Thai Election 2023 and the New Chapter for Myanmar

SEM arranged a sharing session on “Thai Election 2023 and the New Chapter for Myanmar” on May 21st, 2023 for Myanmar CSOs and friends with special thanks to Ajan Lalita Hanwong for the brief introduction of Thai politics and the relationship with Myanmar, especially the perspectives on what could happen to Myanmar after the latest Thai election.

Lalita started the session with a brief introduction of what has happened in Thailand to lay out the background of how this election place and why it was so critical, why Thai people cannot help talking about it all the time, and why the results will consider striking to so many.

First of all, Thailand has been under Prayut Chan-o-cha’s regime for 8-9 years. People got really bored with his own behavior, corruption, and failures in administering the country. She continued to focus on the last election in 2018, the emergence of a new party, Future Forward Party, its popularity among middle-class people and the young generation, and especially its party dissolved by the constitutional court which led to the mass protests on the street accordingly and the establishment of Move Forward Party led by Pita Limjaroenrat, the winner of Thai election in May 2023.

During these couple of years, there’re more and more youth-led movements rising up against the authoritarian systems, while the reputation of the military government declines considerably. The public conversations are not only criticizing Prayut and his government, but they go beyond the sensitively taboo topic which no one could imagine.

Lalita also briefly talked about the Thai foreign policy towards Myanmar from the post-Cold War period up to the present.

She stated that Thailand has a really good relationship with Myanmar, but mostly person-to-person, government-to-government, not people-to-people.

However, in terms of the policy, she said Thai foreign policy is very weak and always changeable with the flow that benefits us. Throughout the Cold War, Thailand took sides with the US, but after 20 years, the country reestablished its relations with China when the Vietnam War ended. During the same period,  Thai leaders began to establish a positive relationship with Myanmar as well. Military leaders from Thailand and Myanmar became friends and they would forge this positive relationship until now for the sake of their own benefits, especially trading across borders which is the top priority in interpreting Thai-Myanmar relations.

Regarding ethnic armed organizations, before the early 1990s, Thailand had a good relationship with them. But starting from the 1990s, Thailand couldn’t really be friends with EAOs anymore because they have to help the Myanmar government to crack down on these EAOs to trade for concessions for natural resources from Myanmar.

For example, Lalita mentioned Myanmar’s MiG-29 jetfighter, which is used in airstrikes to suppress ethnic people along the Thai-Myanmar border, flew to Thailand and lasted for 15 minutes. In normal circumstances, everybody would say this is a serious breach of sovereignty but the Thai government didn’t really say anything.

She strongly ensured that this kind of situation won’t happen if Move Forward becomes the government. They will have more concern for human rights, will certainly be regional diplomatic innovation via ASEAN, and might have more efficient ways to solve problems, especially Myanmar-related issues.

Another thing that she personally would like to see is for the new Move Forward government to have a dialogue with NUG, EAOs, and other groups CSOs NGOs from Myanmar which is never happened during Prayut’s regime.

In the second scenario, if the Move Forward Party cannot form a government, Phue Thai, the second party will have to lead the government. And as the nature of the Phue Thai Party is highly populist with the economy driven. So, there would be a less progressive stance towards Myanmar. They may or maybe not have conversations with NUG and other groups.

The last scenario is she doesn’t even want to think about it because anything is possible right now…

To answer some questions after the lecture, Lalita said if the Move Forward Party led the government, Pita’s humanitarian corridor approach to Myanmar would have to start talking with SAC. Thai generals have a very good relationship with Myanmar generals.

Ideally, if she were Pita, she would go and meet them one by one and dialogue about how to meditate or end violence along the Thai-Myanmar border, how to end the airstrikes immediately and so on which she thinks could be possible too.

And for the following question that asked about the possibility of the new government imposing sanctions on the PTTEP who is doing business with the Myanmar junta, she bitterly told that Thailand is not France. Thailand is not the US. To ban PTTEP like Total or Chevron is way too big to be pushed down by the new government. If this government survives, maybe in the long run it would be in the plan.

And there are lots of priorities that this new government has to do. Myanmar issue is one of them but it is not on the top tier of everything. She said personally already whispered to them that Myanmar is the only way that Thailand can resurrect its dignity that Thailand had lost so much during the last eight years under Prayut. We can get our dignity back. You have to have like very careful policy with Myanmar.