Enthronement, Asean and politics mark an eventful 2019 for Thailand
Published on: Monday, December 30, 2019
By: Bernama
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File photo from Bernama.
BANGKOK: The year 2019 has been a remarkable one for Thailand, with the jewel in the crown being the coronation of King Maha Vajiralongkorn. 

The kingdom celebrated the coronation – the first in nearly seven decades – in May after a period of official mourning for his father, King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who passed away in October 2016 after reigning for 70 years.

Another significant event was the Asean Summit, held in Bangkok. As Asean chair this year, Thailand rolled out the red carpet to welcome Asean’s dialogue partners’ leaders gathered at the biannual summits. 

The grouping reaffirmed its commitment to realise Asean as a region of lasting peace, security and stability, sustained economic growth, shared prosperity and social progress.

The year 2019 also marked the end of Thailand’s five-year military rule and a return to democracy. 

Former junta leader, General Prayuth Chan-o-cha, was voted as a civilian Prime Minister in June. 

King Maha Vajiralongkorn, 66, has officially ascended the throne as the country’s 10th king in the centuries-old Chakri Dynasty. 

The elaborate three-day ceremony filled with ancient Brahmin and Buddhist rituals from May 4 to 6 was the first coronation ceremony in living memory for most Thais.

“I shall continue, preserve, and build upon the royal legacy, and shall reign with righteousness for the benefit and happiness of the people forever,” King Vajiralongjorn said in his first royal command.

Earlier this month, King Vajiralongkorn, also known as King Rama X, travelled down Bangkok’s Chao Phraya River with Queen Suthida on the century-old barge, Suphannahong or Golden Swan – part of a 52-barge procession powered by more than 2,200 oarsmen – marking the final ritual of the coronation.

Both land and barge procession are symbols of the glory of the Thai monarch.

As Thailand assumed the chairmanship of Asean this year, under the theme “Advancing Partnership for Sustainability”, the Asean Summit marked a significant accomplishment with the conclusion of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) negotiations by 15 nations (excluding India) after seven years of talks. The deal is expected to be signed next year.

India has decided to pull out for now over concerns of several terms in the deal, including protection of its domestic industry and influx of goods imported from China in its market.

The biannual gathering took place in June and Nov, where leaders from the grouping’s 10 member states reaffirmed its commitment to realise Asean as a region of lasting peace, security and stability, sustained economic growth, shared prosperity, and social progress.

On South China Sea, Asean and China welcomed the completion of the first reading of the single draft negotiating text for the Code of Conduct (CoC) in July this year.

In August, during the 52nd Asean Foreign Ministers’ Meeting/Post Ministerial Conferences and Related Meetings, China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi said it is an important progress in the CoC talks and marks a critical step towards the goal of concluding the consultations within three years.

The grouping, however, is facing the challenges of tackling the Rohingya crisis in Rakhine state in Myanmar.

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who was in Bangkok for Asean-UN Summit, called on the Myanmar government to facilitate the repatriation of Rohingya refugees from Bangladesh. 

Asean reiterated the need to find a comprehensive and durable solution to address the root causes of the conflict and to create a conducive environment so that the affected communities can rebuild their lives. 

The November summit also caught attention of the world as it marked the second time United States President Donald Trump skipped Asean-US Summit. 

He skipped last year’s Asean-US Summit in Singapore and sent vice-president Mike Pence.

Following Trump’s absence, seven of 10 Asean leaders sent their Foreign Ministers to meet US representative. 

Asean’s Chairman Prayuth, Prime Minister of Vietnam, Nguyen Xuan Phuc and Laos Prime Minister Thongloun Sisoulith joined US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs Robert O’Brien and other foreign ministers in the meeting.

O’Brien then surprised the delegates when he read out Trump’s letter inviting ASEAN leaders to a special summit with the US President in early 2020.

However, Asean leaders have yet to give Trump’s invitation serious thought. 

March 24 was the first General Election since the 2014 military coup led by General Prayuth Chan-o-cha who ousted the  government led by Yingluck Shinawatra.

It is also the first election under Thailand’s military-drafted 2017 constitution.

More than 38 million voters went to the polls on March 24 to vote for 500-strong House of Representatives – 350 for constituency candidates and 150 for party-list candidates.

Palang Pracharath, the party backing Prime Minister Prayuth , won 8.4 million votes while Pheu Thai, the party linked to former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, trailed closely behind with 7.9 million votes. Future Forward Party (FFP) came third in the election, winning 6.2 million votes.

In the case of constituency seats, Pheu Thai tops the list at 137, followed by Palang Pracharath with 97 seats and FFP with 80 seats.

On June 5, Prayuth was voted as prime minister, beating his contender Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit who is FFP’s party leader. The win came as no surprise for Thais as the former general has benefited from the 250-seat Senate where its members were appointed by the junta.

Following a razor-thin majority in the lower house, Prayuth became a civilian prime minister in June after he was sworn in as Thailand’s 29th prime minister. He vowed to “eradicate corruption, reduce inequality, elevate the welfare of the people and ensure transparent government spending”.

Last month, the Constitutional Court disqualified Thanathorn as member of parliament after finding him guilty of violating the election law. He was found guilty of holding shares in V-Luck Media Company while registering as candidate in Thailand’s general election.

FFP is also facing a dissolution after Thailand’s Election Commission agreed to forward a petition to the Constitution Court to consider dissolving the party following the finding it violated the election law by accepting 191 million baht loan from Thanathorn.

On Dec 14, several thousands of people took part in a rally called by Thanathorn at BTS skywalk at Pathumwan Intersection following the move to ban the party. The rally is the biggest since 2014 coup.

“This is just the beginning,” Thanathorn told the crowd.

Police said the rally is clearly violated the Public Gathering Law and legal action would be taken against the organisers.

In short, politics will continue be the centre of attention among the Thais in 2020. – Bernama


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