OPINION: Election Politics Brew in Southeast Asia
IAP Editor Ashanee Kottage contributed to this opinion piece.
Thailand continued its pattern of surprising political developments when Princess Ubolratana Rajakanya, King Maha Vajiralongkorn’s older sister, announced her candidacy for prime minister with the pro-democracy Thai Save the Nation Party on February 8, according to BBC. Just ten hours later, the king commanded that the princess stay out of politics with a royal decree. The princess later implied in a private Instagram post that she would not withdraw from the race.
The series of announcements overshadowed the fact that Thailand’s current junta leader, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha, also recently announced his candidacy in the upcoming March election. While Thais are left confused as to whether the monarchy and the military are now friends or foes, one thing is clear: the Thai monarchy is more visibly involved in politics than ever.
Meanwhile, exiled opposition leader Sam Rainsy has pledged to return to Cambodia in 2019. The Phnom Penh Post reports that Rainsy made this claim in Seattle on February 3, when he reiterated his intention to “give the country back to the people” and said he “will go back to Cambodia in 2019, not to let Hun Sen arrest me but to ensure that millions of Cambodians will rise up to arrest Hun Sen and prosecute him for treason.”
Cambodian officials claimed that Rainsy’s words incited uproar. According to the Manila Times, National Police Chief General Neth Savoeun asserted that Rainsy had sparked unlawful protests in the kingdom and attempted to create chaos by announcing his return. Savoeun said, “We must take action. There are three arrest warrants I’ve obtained from the court.” Savoeun elaborated that some former opposition party supporters posted statements on Facebook and videos on YouTube expressing their loyalty to Rainsy, noting that authorities should closely monitor these supporters.
National sentiment is split: some anticipate Rainsy’s arrival, while others are skeptical. Those in power, however, both doubt and fear Rainsy’s return – one that may spell the end of Cambodia’s effectively one-party regime.