Thailand gets new premier, India reacts cautiously

ThailandThe junta leader who led a bloodless coup in the strife-ridden Thailand on May 22 to declare himself as the nation’s prime minister by a mere legislative endorsement mostly by the uniformed services of military and police must have startled the entire world.

Indeed, the National Legislative Assembly (NLA) that was mooted by the military, nominated 60-year-old General Prayuth Chan-ocha as the next Prime Minister. Of the total of 194 NLA members present at the meeting, 191 voted for the lone candidate Prayuth while the other three, including the NLA President and two deputies, chose to abstain themselves in this exercise.

This episode has affirmed the strong influence of the defence forces on the country and its intended political reforms.

The proposals will be forwarded to the King of Thailand Bhumibol Adulyadej for his green signal. Reportedly, Prayuth, who had abstained from the voting in the NLA, is a staunch supporter of monarchy; as such it is reckoned to be a mere formality.

Political analyst Wassana Nanuam had opined in The Bangkok Post that August 21 was specifically chosen to herald this move since it is believed to be an auspicious day for General Prayuth vis-a-vis his career as top brass of the military.

Nanuam mentioned that the Queen’s Guard unit or the 21 Infantry Regiment in Chon Buri which was established on this day by Her Majesty 64 years ago is the place where Gen Prayuth and top army ex-bosses, such as Gen Prawit Wongsuwon and Gen Anupong Paojinda, began their careers.

On their part, Prayuth and his junta officials have contended that military rule has ushered political stability in the turbulent nation after enduring months of violent protests between the warring factions which favoured and opposed the erstwhile Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted from a coup staged in 2006.

Earlier, on May 22, Prayuth had seized power two weeks after Yingluck Shinawatra, Thailand’s first woman Prime Minister, was forced to resign following a contentious court ruling for abusing power. So much so that he had cautioned that at no cost Thailand would be allowed to turn into Ukraine.

Saga of Prayuth

Prayuth Chan-ocha, the new junta leader of Thailand, began his military career in the prestigious Queen’s Guard unit, before rising to become a Commander in the King’s Guard. He was the Chief of Staff in the Royal Thai Army from 2008 to 2009 and in 2009 he was appointed honorary Adjutant of the King prior to his elevation as the Army Chief in 2010.

Known to be as a military hardliner, he strongly opposed Thaksin Shinawatra and his sister Yingluck Shinawatra.

It is believed that capitalising on this status he was the architect behind the crack-down on the ‘red shirts’ who supported the Shinawatras.

After the 2006 coup d’état, Prayuth was nominated to the NLA.

Consequently, he assumed power through a coup against the caretaker government in May 2014 under a new garb of a junta named the National Council for Peace and Order.

Banking on these trends and taking over the mantle of prime minister, he has proposed to hang his boots as an army commander in September.

What it means for India

India has reacted cautiously to latest developments in Thailand and hoped that the Southeast Asian nation will restore normalcy in keeping with the spirit of democracy. Sharing New Delhi’s reaction to the coup to the media on August 19, Indian Ambassador to Thailand Harsh Vardhan Shringla said:  “After the military coup we released a statement indicating that, as a close and friendly neighbour, we expressed the hope that Thailand would resolve its political issues as soon as possible and restore normalcy in keeping with the spirit of democracy, rule of law and will of the people of the country. But we also understand that the relationship between the two neighbouring countries is one that requires constant communication.”

He noted that India has taken a stance that is more understanding of an internal situation and the efforts to resolve such a situation. As he put it, “We cannot allow our relationship to go into free-fall for the period in which you have this political transition.”

Thailand and India share a strong bilateral relationship, and have cooperated mutually on multilateral fora like the ASEAN, East Asia Summit (EAS), BIMSTEC, Mekong Ganga Cooperation (MGC) and Asia Cooperation Dialogue (ACD).Trade between the two countries is on the rise which is expected to touch the $15 billion mark by 2015, a huge leap from $8 billion in 2011-2012.

The peace and stability in Thailand are critical to India as a record number of Indian tourists travel to the Southeast Asian country every year. Besides, top Indian companies have pitched their tent in Thailand and are reported to be thriving in that country.

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