Thai military accepts Pheu Thai victory at the general election

Thailand’s military accept the victory of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra’s political party. Security situation in Bangladesh deteriorates after the caretaker government system is abolished. Pakistani defense minister asks the United States to leave Shamsi Airbase as the US shifts key supply routes through Pakistan to central Asia. Turkish Prime Minister visits Libyan opposition groups in Benghazi. All in today’s security briefing.
Humayun Saleem
6 July 2011

Pheu Thai, the political party led by former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra’s sister, Yingluck Shinawatra, has won a majority in the recent Thai election with 265 seats. The ruling democrat party won 159 seats. The elections were held peacefully and they have been commended by various observer groups for being free and fair. After winning the elections Yingluck has taken a conciliatory tone after a series of internal division and political crises in the south east Asian nation. Negotiations have strengthened her position with the announcement of a coalition that will control 60 percent of the lower house. The five parties in the coalition include Pheu Thai, Chat Thai Pattana, Chat Pattana Phua Pandin, Palang Chon and Mahachon.

Yingluck Shinawatra has to manage the broader Red Shirt movement, prove herself to the Pheu Thai old guard, and balance demands for her brother’s return from exile with the concerns of the still-strong opposition. At the same time, the Thai military need to be dealt with in a manner that permits reforms but does not risk a coup and further instability. An ongoing border dispute with Cambodia and insurgency in southern Thailand will make defence policy a key testing ground in the years ahead.

The openSecurity verdict: The Thai military has played a central role in politics for a long time. Five years ago, tanks moved into central Bangkok to stage a coup against then prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra. A year ago, under the directives of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, troops were brought in to ‘crush’ anti-government protests in the city. More than a dozen army coups have confirmed the Thai military’s purported right to intervene if things are seen to go wrong. 

Such issues fuse together to give us the troubled political landscape of Thailand today, into which a party critical of the army’s past role and with close ties to Thaksin Shinawatra has won power. Yet, there is hope that civil-military relations will not deteriorate to the point of collapse, as it is unlikely that the military will stage a coup against a government that has just won a decisive mandate. The military itself and officials close to the institution have stated that the army will not intervene after Pheu Thai’s general election victory. In addition, Pheu Thai has decided that the new Thai cabinet will not include Red Shirt leaders, with whom the Thai military has been locked in bloody adversity in recent years. Yingluck Shinawatra’s determination to step out from her brother Thaksin’s shadow, and Thaksin’s apparent acceptance of his continued exile, at least so long as the political situation prevents his return, mean there is hope for a more stable future.

As far as the border issue over the area adjacent to the Hindu temple at Preah Vihear with Cambodia is concerned, the outlook looks somewhat positive. After the deterioration of relations under the former government, and serious clashes in February which left eight soldiers and civilians from both parties dead; it seems that a rapprochement with Cambodia is a priority. More significantly, Cambodia seems hopeful that a new government can signal a new start with its neighbour, with the deputy prime minister and foreign minister, Hor Namhong, congratulating Yingluck on her win.

Security situation in Bangladesh deteriorates as violent anti-government protests take place in major cities

Major Bangladeshi opposition parties such as the Bangladesh National Party (BNP), Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI) and the Liberal Democratic Party(LDP) have urged nationalist forces to unite against the government of the Awami League (AL). These developments come amidst a series of challenges that the government has had to face over the last few months as violent protests and country-wide strikes have been held over the abolition of the caretaker government system, an off-shore gas exploration deal with Conoco-Phillips and over the recent arrest warrant for BNP leader Khaleda Zia’s son, Tareque Rehman.  Bangladesh has suffered a series of strikes, and opposition party-led protests have paralyzed the major cities of Dhaka and Chittagong. On 5 July, six vehicles were set on fire in Dhaka, prior to a 48-hour general strike that the opposition has planned. The government has warned repeatedly of severe actions if the various strikes continue. On Sunday, 150 protestors were arrested over a half day strike by the National Committee to Protect Oil, Gas, Mineral Resources, Power and Ports in Dhaka, in response to the Conoco-Phillips deal.

Pakistani defense minister asks the United States to leave Shamsi Airbase as the US diverts key supple routes to its central Asia distribution network

Pakistan has asked the US to abandon a Baluchistan airbase that has been used by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to carry out drone strikes in the country. Firdous Ashiq Awan, the Federal Minister for Information and Broadcasting and a member of the Defense Committee, rejected the claims that Pakistan had asked the US to vacate the remote Shamsi Airbase. And, the Prime Minister later asserted that the United States was never given access to the base for the purpose of carrying out drone strikes, but for surveillance purposes. US officials on the other hand rejected demands from Pakistani officials to abandon the air base and made it clear that there is no future plan to do so. These incidents show the growing alienation and complexities in the relationship between Pakistan and the United States. Such beliefs are further highlighted by the US military’s move to expand its Central Asian supply routes to supply the war-effort in Afghanistan. This action is a clear sign of the US moving its key supply routes away from the country in the fear that a volatile Pakistan may cut them off at any time.

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu visits Libyan opposition groups in Benghazi

Turkey has officially recognized Libya’s opposition National Transitional Council (NTC) as the ‘legitimate’ representative of the people of Libya and it has promised a further $200 million worth of aid. The visit comes after a decision by Turkey to freeze Muammar Gaddafi’s assets along with imposing sanctions on his government. The move brings Turkey more in line with the policies of its Western allies, after an intially independent policy in opposition to NATO action in Libya. It now appears that Turkey will be one of the most influential actors in relation to Libya, having taken an increasingly prominent diplomatic role elsewhere in the Middle East and North Africa in recent years. Ankara has significant trade interests in the region, will be determined to seize this opportunity to develop its economic interests in a post-Gaddafi Libya.

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