Even as mass protests surged across Bangkok yesterday, officials there and in Cambodia insisted the opposition faced by Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra would not stop the implementation of the International Court of Justice’s Preah Vihear ruling – an analysis not shared by some political observers.
While overturning the court’s decision to award Cambodia the promontory surrounding the 11th-century temple hasn’t been at the forefront of protesters demands, analysts said, currents of nationalism among the anti-government movement could pose challenges to implementing the decision, particularly if the Yingluck administration falls.
However, Thai Foreign Ministry spokesman Sek Wannamethee maintained that the dispute over Preah Vihear “is no longer an issue in Thai politics at the moment”.
“In fact, at this moment, our team is still in consultation with our legal advisers,” he said. “Despite the critical situation in Thailand, the process is still ongoing.”
Cambodian Foreign Ministry spokesman Koy Kuong also said “the case of Preah Vihear is separate from what is happening in Thailand”.
Even if there were a change in leadership, he added, the ICJ’s ruling “is the international law for the country concerned to implement fully, regardless of the kind of government”.
Carl Thayer, an emeritus professor at the University of New South Wales, said that while it was too early to say whether the Yingluck administration would survive the current unrest, settling the Preah Vihear debate “is likely to be a protracted process”.
“If the government fell and new elections were held in early 2014, Yingluck or someone similar [would] most likely return to government,” Thayer said in an email.
But if there were a military coup, he continued, the army “may not be in a hurry to conciliate with Cambodia and turn over control of the area affected by the ICJ [ruling]”.
“If the anti-government mass movement gains power they too are likely to stall on solving the border issue,” he added. “In any of the above cases, swift compliance with the ICJ ruling by Thailand will take a back seat to the domestic political drama.”
Paul Chambers, director of research at Chiang Mai University’s Institute of South East Asian Affairs, was even more sceptical, saying that the border issue is unlikely be resolved whatever the outcome of protests, and that the Yingluck government will be ousted “pretty soon”.
“If an anti-Thaksin government replaces Yingluck’s government, there will almost assuredly be a souring of Thai-Cambodian relations,” Chambers said in an email, referring to Yingluck’s brother, ex-Thai premier Thaksin Shinawatra, who is believed by protesters to still be manipulating the current government.
“The Thais are then unlikely to withdraw their troops any time soon in the areas specified by the ICJ. Relations between Thailand and Cambodia will suffer as a result. And yes, there could be clashes.”
A new Thai government, he continued, “will interpret the ruling in a way that allows them to engage in such foot-dragging that the implementation of the ruling never gets off the ground”.
However, Kavi Chongkittavorn, a senior fellow at Chulalongkorn University’s Institute of Strategic and International Studies, said in an email that it was too soon to say how the anti-government movement – which comprises a broad range of groups – would handle Preah Vihear, noting that “the situation is still fluid”.
“Things will get clearer in the next two days,” he added.