A PROFESSOR AT CHULALONGKORN UNIVERSITY
A professor and director of the Institute of Security and International Studies at Chulalongkorn University’s Faculty of Political Science, he earned a PhD from the London School of Economics with a top dissertation prize in 2002. Recognised for excellence in opinion writing from Society of Publishers in Asia, his views and articles have been published widely by local and international media.
The more it tries to catch up on Myanmar's post-coup crisis, the more Asean falls behind. Since Myanmar's military takeover on Feb 1, Asean has spent nearly the first three months getting its act together for a "special summit" and a "five-point consensus" on April 24 and then more than another three months to meekly implement the agreement. In the event, the appointment of Brunei's Second Foreign Minister Erywan bin Mohd Yusof as the Asean envoy to promote dialogue and humanitarian assistance in Myanmar is likely to prove too little, too late for what has been desperately needed on the ground.
That Thailand's coronavirus pandemic has been grossly mismanaged is self-evident. Infection rates have soared to new highs this month while vaccine availability and access remain shoddy and abysmal. The overstretched healthcare system is creaking under growing demand, while several scenes so far of Covid-afflicted people being left to die on the streets have shaken the country's collective morale and elicited soul-searching questions about how Thailand has managed to reach this dire juncture.
After more than six months of virus policy bungles, vaccine shortages and repeated denials, senior public health officials at last have admitted their mistakes and apologised to the public. But these apologies came with attachments and excuses that fall short of owning up squarely to the pandemic calamity that is besetting Thailand. Worse, the ultimate decision-makers in charge, from Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul to Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, have been nowhere to be seen. The Prayut government has yet to take full responsibility for Thailand’s pandemic mismanagement that is claiming hundreds of lives with many thousands more infected and untold hardship across the country.
Thailand's vaccine rollout is evidently a complete shambles due to questionable procurement, supply shortage, and misallocation amid a deadly surge of the Covid-19 "Delta" variant. The situation has been going from bad to worse with no end in sight as a poorly conceived strategy unfolds into a national calamity. As public anger mounts with fast-spreading calls for Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha's ouster, the Covid-19 pandemic is becoming Thailand's political game-changer more than anyone could have anticipated.
It has become common knowledge that Thailand's national vaccine plan is inadequate, full of loopholes, flip-flopping and even worse, and might not be enough to deal with the fluid threat and devastating impact of the coronavirus pandemic effectively. But vaccine mismanagement no longer appears to be the root cause of Thailand's Covid-19 trials and tribulations.
Thailand's multi-layered crises from persistent virus infections and vaccine shortages to economic damage are building up into a potential political upheaval. The ravaging Covid-19 crisis is worse than the infamous Tom Yum Kung economic crisis in 1997-98. This time, the military-predominant government of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha is stuck in multiple traps of its own making. Getting out of this predicament means the pandemic situation is likely to get a lot worse before any hope of recovery and way forward can be found.
In view of the ongoing parliamentary debate about constitutional revisions, it has become the consensus that the 2017 charter is flawed and in need of change. At issue is the nature and extent of charter amendments. What is being proposed can be categorised into three positions -- those favouring amendments without fundamental reforms and others who want reforms with all necessary amendments, with some advocating measures in between. Owing to the powers of incumbency, status quo proponents aligned with the coalition government of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha are likely to carry the day, thereby stoking political tensions to manifest on the horizon.
The recent Asean-China foreign ministers' meeting early this month in Chongqing was crucial for its timing and circumstances. Co-chaired by Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and Philippine Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin, it was the first "in-person" meeting among foreign ministers of both sides since the Covid-19 period began early last year.
A major lasting damage Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha will eventually leave behind is his government's co-optation and capture of autonomous agencies that used to safeguard and uphold Thailand's macroeconomic well-being and political level-playing field.
Half-way through his four-year term, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha has time and again shown his staying power in the face of popular discontent. Despite a subpar economic performance and persistent controversies from his cabinet's incomplete oath of office and a cabinet minister's past drug conviction and imprisonment in Australia to his own house on army premises after retirement, the former army chief, who led the military coup in May 2014 to take over as prime minister, has proved politically resilient.