The United States has become a target for conservatives who were roundly defeated in the May 14th General Election and who are expected to quickly lead a return to street protests and conflict after the formation of a new government in July. It appears that despite over nine years of military involvement in the kingdom’s government, the lines of division have only shifted away from populist policies and power plays. The country, today, is divided between democrats and conservatives as well as those who support the United States and China with the latter dividing line already being used by the right to swell its ranks for the next struggle to take to the streets.
The top American envoy to Thailand Robert Godec came out this week to assure the public that the United States respects the integrity of Thailand’s democratic process and was prepared to work with any incoming government no matter what its political allegiances may be. The statement comes as tensions are rising within conservative factions in the kingdom with the growing likelihood of a Move Forward Pheu Thai government coming to power this month. The election of a new democratic government may be somewhat marred by a recent national poll which shows that opposition to any new government is already running at 29.54% with 49.16% of people feeling that a return to street conflict is on the cards and 29.16% believing that the kingdom faces the prospect of a future coup d’état.
The US Ambassador to Thailand, Robert Godeck, this week rejected persistent claims by conservative groups that the United States interfered in the May 14th general election.
He also assured reporters that America does not have plans to push for a military base in Thailand and was not involved in negotiations with any party towards that end.
United States ambassador says he can work with all political colours in Thailand as Move Forward Pheu Thai alliance move towards government deal
Mr Godek said the United States has shown that it is capable of working with any Thai government no matter which part of the political spectrum it originated.
The Ambassador’s comments come as the Move Forward and Pheu Thai parties are indicating that they are close to finalising an arrangement to allow for a vote on the House Speaker position on July 4th and for the Eight Party Coalition which was put together in the aftermath of the election to unite behind one candidate in a vote for the next Prime Minister on July 13th in a joint sitting of the Thai parliament.
At the end of May, a credible National Institute of Development Administration (NIDA) poll showed that 55.56% of the public was certain that there was no foreign interference in the election.
However, the same poll showed that 19.93% either definitely or somewhat believed otherwise.
Conservatives worry any proposed change to the lèse-majesté law will be a first step to undermining the monarchy and hence national unity in the kingdom
A significant 56.49% believed that information operations were using social media messaging to swing voters but the overwhelming majority believed that these were democratic political machines which should not come as any surprise.
The American ambassador also addressed concerns raised by conservative forces in Thailand concerning Article 112 of the Criminal Code dealing with lèse-majesté offences against the monarchy.
Traditional thinkers and conservatives in Thailand see any change to the law as both disrespectful to the revered institution and the thin end of the wedge to erode its power, seen as essential to national identity and unity.
Mr Godec clarified that, as far as the US government was concerned, the matter was an internal one for Thai authorities. He reminded his audience that the United States has always had the highest respect for the Royal Institution.
Move Forward Party committed to Article 112 change
The radical and more progressive Move Forward Party which won Thailand’s General Election on May 14th in a stunning result which has shaken conservatives in the kingdom, is committed to amending Article 112 of the Criminal Code.
However, in the aftermath of the election and talks, it agreed with its coalition party partners to sideline the issue given the opposition to it from nearly all other political parties in the new parliament and a significant majority of public opinion.
It was not included in the proposed new government’s programme.
It is thought that it is something the party will take up on its own initiative which is allowed for under the Memorandum of Understanding that has been agreed between the eight parties which are taught to control 310 seats in the new House of Representatives or 62% of the lower house.
Protests since the shock election result, at the United States Embassy in Bangkok as conservatives blame foreign interference and raise their concerns
In the weeks since the election, there have been protests outside the American Embassy on Wireless Road in Bangkok by conservative activists who claim that the United States is attempting to negotiate a military base in Thailand as tensions between the superpower and China grow.
A recent agreement with the Philippines under new President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. saw up to four extra military bases have been handed over to the US military with full access in addition to five bases already maintained by the Americans.
The move, according to military strategists, gives the United States a significant boost in its attempts to secure Taiwan in the event of a conflict breaking out and in protecting freedom of navigation through the South China Sea and Taiwan Strait, a vital shipping route for the world’s economy.
