accused Samak of endangering Thai sovereignty by conceding to Cambodia’s bid to list the Preah Vihear temple as a Unesco World Heritage site.
Abhisit branded Samak’s support for the Unesco listing as a loss of Thai territory to Cambodia.
Soon after, opposition protesters branding themselves as true Thai nationalists showed up at Preah Vihear temple, a move that was soon followed by armed Thai troops marching into the undemarcated border zone in July, and starting an armed standoff that is still playing out to this day.
“We always welcome anyone elected directly or indirectly by their own people,” Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan said Wednesday when asked to comment on Abhisit’s election. Phay Siphan said he welcomed any development that brought stability to Thailand.
Asked to comment on concerns that Abhisit could take a tougher stance in negotiations over the border at Preah Vihear, Phay Siphan said the legal framework for talks was already in place and negotiations with the government would be based on a memorandum of understanding signed in 2000.
“They opposed each other back in Bangkok; they did not oppose us,” he added.
Now that they are in government, Abhisit’s Democrats Party has less interest in stirring up a dispute with Cambodia, said John Virgoe, Southeast Asia project director for the International Crisis Group.
“It was a useful stick with which to beat the Samak government, accusing them of lack of patriotism. But I can’t see who would benefit politically by keeping this [border] issue alive,” Virgoe wrote in an e-mail from Jakarta.
“I imagine the new government will support the Thai foreign ministry’s efforts to resolve the dispute,” he wrote.
Though stating that he could not speak on the new Thai premier’s politics, Virachai Plasai, the lead lawyer for the Thai foreign ministry in the border talks with Cambodia, said Abhisit had shown support in Parliament for the negotiating framework the legislature has approved.
Thai Democrat Party spokesman Buranaj Smutharaks declined to say what Abhisit’s stance on the border dispute would be.
“We don’t have a foreign policy yet because we have to submit to the Parliament first,” he added.
With supporters of the former government already protesting Abhisit’s election, and at least three more Thai parliamentary approvals to go before the border dispute can be tackled and possibly settled, it’s anyone’s guess if Abhisit’s will be the government to end the dispute.
As Virgoe wrote, “It’s a bit early to predict that this government will be around for long.”