Well, well, it’s been a while. Many things have happened in my two beloved countries and therefore this edition will cover both countries. At the end you will find two readings that you should have a look on – the one is about Burma and its chances to become a democratic state and the other one is about Thailand and how some things went just wrong – very interesting. I am going to start with Thailand now.
The lese majeste debate
Two weeks ago, Uncle SMS Amphon “Akong” Tangnoppakul, 61 died while being imprisoned for the accused violation of Article 112 of the Criminal Code of Thailand. The official cause for his death is cancer (there is no question about him suffering from cancer, but the treatment he was granted while imprisoned), but the circumstances are somehow questionable. For the sake of his soul though, he is finally free. Expecting and waiting for the judicial apparatus of Thailand to grant him a pardon, would have taken a lot of his body and mind anyway. Therefore keep his faith and smile in mind, and do not forget why his death became an issue of international extent. A British MP even brought the case to the Lower House and questioned the use of the LM law in Thailand. Given that the UK is a monarchy itself, this might be interesting to follow. The questions should be answered by the end of the month so follow us here or on Facebook – I’ll definitely post something about it.
PM Yingluck keeps firm on the issue and will not bring the issue to the parliament, even though some of the Red Shirts are protesting in favor of an amendment. Seems that she is preferring staying in a peaceful relationship with the Army than losing some of her supporters.
Speaking of the Red Shirt movement – they have just commemorated the victims of the 2010 crackdown. This time everything went smoothly and the event passed peacefully. Thaksin made an appearance on screen, giving another of his populist speeches, trying to manifest his support by the movement before they headed home. So basically the same old story. His intentions to coming home are still clear and it is just a matter of time and a matter of how the current government can steer the country to bring back the beloved puppet master.
Two cases of the 2010 crackdown are being investigated though these days. The one case concerns the death of Japanese citizen and Reuters cameraman, Hiroyuki Muramoto, who was shot in the chest by a still unknown gunman – Army or Black Shirt, we will most likely never get to know the truth. The second case is investigating the death of Italian photographer, Fabio Polenghi, whose sister was just recently traveling back to Bangkok to mark the second anniversary of her brother’s death. His case will be opened in July and the matter of the investigation is the same as for the first case.
Thailand will keep maintaining its political limbo. The good thing about this period though is that it seems (at least for now) that both sides are refraining from using violence to underpin their cause. For the country as such, this is the only solution anyway. Waiting for both sides to reconcile will need decades and some miracle politician to show up on the stage – the old structures will prevail and for the next months to come at least, it seems that peaceful times lie ahead.
Thailand has just published its numbers on the economy and as it looks, the country has re-bounded impressively after the devastating floods last year. This is definitely not due to some miracle economic recovery plan by the government or similar. There have been some policies that supported the cause and increasing domestic demand but it is also simply the fact that after a bad quarter or two (due to such an environmental catastrophe) it is hard to go even further down for an economically well developed and in the global supply chain well implemented country.
Thailand has been doing well, even during the global economic crisis and domestic political crisis and therefore the recovery was expected. Thailand has to be thankful to Japan for its ongoing support. Japan’s insurance companies had been hit very hard by the damage caused by the floods to Japanese car manufacturers. Still, the car companies kept their trust with their Thai subsidiaries and take the risk of yet another natural catastrophe maybe causing them to take even more financial setbacks.
High profile consultation
Daw Aung San Suu Kyi finally took her parliamentary seat along the other 42 members of the NLD. They backed down from their call for an amendment concerning the oath which ensures the status of the military. After consulting with high profile visitors like UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, she decided that her chance to push the amendment of the constitution further is by democratic means, so her voice in the parliament and her international recognition.
In the upcoming month she will travel abroad for the first time ever since she returned to her home country. Her trip will lead her to Norway, where she will speak at the Noble Committee and to the UK, where she used to live and her husband is buried. Only today the UN announced that she will also give a speech in Geneva on labor at the ILO.
Let’s count on progress
The census, which is planned to take place in 2014, is giving hope to the ethnic minorities, except the Rohingya minority group, which has been denied citizenship by the government since 1982. Former strong man Ne Win, on the basis of being “non-nationals” although they have lived in the country ever since 1936 at least, has stripped this group of their citizenship. This is a delicate issue and even Suu Kyi and the NLD refrain from giving an official statement on the issue. Maybe the issue is too marginal to be considered in the shade of the mainstream political changes that have taken place ever since last year. We will follow the issue of course.
For the other ethnic groups, the government has yet another time reached out to them in order to reach ceasefire agreements. Apparently there have been good results in the latest rounds with the Shan rebels in the East of the country, which agreed upon putting down the weapons. Still, the situation is like a power keg – one spark and the whole situation might blows up or just falls back into the old structure causing further human losses and decelerate the pace of progress towards a democratic state.
New taste of freedom
Political dissidents, active opponents of the government and other citizens are testing how far they can go already. They have been organizing public demonstrations in order to put pressure on the government to improve the infrastructure in Mandalay, which is suffering electricity shortages on a regular basis. Some of the people still don’t believe in their new freedom though. Decades of suppression have left traces and people are still in a state of anxiety when it is coming to speak out publicly. No one to blame her as one of the worst crackdowns only happened about five years ago. Another protest was organized to promote gay and lesbian rights across the country and as far as we know, there has been no disruption by the government.
There are issues though that have prevailed the current progressive movement, such as the media censorship. Local newspapers and other media outlets still have to seek permission before publishing delicate reports. Also demonstrations need to seek approval five days before holding them and the officials remain in power of giving or denying permits – without further explanation of course.
Democratization does not happen over night. Europe took centuries to become as democratized as it is now. The Burmese path towards becoming a democratic state is long and exhausting and people have to understand that the former Generals cannot change over night either – the human mind (especially when it is coming down to power) is not as simple as some want it to be. Patience and tolerance are the keys to overcome hurdles and this is going to be done step by step.
The Western parole
The EU and US have been visiting the country ever since Suu Kyi is free and an elected MP. They believe that President Thein Sein’s intentions are serious – but they take a cautious approach. The EU announced by the end of April that they will suspend and lift economic sanctions (except those on arms trade) for one year, but a revision will take place in October in order to monitor progress within the country and the accountability of the government’s intentions. The US announced last week that they will ease some sanctions, but also will remain cautious.
Burma is a low developed economy with plenty of opportunities to make business with – an un(der)developed financial sector, vast natural resources and the geographic location between the two uprising economic powerhouses China and India is something the developed world and its economies must not overlook – especially in times of economic distress.
We will see how the influx of economic knowledge and infrastructure will impact Burma and its people. Exploitation, the resource curse or a widening income gap have to be kept in mind when developing this economy. Events like this have taken place for too long now and maybe Burma will be the first example where international cooperation will bear the fruit of an equally developed society and a state of development and democracy it’s people deserve after experiencing decades of suppression and violence.
Burma can bring it, It’s true: Burma faces an uphill climb in its transition to democracy. But the odds may be better than you think. Foreign Policy Magazine
Bangkok Blues – How did the one functional democracy in Southeast Asia get so screwed up?, Joshua Kurlantzick for the Foreign Policy Magazine