Positive sentiment for Myanmar people from Thailand’s PM hopeful should be cautiously welcomed

By Mizzima
24 May 2023
Positive sentiment for Myanmar people from Thailand’s PM hopeful should be cautiously welcomed
Photo Credit- EPA

Mizzima Editorial 

It is edifying that Pita Limjaroenrat, the leader of Thailand’s Move Forward Party that gained the most seats in the recent Thai election, has spoken out in support of a humanitarian response to the crisis caused by Cyclone Mocha that has caused so much devastation in Myanmar. 

On 21 May, he tweeted, “I call on the Thai caretaker government and the international community to expedite the delivery of humanitarian assistance to those affected by the Cyclone, with priorities given to those in dire need first. This is in line with my new foreign policy agenda as PM-Elect.” 

“My policies on Myanmar will engage with all stakeholders, focusing on human security considerations, including humanitarian and economic aspects. These will be implemented with a view to achieving mutual peace and prosperity for Thailand, Myanmar, ASEAN and beyond,” he wrote.  

Similarly, in his first post-election interview with Zain Asher of CNN on 17 May, he emphasized the need for achieving the Five-Point Consensus on Myanmar crisis and proposed establishing a humanitarian corridor between Thailand and Myanmar to address the ongoing crisis.  

“So in terms of Myanmar, we want to push ahead to make sure that the five point consensus is really achieved. And you know, with the proximity of Thailand and Myanmar, whether you call it an asset or a liability, without Thailand's presence, the five point consensus is not gonna be achieved. And I think, what we have to start off is to establish a humanitarian corridor between Thailand and Myanmar. It has been a protocol in the country for a long time. We have the legal basis to do it, given the past experience, we have gone through. So hopefully we will start off with the humanitarian journey, especially with BURMA Act that has the Congress in America. I think we can start that and work with the international community to make sure we have the right amount of pressure and incentive for the people of Myanmar to resolve their own conflicts.” 

On the other hand, Myanmar's Vice Senior General Soe Win expressed concerns about the Thailand’s Move Forward Party being pro-West and potentially assisting Myanmar’s anti-regime resistance groups, urging vigilance and border monitoring, as reported by The Irrawaddy. 

For the Myanmar people - facing both the crisis caused by the Myanmar military and the natural disaster of Cyclone Mocha that barreled through the western part of the country – Pita’s voice is a message of encouragement that echoes the ASEAN call for help at this time. 

Pita - potentially the new leader of Thailand - has demonstrated a concern for a neighbour and indicated the leader has a regional - even a global - vision, which would appear to bode well for Thailand and for neighbourly relations with Myanmar. 

But let's not jump the gun. The Move Forward Party might appear to lead the stakes in the formation of the new political landscape in Thailand - clearly a slap in the face to Thai military rule that has dogged the country since the military grabbed power.  

But in assessing Pita's statement of support for Myanmar people, we need to be wary of not assuming too much. 

The success of the Move Forward Party, which captured 152 seats in the 500-member House of Representatives, compared to Pheu Thai, the second in line - under Thaksin Shinawatra's daughter Paetongtarn Shinawatra - would appear to indicate they are on the home run and it is only a matter of time before Pita is appointed prime minister. However, the political landscape in Thailand, including the influential Senate composed of 250 members appointed by the Royal Thai Military, suggests potential obstacles ahead. Pita could get blocked. And Pheu Thai? What is exiled father Thaksin saying to his daughter at this crucial juncture?  

So, victory is still not set in stone.  

Then there is the other aspect, which may sound cynical. Pita is a Harvard-educated politician and businessman who has been around the block and understands diplomacy. His statement of support for Myanmar people in the wake of Cyclone Mocha might be something that is expected. Either he or advisors may have said - let's offer support to the Myanmar people, our sentiment is genuine but as a strategic move it will demonstrate leadership, and it will echo an anti-military stance for Thailand and for the region. 

Let's face it, ASEAN countries are in a mess when it comes to democracy and leadership at the moment. And they have failed miserably in trying to solve the Myanmar crisis under their Five Point Consensus.  

So Pita sticking his head up to make the statement helps him and his party appear to be a new breed - not just for Thailand but also for the region.  

There is no doubt Pita meant well with his statement of support for the battered people of Myanmar. But the real test will be both in whether he takes up leadership of Thailand and whether he then continues this supportive regional role going forward. 

Let's wait and see.