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Wednesday, July 06, 2011
Next foreign minister in for a testing time
The highly sensitive Preah Vihear temple issue will make the Foreign Ministry's top post one of the toughest jobs for the Pheu Thai Party-led coalition.
Buoyed by the landslide victory over the Democrat Party, Pheu Thai, with 265 seats in the bag, does not intend to share key ministries, one of them the Foreign Ministry, with its coalition partners. Its choice for foreign minister will be either a party insider or an ex-career diplomat who can direct foreign policy, especially on attempts to mend fences with neighbouring Cambodia.
Seeing the unofficial poll results on Sunday, Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Namhong had reason to be jubilant with Pheu Thai's victory, as Phnom Penh also expects the end of a bitter wrangle at the border and, more importantly, the issue surrounding the Hindu temple to be resolved ``positively and peacefully''.
The first task of the new government is to reconsider the decision by outgoing Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva and the Democrat-led government which declared its intention to quit the World Heritage Convention just days before the election.
But the most sensitive issue is an expected return of support from Bangkok for Phnom Penh's management plan for the area around Preah Vihear.
The World Heritage Committee listed Preah Vihear as a World Heritage site in 2008 but the process will not be completed until the approval of the management plan for the area that includes the 4.6 square kilometres of land claimed by both countries.
The management plan was bogged down due to fierce opposition from the Abhisit government which feared that accepting it could also imply that Thailand was surrendering sovereignty over the overlapping area.
With Pheu Thai in power, Cambodia expects Thailand to be more friendly on the Preah Vihear issue, given the close ties between Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen and ousted premier Thaksin Shinawatra, who was once an adviser to his government.
Pheu Thai's predecessor, the People Power Party (PPP), which ran the country after winning the 2007 poll, supported Cambodia in listing the temple as a World Heritage site when Noppadon Pattama was foreign minister.
The support sparked nationalistic fervour and protests led by the yellow shirt People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD), as it claimed the listing could lead to the loss of the disputed area. The PPP and Mr Noppadon insisted that the listing included only the temple and the overlapping area was excluded.
But public sentiment against Thai support for the temple's listing eventually pressured Mr Noppadon to resign. The PPP was later disbanded due to electoral fraud in 2008.
The new foreign minister will find himself in a difficult position as a Pheu Thai-led government has to decide whether it will reverse the Thai stance by supporting the management plan for the Preah Vihear area or continue to oppose it as the Abhisit government did over the past three years.
Supporting the plan carries a risk as the issue could return the yellow shirts to Bangkok streets to protest against the new government by banking on nationalism to win the day.