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Cambodia calm as Yingluck falls

Outgoing Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra walks with Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen after a meeting in Phnom Penh in late 2012
Outgoing Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra walks with Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen after a meeting in Phnom Penh in late 2012. Heng Chivoan

Cambodia calm as Yingluck falls

The ouster of Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra by that country’s Constitutional Court yesterday reverberated throughout the region, raising questions about how a Thailand without Yingluck at the helm would get along with its neighbours.

But Cambodian officials and analysts were broadly in agreement that little would change in the two countries’ relationship.

Yingluck’s ouster on abuse-of-power charges was the climax of a months-long campaign by political opponents, many of whom accused her of being a proxy for her disgraced brother, former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who is said to have close ties to Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen’s government.

Despite the end of Yingluck’s administration – which enjoyed relatively cordial ties with Cambodia – Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan maintained that the Kingdom would continue to get along with its neighbour.

“Cambodian-Thai relations are not based on individuals; they’re based on rule of law and concern about the mutual interests between the countries.”

Cambodia sends thousands of migrant workers to Thailand each year, and was recently the beneficiary of an International Court of Justice ruling granting it an area in the immediate vicinity of the Preah Vihear temple, which sits at the heart of a disputed patch of territory on the Cambodia-Thailand border.

According to Siphan, no change in Thailand’s government would jeopardise cooperation on either issue.

General Phat Sophen, deputy commander of the army division stationed at Preah Vihear, said the situation there was calm as usual.

“Nothing is happening along the border,” he said. “We keep communicating regularly.”

As for migrants, Siphan said the continued flow of workers from Cambodia to Thailand “is in the interest of both parties”, and noted that exporting affordable Cambodian labour was “not just an interest for the governments, but [also] for the private sector”.

Neither Touchayoot Pakdi, Thailand’s ambassador to Cambodia, nor Sek Wannamethee, spokesman for Thailand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, could be reached for comment yesterday.

Analysts also largely downplayed the possibility of renewed tensions between Cambodia and Thailand.

“A change in policy between the two countries would not be in the best interests of either country, especially with the ASEAN summit next year,” political analyst Kem Ley said, adding that with both governments distracted by internal matters, illegal immigration to Thailand might spike.

Nonetheless, the importance of trade would quell any tensions, he said.

“Thailand and Cambodia are too reliant on one another with the import and exporting of goods for either country to try and endanger that relationship,” Ley said.

Fellow political analyst Chea Vannath also said there was little to fear as long as Yingluck’s Pheu Thai Party remains in power, as it still does through acting Prime Minister Niwatthamrong Boonsongpaisan.

“But Preah Vihear could again become an issue if there is a change in political parties,” she said. “[However], Thailand’s internal politics are in such chaos that I think their focus will remain inward, and is unlikely to change dramatically.”

Carl Thayer, a Cambodia expert and emeritus professor at the University of New South Wales, agreed that the chance of border violence was remote.

“Domestic politics in Thailand have move[d] on and the Preah Vihear dispute is no longer a front-burner issue,” he said in an email. “The status quo suits both parties.”

But Paul Chambers, of the Institute of South East Asian Affairs at Chiang Mai University, predicted a less rosy outlook, saying that “the fall of Yingluck will be bad news for Thai-Cambodian relations”.

A newly installed pro-royalist security adviser – who is “no friend of Hun Sen” – and greater influence from the leading anti-Thaksin military faction could inflame tensions, said Chambers, who predicted Yingluck’s ouster in December.

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY CHEANG SOKHA AND BANGKOK POST

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