Pitsuwan aims at role in Thai government

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Thailand’s prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra could face notable competition in the 2015 elections from former ASEAN head Surin Pitsuwan.

Former ASEAN Secretary-General Surin Pitsuwan, who handed over his post to Vietnamese diplomat Le Luong Minh on January 1, 2013, is openly pitching for a role in the Thai government which could eventually lead to his candidateship in the country’s next elections which are due to take place in mid-2015, observers say. In a first step, Pitsuwan, who was Thailand’s foreign minister in the 1990s, said on January 17 he would be ready to take over the country’s education ministry “if given the chance”.

By Arno Maierbrugger

Pitsuwan, who currently holds no official political or administrative role, had the Thai public take notice through several comments and interviews in the past days in which he strongly criticised the policies of the ruling Pheu Thai Party under prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra, which follows a nationalist-populist programme.

For instance, Pitsuwan said that Thailand was facing a number of challenges ahead of the formation of the ASEAN Economic Community  involving politics, the constitution, education and labour, among others, and argued that “we need to choose well how to confront them”.

He said Thailand has been surpassed by other ASEAN nations in economic integration because of said mentality, corruption and inadequate attention to improving competitiveness.

“The government has pledged a number of policies, but they should do the early harvest, deliver certain promises,” Pitsuwan said.

“ASEAN is moving towards a sense of collectiveness, but certain countries are still unable to embrace the reality and still mobilise opposition through patriotic messages to their citizens,” he added.

Pitsuwan has led the preparations for the ASEAN Economic Community during his period as the bloc’s Secretary-General.

“Five years at the ASEAN secretariat has given me opportunities to reflect on Thailand from the outside,” he said, adding that “we have to produce competitive citizens to confront the challenges and integration of the world. ASEAN is a half-way showcase as to how Thailand can survive in the global market.”

Corruption and public apathy were worsening, resulting in foreign direct investment shunning Thailand in favour of other regional countries, he noted.

In particular, Pitsuwan criticised Thailand’s education system which he said at its current state is not capable of meeting the challenges of future economic competition in the region by creating competency and a basis for technological innovation. Another big shortfall was the population’s poor English proficiency, he mentioned.

On building up human resources, he said the Thai Ministry of Education has a central and challenging portfolio that he would like to take on if given a chance.

Pitsuwan also commented on Japan’s new prime minister Shinzo Abe’s visit in Thailand on January 17 before there was an official statement by the government, saying that Abe’s Southeast Asian tour that also led him to Indonesia and Vietnam “is a very positive sign for the growth of ASEAN.”

Political backing

Pitsuwan, a Muslim by belief, has his political backing in the Thai Democratic Party for which he served as a member of parliament before taking over the role as ASEAN’s head in 2008. The party upholds a conservative, classically liberal and pro-market position, but some of its leaders are also supporting the ultra-nationalist and royalist Yellow Shirt movement that stands in strong opposition to the ruling Pheu Thai party under the Shinawatra clan.

For example, Surin did not protest the 2006 military coup in Thailand that overthrew the elected government of Thaksin Shinawatra at that time, hoping that the junta would back his application to succeed Kofi Annan as the UN Secretary-General – which eventually did not happen.

Pitsuwan’s calls for getting Thailand involved in resolving the issue of Muslim Rohingyas in Myanmar is also not very well received in the Buddhist kingdom.

“All sides should help Myanmar in dealing with the problem – Thailand needs the United Nations help while taking care of the boat people too,” Pitsuwan said, while other voices in the current Thai government rather would leave this task to Muslim nations in the region.

In fact, Pitsuwan is a popular figure within Thai elite and business circles, but not very well known by the “people on the street” which make the majority of voters. The Shinawatra clan has strong backing in the country’s poorest region in the east, Isaan, as well as in northern and northeastern Thailand including the country’s second biggest city of Chiang Mai, areas that make up more than the half of Thailand’s population, while Pitsuwan and the Democrats have their supporters among the upper circles of Bangkok metropolitan area and the South.

However, a spontaneous and non-representative survey conducted by Inside Investor on taxi drivers, staff of various service outlets, restaurant waitresses, street sellers and shop personnel – the so-called common people – revealed that only one out of ten persons recognised the name of Surin Pitsuwan and none of them knew anything about the ASEAN Economic Community at all.

Pitsuwan was due to report to Thai prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra on January 18 after having finished his ASEAN job.

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Reading Time: 3 minutes

Thailand’s prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra could face notable competition in the 2015 elections from former ASEAN head Surin Pitsuwan.

