Senior fellow of the Institute of Security and International Studies at Chulalongkorn University
A professor and senior fellow 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.
On the face of it, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha for eight years, has touted himself as "an outsider" who was above the political fray, seizing power in a military coup and taking top office to help Thailand in its hour of need amid debilitating protests and polarisation in 2013-14. Now that the general has thrown his hat in the ring under the United Thai Nation (UTN) Party locally known as "Ruam Thai Sang Chart" to contest the upcoming election, the charade is over.
Although economic predictions are usually reserved for the foolhardy, as the future is always difficult to ascertain, there are certain trend lines and probabilities that can be discerned at the global and regional level as well as the local level here in Thailand. As a year-end exercise, we can tease out a few contours with a reasonably high degree of probability.
In the face of the myriad of questions and issues that beset Thai politics in the lead-up to the general election, which must be held by May 7, the biggest facts and dilemmas are not being raised. Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha is now headed to complete nine years in office, the first five of which were under a military government after he and his cohorts seized power by force in May 2014, and the last four under an elected coalition government enabled by the 2017 constitution crafted by a committee the ruling generals had set up. Moving forward, Thailand risks settling into a prolonged period of economic stagnation and political decay unless there is a qualitative change of government after the poll.
Southeast Asia's summit season has come and gone with takeaways that concurrently eased geopolitical tensions and underlined risks that could lead to future global conflict. The three major summits -- the East Asia Summit (EAS) in Phnom Penh, the G20 in Bali, and the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) in Bangkok -- also demonstrated that the Covid-19 pandemic over 2020-21 has been practically overcome as in-person meetings are back in full force. Overall, the three hosts came away with mixed highlights.
The upcoming leaders' meeting in Bangkok among the 21 member economies of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) should be seen in conjunction with its preceding Asean-related summits in the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh and the G20 summit in Bali, the Indonesian island resort. This one-two-three combination in three Southeast Asian countries over a ten-day period is supposed to showcase Asean's central role in the promotion of peace, security and prosperity in the region and the wider world. But as Asean's summit season gets underway in Cambodia, excitement and promise have given way to anxieties and apprehensions. While these summit talks are an extraordinary opportunity to tone down geopolitical temperatures and geoeconomic competition, they are likely to yield mixed results.
India, like China, takes enormous pride in its civilisation's scale and antiquity -- and rightly so. But such pride can also lead to a complacent and sometimes dangerous insularity. Since gaining independence from the British Empire 75 years ago, India has mostly looked inward, focusing on improving the welfare of its population by building a strong democracy and a healthy economy.
As the five economies in mainland Southeast Asia re-emerge from the Covid-19 pandemic, their prospects for recovery and return to growth and development appear challenged, characterised by deteriorating balance of payments, fiscal weaknesses, currency depreciations, and rising inflation amidst global monetary tightening and recession risks.
As geopolitical tensions from Russian aggression in Ukraine and the ongoing United States-China rivalry intensify, Southeast Asia will be hard-pressed to maintain peace and security. Despite their relatively small size, Cambodia and Laos are two countries whose political trajectories will shape regional outcomes. While Cambodia has consolidated domestic political power with dynamic economic expansion, Laos is looking like a regional laggard facing a deep debt crisis. As Cambodia moves forward, Laos is at risk of being left behind.