China’s aspiring global leadership

US president Barack Obama and Chinese president Xi Jinping look at each other during a press conference at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing during APEC, 12 November 2014. (Photo: AAP).

Author: Thitinan Pongsudhirak, Chulalongkorn University

This geopolitical summit season has consolidated ongoing trends in international affairs. A still-rising China with global leadership aspirations, a resurgent Russia bent on restoring its superpower status, and sclerosis and dysfunction in Western countries is likely to dominate international politics for at least the next 20 years. In fact, we might only be at the beginning in this long time span where seismic global power shifts are taking place. Read more…

The two faces of Thai authoritarianism

A Thai soldier is silhouetted against the sky as he guards GOvernment House during the first cabinet meeting of the military junta chief and newly-appointed Prime Minister General Prayuth Chan-ocha. (Photo: AAP).

Author: Thitinan Pongsudhirak

Thai politics has completed a dramatic turn from electoral authoritarianism under deposed premier Thaksin Shinawatra in 2001–2006 to a virtual military government under General Prayuth Chan-ocha. These two sides of the authoritarian coin, electoral and military, represent Thailand’s painful learning curve. The most daunting challenge for the country is not to choose one or the other but to create a hybrid that combines electoral sources of legitimacy for democratic rule and some measure of moral authority and integrity often lacked by elected officials. Read more…

Jokowi saves Indonesia’s democracy (and maybe Southeast Asia’s too)

Indonesian presidential candidate Joko Widodo and his wife Iriana show their ballots before giving their vote during the presidential election. (Photo: AAP).

Author: Thitinan Pongsudhirak, Chulalongkorn University

Many years from now, the electoral victory of Indonesia’s president-elect Joko Widodo (Jokowi) may be seen as pivotal to the fate of democracy and regionalism in Southeast Asia. A win by Jokowi’s opponent Prabowo Subianto would have been a retrograde step for Indonesia, promising shades of authoritarianism even with a popular mandate. Jokowi’s victory, on the other hand, bodes well not just for Indonesia’s future but also for the region’s democratic prospects and ASEAN’s forward momentum. Read more…

Elections the worst outcome in Thailand, except for all the others

Thai anti-government protesters face off with Airforce military as they storm a meeting venue between the government and Election Commission in Bangkok on 15 May 2014. Thailand's Election Commission called for the postponement of key parliamentary polls due to be held on 20 July because of political unrest. (Photo: AAP).

Author: Thitinan Pongsudhirak, Chulalongkorn University

As its political environment remains murky in the wake of the Constitutional Court’s ouster of Yingluck Shinawatra, Thailand now stands at a dire crossroads with deepening rifts and growing risks of more turmoil and mayhem. In the near term, Thailand will either have a problematic election that will be fraught with controversy or it will end up with an appointed government of questionable contrivance. Along the way, the military’s role in Thai politics is likely to widen as violence becomes more deadly, frequent and uncontrollable. Read more…

No luck for Yingluck as Thai elections nullified

Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra casts her ballot in the senate elections at a polling station in Bangkok on 30 March 2014. The NACC has charged Yingluck with malfeasance over her government’s rice-pledging scheme and the senate has the authority to impeach Yingluck. (Photo: AAP).

Author: Thitinan Pongsudhirak, Chulalongkorn University

The recent decision by Thailand’s Constitutional Court to nullify the 2 February elections has put the country on a collision course between those who advocate electoral democracy, even at the cost of corruption, and others who are bent on unelected rule based on what they see as virtuous moral authority. Read more…

Give Thailand’s democracy a chance

An election official reads a ballot during a vote counting after the general election in Bangkok on 2 February 2014. (Photo: AAP).

Author: Thitinan Pongsudhirak, Chulalongkorn University

Thailand went ahead with the polls on 2 February despite a boycott by the opposition Democrat Party and blockades by anti-government protestors. Unsurprisingly, the election failed to resolve the political deadlock. Yet despite the as-yet incomplete and inconclusive poll results, electoral democracy ironically works in Thailand. Read more…

Thailand: stalemate and accommodation

A Thai Buddhist monk sits in front of riot policemen as he takes part in an anti-government protest in Bangkok on 24 November 2012 (Photo: AAP).

