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Rodion Ebbighausen (photo: DW)
Image: DW

Bargaining away the future

Rodion Ebbighausen / gd
May 7, 2014

The political crisis in Thailand is not only threatening the economy of the Southeast Asian nation, but also undermining its leading role in the region, writes DW's Rodion Ebbighausen.


The conviction of caretaker Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and nine of her cabinet members on charges of abuse of power is the latest development in a political crisis in Thailand that has dragged on since November 2013.

Although the Constitutional Court's decision may lie within the framework of the law, many regard the ruling as biased. According to the judges, Yingluck and part of her government violated the constitution in 2011 by unlawfully transferring the National Security Council chief. This meant that both Yingluck and member of her Cabinet had to step down. But the fact is that many Thais simply don't follow the arguments of the court.

The trial and the ensuing verdict cannot detract from the fact that Yingluck Shinawatra was Thailand's elected prime minister. And nobody doubts that her Pheu Thai party will win the upcoming elections - as it has done repeatedly since 2001.

No political advantage

But the opposition, led by Suthep Thaugsuban, has refused to accept this and tried to sideline his political rival. But neither massive street protests nor the disruption of the February 2 general election - which was later nullified by the Constitutional Court - were initially able to force Yingluck to step down. Yingluck remained in office and adopted a strategy of de-escalation. She had the ministries evacuated that had been occupied by the opposition and called on the police to exercise restraint.

The Constitutional Court's ruling won't provide any of the quarreling parties with a political advantage. On the one hand, part of Yingluck's administration will remain in office with the task of carrying on with the duties of a caretaker government. The opposition, on the other hand, will keep on staging mass protests. The intransigence on both sides alongside their unwillingness to compromise will cause great harm to the country and its people.

A strong impact

Thailand is the second largest economy in Southeast Asia after Indonesia. However, the International Monetary Fund has already slashed the country's GDP growth forecast for 2014 from 5 to 2.5 percent. Key investments in infrastructure projects have been put on the back burner as foreign financiers hesitate to invest money in the politically instable country. The tourism sector, which accounts for 7 percent of the country's GDP, has been particularly affected by the crisis as many governments have issued travel warnings, leading to a significant slowdown in international tourism visits to Thailand.

But perhaps even more dramatic is the way Thailand has lost political significance in the region. The country is one of the founding members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), an organization aimed at enhancing the economic, security and socio-cultural cooperation between its member states.

The next stage of ASEAN cooperation has been set for December 2015 and important negotiations as to who will be leading the implementation process are already underway. Due to the ongoing political crisis, however, Thailand will only be represented in these negotiations by low-ranking politicians with no voting rights. As a result, Thailand will likely be excluded from important positions for several years.

Thailand is an economically strong and politically important country. Compared to most of its Southeast Asian neighbors, it has made great strides in terms of establishing democracy and rule of law. This is why it is most regrettable that Thai elites are simply bargaining away the country's future.

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