Former ASEAN Secretary-General Surin Pitsuwan, who handed over his post to Vietnamese diplomat Le Luong Minh on January 1, 2013, is openly pitching for a role in the Thai government which could eventually lead to his candidateship in the country’s next elections which are due to take place in mid-2015, observers say. In a first step, Pitsuwan, who was Thailand’s foreign minister in the 1990s, said on January 17 he would be ready to take over the country’s education ministry “if given the chance”.

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Thailand’s prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra could face notable competition in the 2015 elections from former ASEAN head Surin Pitsuwan.

Former ASEAN Secretary-General Surin Pitsuwan, who handed over his post to Vietnamese diplomat Le Luong Minh on January 1, 2013, is openly pitching for a role in the Thai government which could eventually lead to his candidateship in the country’s next elections which are due to take place in mid-2015, observers say. In a first step, Pitsuwan, who was Thailand’s foreign minister in the 1990s, said on January 17 he would be ready to take over the country’s education ministry “if given the chance”.

By Arno Maierbrugger

Pitsuwan, who currently holds no official political or administrative role, had the Thai public take notice through several comments and interviews in the past days in which he strongly criticised the policies of the ruling Pheu Thai Party under prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra, which follows a nationalist-populist programme.

For instance, Pitsuwan said that Thailand was facing a number of challenges ahead of the formation of the ASEAN Economic Community  involving politics, the constitution, education and labour, among others, and argued that “we need to choose well how to confront them”.

He said Thailand has been surpassed by other ASEAN nations in economic integration because of said mentality, corruption and inadequate attention to improving competitiveness.

“The government has pledged a number of policies, but they should do the early harvest, deliver certain promises,” Pitsuwan said.

“ASEAN is moving towards a sense of collectiveness, but certain countries are still unable to embrace the reality and still mobilise opposition through patriotic messages to their citizens,” he added.

Pitsuwan has led the preparations for the ASEAN Economic Community during his period as the bloc’s Secretary-General.

“Five years at the ASEAN secretariat has given me opportunities to reflect on Thailand from the outside,” he said, adding that “we have to produce competitive citizens to confront the challenges and integration of the world. ASEAN is a half-way showcase as to how Thailand can survive in the global market.”

Corruption and public apathy were worsening, resulting in foreign direct investment shunning Thailand in favour of other regional countries, he noted.

In particular, Pitsuwan criticised Thailand’s education system which he said at its current state is not capable of meeting the challenges of future economic competition in the region by creating competency and a basis for technological innovation. Another big shortfall was the population’s poor English proficiency, he mentioned.

On building up human resources, he said the Thai Ministry of Education has a central and challenging portfolio that he would like to take on if given a chance.

Pitsuwan also commented on Japan’s new prime minister Shinzo Abe’s visit in Thailand on January 17 before there was an official statement by the government, saying that Abe’s Southeast Asian tour that also led him to Indonesia and Vietnam “is a very positive sign for the growth of ASEAN.”

Political backing

Pitsuwan, a Muslim by belief, has his political backing in the Thai Democratic Party for which he served as a member of parliament before taking over the role as ASEAN’s head in 2008. The party upholds a conservative, classically liberal and pro-market position, but some of its leaders are also supporting the ultra-nationalist and royalist Yellow Shirt movement that stands in strong opposition to the ruling Pheu Thai party under the Shinawatra clan.

For example, Surin did not protest the 2006 military coup in Thailand that overthrew the elected government of Thaksin Shinawatra at that time, hoping that the junta would back his application to succeed Kofi Annan as the UN Secretary-General – which eventually did not happen.

Pitsuwan’s calls for getting Thailand involved in resolving the issue of Muslim Rohingyas in Myanmar is also not very well received in the Buddhist kingdom.

“All sides should help Myanmar in dealing with the problem – Thailand needs the United Nations help while taking care of the boat people too,” Pitsuwan said, while other voices in the current Thai government rather would leave this task to Muslim nations in the region.

In fact, Pitsuwan is a popular figure within Thai elite and business circles, but not very well known by the “people on the street” which make the majority of voters. The Shinawatra clan has strong backing in the country’s poorest region in the east, Isaan, as well as in northern and northeastern Thailand including the country’s second biggest city of Chiang Mai, areas that make up more than the half of Thailand’s population, while Pitsuwan and the Democrats have their supporters among the upper circles of Bangkok metropolitan area and the South.

However, a spontaneous and non-representative survey conducted by Inside Investor on taxi drivers, staff of various service outlets, restaurant waitresses, street sellers and shop personnel – the so-called common people – revealed that only one out of ten persons recognised the name of Surin Pitsuwan and none of them knew anything about the ASEAN Economic Community at all.

Pitsuwan was due to report to Thai prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra on January 18 after having finished his ASEAN job.

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