Author: Thitinan Pongsudhirak, Chulalongkorn University

Thailand has regained relative calm and stability over the past year, following a long period of political turmoil stretching back to 2005.

The government has finally had some breathing space to roll out its Thaksin-inspired consumption-driven policy agenda. Read more…

Obama’s Southeast Asia visit: re-engaging with the region

Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra offers a toast during an official dinner with President Barack Obama at the Government House in Bangkok, Thailand, on 18 Nov 2012. (Photo: Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Author: Thitinan Pongsudhirak, Chulalongkorn University

Barack Obama’s visit to Southeast Asia, which started on Sunday 18 November and is culminating with his attendance at the East Asia Summit in Cambodia, underscores America’s stepped-up re-engagement in what is considered China’s backyard.

Under Obama’s watch, the United States has ‘pivoted’ or ‘rebalanced’ its foreign policy intentions and resources toward Asia for the 21st century. Read more…

Reforms and reconciliation in Myanmar

Aung San Suu Kyi arrives to attend an inauguration ceremony of a branch of her National League for Democracy party in Yangon, Myanmar on 25 May 2012. (Photo: AAP)

Author: Thitinan Pongsudhirak, Chulalongkorn University

Aung San Suu Kyi, freshly elected as the leader of the opposition in Myanmar, made a strong start to life in parliament, demonstrating she will not be a pushover.

But at the same time she showed her practical side, not risking derailing her country’s spectacular democratic opening. Read more…

Domestic determinants of the Thai–Cambodian dispute

Cambodian soldiers walk at a military base as they prepare to go to Preah Vihear temple in Preah Vihear province, some 500 kilometers northwest of Phnom Penh on February 6, 2011. (Photo: AAP)

Author: Thitinan Pongsudhirak, Chulalongkorn University

The deadly military skirmishes between Thailand and Cambodia are attributable to domestic political dynamics in both countries.

Having claimed more than two dozen lives, scores of injuries and tens of thousands of displaced bystanders in the three months from February 2011, the conflict is rooted in historical enmity and colonial legacy, with adverse repercussions for regionalism in Southeast Asia and implications for international politics. Read more…

Burma’s democratic noises in a quiet neighbourhood

Supporters of Myanmar's pro democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi run towards her home in celebration of her release from house arrest in Yangon, Myanmar on November 13, 2010. (Photo: AP Photo)

Author: Thitinan Pongsudhirak, Chulalongkorn University

In one short week over two long decades, Burma (officially known as Myanmar) has returned to a window of potential political transition not seen since its last elections in 1990 were hijacked by the military. This time, the orchestrated polls on 7 November have overwhelmingly sent military-backed representatives of the Union Solidarity and Development Party to parliament.

On polling day, renewed fighting between the Burmese army and the ethnic minority groups flared up along the Thai-Burmese border. Read more…

Thailand’s unstoppable red shirts

In front of a line of Border Patrol Police troops, a Democrat Party official pours sacred water on blood left by red shirt protesters. (Photo: Nick Nostitz)

Author: Thitinan Pongsudhirak, Chulalongkorn University

The red shirt uprising in Bangkok has brought Thailand’s topsy-turvy politics to a critical juncture as brinksmanship and confrontation intensify. Since early 2009, many tens of thousands of red shirts, nominally under the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD) and supportive of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, have agitated and mobilised against the coalition government of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva. After rioting in the streets and retreating in disgrace in April 2009, they regrouped and reclaimed their agenda with street protests in Bangkok in March and April 2010, calling for a dissolution of the lower house and new polls to reboot Thailand’s democratic game.

As the reds ramped up their rhetoric and street demonstrations, their demands for a dissolution of the lower house were set against the defiance and resolve of Prime Minister Abhisit and his patrons and allies. Read more…