The new bases are located in a province facing the South China Sea and will allow the US Air Force to counter any aggressive movement from China’s artificial islands in the area in the event of a conflict.
Such issues are also being highlighted by a growing number of online voices and significant media outlets associated with Beijing, communicating to the Thai public in both English and Thai.
On this Chinese propaganda network, the election result has been described by one online YouTube influencer with hundreds of thousands of followers as a calamity for the Thai people who he suggested had voted against their own interest which is, of course, he opined, remaining as a steadfast ally of China.
Move Forward Party bigwig Rangsiman Rome strongly rejects any move towards an American military base in Thailand after Philippines move
In June, in response to rumours about an American military base in Thailand, a key member of the Move Forward Party, Rangsiman Rome, came out to dismiss the speculation of a US base as fake news and assured the public that his party would take the lead in opposing such a move, saying it was fully committed to upholding the sovereignty of the Kingdom.
Move Forward opposes any plan to allow a US base in Thailand and commits to upholding its sovereignty
There is growing concern among staunchly conservative factions in Thailand and supporters of China that the new democratic Move Forward-led government may lead to Thailand being at odds with China and compromise the kingdom’s traditional foreign policy position of balancing its interests between competing powers in Asia.
Rejection of Thailand’s request for F35 jet fighters
The provisional rejection of Thailand’s Royal Thai Air Force request to purchase US F35 fighters at the end of May by the Pentagon is also seen in an unfavourable light by conservatives even though the official reason given was that Thailand does not have the facilities to maintain the expensive aircraft value at $70 and $80 million.
They will no doubt also be aware of unofficial sources who attribute the decision to the United States prioritising its closest allies amid a shortage of the valuable jet fighters and some US unease about Thailand’s closer military cooperation and ties with China even though this is based on a deliberate foreign policy ambiguity by Bangkok.
There is also concern among more right-wing thinkers in Thailand about the Biden regime’s emphasis on democratic values, a message which has grown more robust since the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 with the United States strengthening its position in defence of Taiwan and also moving to include it as part of trade and investment policies.
US foreign policy under the Biden administration has been both robust and unashamedly forward at promoting democratic values in governance
At a Washington DC summit in May last year with the ASEAN bloc, the US administration unveiled a new economic framework initiative which Thailand along with other peers in the bloc has already signed up for which sets a range of standards including those on human rights and democratic values, linking these with economic co-operation.
Most analysts believe that the approach by Biden’s administration when he took office has been extraordinarily successful while it plays well to US voters particularly the young and educated.
Similarly so among younger Thais a trend that on May 14th took some of the older generation by surprise.
In December 2020, at the height of the student-led protests in Bangkok, US Thai Senator Tammy Duckworth of the Democratic Party in the United States proposed a resolution to the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee calling on the Thai government to heed the street-led protest movement, which was calling for democratic reform, including changes to the lèse-majesté law.
US to unveil new economic relations framework for Asia at ASEAN Summit as China warns of new cold war
Senator Duckworth is a former US military veteran who was born in Bangkok.
The 55-year-old was elected to the Senate in 2017 and is the junior member for Illinois.
Bad news is that any new government faces the same forces that led to military coups in 2006 and 2014 with 30% believing one is just around the corner
A survey conducted by NIDA or the National Institute of Development Administration in mid-June found that nearly half of the Thai public believe that even if a new government is formed in July there will be future street protests from the conservative minority.
49.16% of respondents believe this to be the case while only 25.42% dismissed the prospect.
The same survey found that 55.5% of people were enthusiastic about supporting the new government with 22.52% saying they opposed but would not protest. 7.02% said they would, bringing the total opposition number to 29.54%, a significant number for a government that has not yet even been formed and which captured over 75% of votes in the General Election.
The survey found that 56.8% of people believed that any street protest would become violent.
32.98% of people firmly believed that there will be conflict in the future in Thailand with 29.16% fearing that a military coup is on the horizon.