Monday, January 07, 2008

Surin : Thailand lost momentum


Surin : Thailand lost momentum


Thailand must quickly end its political problems, get the country back on track and start contributing to efforts to boost regional prosperity, the new secretary-general of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), Surin Pitsuwan, said yesterday.

''I wish we would get our act together and move on quickly enough to heal the wounds of political divisiveness and other differences so that confidence returns to our country and Thailand can contribute to the resilience of the Asean region,'' Mr Surin said in a telephone interview from Jakarta.

Thailand had lost that contributing momentum in the past few years, but if Thai people pool their efforts, the country's regional clout will return, he said.

The former foreign minister was speaking on the eve of his first day as chief of the 40-year-old organisation. He will be in charge for the next five years. Today he succeeds Singaporean Ong Keng Yong and will be the first Thai in the position.

The Sept 19, 2006 coup and the ouster of then prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra was greeted with unprecedented concern among Asean members as they considered Thailand to be at the forefront of democracy in a politically-turbulent region.

''The international community and Asean have welcomed Thailand's return to democracy and wish for a smooth resolution to any post-election problems within the rule of law,'' said Mr Surin.

The new government has to learn to correct past problems such as curbs on human rights and press freedom, conflicts of interest, abuse of power and the lack of a checks and balances system, he said. The first elected government after the coup should provide equal access to the judicial process for all and take heed of people's needs, he added.

Those issues, which led to internal conflicts in Thai society, also affected international confidence in Thailand.

''In the integrated and globalised world, we can no longer separate or isolate internal matters from internal concerns,'' said Mr Surin.

He said the 10-member Asean was facing certain pressing problems, including the challenging competitiveness posed by emerging economies within and in other regions, energy security and regional stability and security.

''We can no longer rely on cheap labour, natural resources and poor environmental standards,'' he said.

''We have to think of energy efficiency and sharing the power grid in the face of the oil price hike challenges.

''We might also have to consider whether we will add value to the current system to become the energy hub for East Asia and the Middle East.''

He urged Asean members to do more to help solve the problems in Burma.

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