An ineffective political system, protests and so-called ‘bamboo diplomacy’ were just three of the major talking points of this year’s Thai Update, hosted by the ANU College of Asia and the Pacific from 24-27 August.
The event saw 15 of Thailand’s emerging political and policy experts weigh in on Thailand’s economy and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, along with protests, the Thai government and its foreign policy.
Moderators included lecturer at the ANU Strategic and Defence Studies Centre Dr Greg Raymond and research fellow at the Coral Bell School of Asia Pacific Dr Ruji Auethavornpipat, who both said the event provides rich insights that deserve greater attention.
ANU alumni Associate Professor Pongphisoot (Paul) Busbarat, now teaching international relations at Thailand’s Chulalonghorn University, also spoke of the declining levels of trust in his country by foreign strongholds such as China and the US.
While Thailand exports bamboo to feed Chinese pandas (known as ‘bamboo diplomacy’), Thailand’s COVID-19 recovery is dependent on the Chinese Sinovac vaccine which has proven to be far less effective than other vaccines, the panellists said.
Dr Raymond said a constant frustration is Thailand’s political landscape, led by the Prayuth Government, was something he described as being “stuck”, following a military coup in 2014.
“The Prayuth regime is also managing to hold together its majority in the lower house, to ensure no confidence motions are defeated,” Dr Raymond said.
“As a consequence of these blockages, young Thai people are losing their interest and hope that the return of parliamentary politics since the elections of 2019 can allow their voices and aspirations to be put into effect.”
Many panellists included bright, young minds such as Thai-Myanmar politician Tida Yingcharoen and former member of the Thai Democrat Party Parit Wacharasindhu, who refuse to give up hope of changing the balance of power, while fearing the possibility of another military coup.
“Young Thai politicians, such as those we had on the panel, retain the energy and capability to continue to fight for a more truly representative system of politics,” Dr Raymond said.
“They are using the courts to file petitions and lawsuits against the government and continue to work with the protestors. They know they have an uphill battle, but they have not given up and want to be prepared for the next election.
“The poor performance of the Prayuth government in managing COVID gives them some hope for the next elections, due in 2023.”
Dr Auethavornpipat said protests are unlikely to end anytime soon due to the current impasse between protesters and the Thai government.
“Moving forward will not be easy,” he said.
“Different protest groups have their own demands and some are more radical than the others. The government’s mishandling of COVID-19 presents an opportunity for uniting both pro-democracy activists and conservative grassroots to increase pressure on the government.”
Parit Wacharasindhu best described Thailand as like a game of tug-of-war between a progressive population and an ineffective government, where “too much tension could break the rope,” he said during the discussion on the Thai parliament.
You can watch all of the webinars on the event page for the 2021 Thai Update.