Literally, that was all this government was contended, or rather able, to do. During the three-day event, Thailand’s political future was also held hostage by the Pheu Thai’s efforts to rush through the National Assembly the amnesty efforts disguised as national reconciliation bills. The ruling party could have delayed the deliberation by a few days to allow the WEF conference t to proceed without the kind of headlines grappling and confusions. While the Thai leaders kept on reiterating the political stability and great prospects to the WEF participants, their country was confronting one of the most serious crisis since 1932.
Unfortunately, Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra did not have a clue how it would link to the WEF. Her head and heart were not there in the first place. The instruction for her brother, Thaksin Shinawatra, was far more important–the government must go all out to push through the bills now. The result was disastrous for all to see with the possibility of another round of bloody polarization. Instead of headlines featuring Thailand’s economic positive outlooks and resurgence, the news of the days was zeroed in on political disorders and of course, leadership inept. That explained why the WEF, which supposed to be a foremost show case of Thailand’s economic development and prospects after the last year’s flood, was turned into cheap theatrical acts and public relations flops.
The government’s economic advisory team also did a sloppy job because the prime minister’s speech at the opening WEF session was mediocre and without any vision. She highlighted Thailand and connectivity along the North-South corridor and touched briefly on the Dawei Deep Sea Port development in Burma but paid more attention on the various high-speed train links from in Northeast Thailand and Laos. Her speech was mainly focused on the connectivity under the APT (Asean plus three) framework, which did not include the development of Dawei as a matter of fact. For the premier audience and the short time available, she should have stressed Thailand’s strategic thinking on the whole comprehensive connectivity plan–with Thailand as the hub–agreed at the East Asia Summit in Bali last November. After all, under the EAS frame, East Asia means Asean (Association of Southeast Asian Nations), India, US, Russia, Australia, New Zealand, China, Japan and South Korea. This framework links India to both the mainland and archipelagic Southeast Asia and Northeast Asia with hundreds of infrastructural projects.
Following her speech, during the questions and answers session with Klaus Schwab, the WEF founder, other Asean colleagues from Indonesia, Vietnam and Laos did well in replying the question posed Klaus on their dreams of Asean in the next five years. They were wise responding in their own languages without stumbling in the choices of words in Indonesian, Vietnamese and Laotian respectively. The interpreters gave precise English versions of their answers. President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono wanted to see Asean that is economic and politically strong and integrated so that it can contribute to the global community. Prime Minister Nguyen Trans Dung reiterated the importance of attaining the three pillars of Asean Community and benefits it would bring while Laotian Prime Minister Thongsing Thammavong focused on narrowing of the developing gap between the Asean members and their unity. These were excellent answers based on the theme of connectivity which they earlier spoke. Only Yingluck, who chose to speak in English, did poorly. Her few English sentences were awful and incoherent as she had no idea what she was talking about even though she had just finished reading the speech about Asean and its connectivity a while ago. Indeed, she could have repeated those few sentences again that it would easily make up the whole answer. Instead, she was rumbling on Asean without any focus. Worse of all, she thought that the citizens of 10-Asean members, estimated 600 millions, represented half of the world’s population.
While the host was a loser, the greatest winner of WEF was the last-minute decision to have Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, replacing President Thein Sein, as one of the speakers towards the end. The opposition party leader from Myanmar, also known as Burma, was given the full attention and best Thai hospitality from the Thai government and the WEF organizer. It was strange that former Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, who last year invited the WEF to hold its event here in the first place, was not invited to speak as the Thai opposition party leader. Abhisit, a WEF veteran, could have helped the government articulating challenges Thailand is facing at the moment. Sadden still, she forgot the day when she expressed appreciation of Abhisit’s early acknowledgment of poll defeats–just a few hours after the polling day closed–last July, immediately quelling down coup rumors. But this time around Yingluck did not have the same decency and openness to reciprocate.
With the host in disarray, the WEF turned out to be a God-send opportunity for Suu Kyi to demonstrate her intelligence and charm and uplifting Myanmar’s profile. Her words of wisdom and grace on display during her first foreign visit have made strong impressions on the top business leaders and international community at large. It was not surprising that the WEF on East Asia next year will be held in her country. As such, it is a big stamp of approval of confidence and fine outlook for the country, which just a few months ago was shunned by the global community. It is Suu Kyi’s magic that has generated such goodwill and warm reception.
When she spoke and met with the migrant workers in fishing industries in Mahachai, Samut Sakhon, she was touching on one of the most sensitive issues on Thai-Myanmar relations. More than 40,000 Myanmar nationalities are working days and nights–both registered and unregistered for the fishing trawlers and markets based in this coastal province. Throughout the past decades, nobody paid any attention to their plights as modern slaves working for minimum wages facing with daily abuses and corruptions due to lack of law enforcement. She wisely urged her fellow citizens to understand Thai judicial systems and encourage them to educate their children during their stay in Thailand to prepare for the future. She has done her homework well. At the WEF, she also called on the international community to help her country’s youth for better and balanced education and development – something that the Thai leaders neglected and did not understand.
Of course, it is political incorrect these days to comment negatively on Yingluck’s hollowness because she looks good and has never done any wrong or controversial as it would be considered an assault on Thai woman as a whole. To her supporters, she is still an angel who yields no harms and very pleasant to look in. It is her enemies who are bias and evil-minded failing to see her greatness and the confidence Thaksin bestows her. Although the WEF did not benefit the host in any substantive way, it did however provide a rare opportunity for the Thais in general and Yingluck’s supporters in particular, to distinguish the leadership quality between their lady and The Lady.
Kavi Chongkittavornis assistant group editor of Nation Multimedia group in Bangkok. He has been a journalist for over two decades reporting on issues related to human rights, democracy and regionalism. The views expressed in this article are his own.