NOTE TO READERS: I don’t normally follow Thai politics so closely, but follow my exclusive interview with Thaksin, the former leader in exile, readership of Thai-related items has shot up.
HONG KONG, Dec 3 – Surin Pitsuwan, secretary general of ASEAN and Thai foreign minister, today said it could take “weeks” before the political situation in Bangkok to return to normal and that the Thai constitution may need amending.
Speaking on the sidelines of the Clinton Global Initiative in Hong Kong, Surin also expressed full confidence in the resilience of Thailand while warning of tough economic times ahead for all of Southeast Asia.
Asked whether politics could continue under the current constitution, Surin said that amendments may be needed.
“The Constitution is written to be amended,” Surin said. “That is the furthest we could go – to amend – but you know the situation is quite fluid.”
On whether Thai politics will remain within the Thai constitution, Surin said he hoped so, but that Thailand is deeply divided.
Internationally, he added, the Thai situation has raised worries.
“There is a lot of concern,” Surin said. “I have tried to comfort them that we will pull through and with their support, their sympathy and their understanding”
The road ahead for Thai politics, he added, will not be easy.
“The country has been deeply divided and what we are trying to do now is trying to heal that rift,” Surin said. “This is an extremely difficult process for us.”
As for the economic situation for Southeast Asia, Surin said that the structures and policies put in place following the Asian financial crisis are working well.
More details in full transcript (below) or the video.
Full transcript below the fold
How badly with ASEAN be hit by the economic crisis?
We are better off now than ten years ago when we were hit by the Asian financial crisis. We have learned a lot. Just like what President Clinton said, we have reformed. We have instituted mechanisms and monitoring systems. In fact, I think we have been extremely cautious. In some cases probably banks have even been more cautious than they should be because it is really cutting down the flow of money, the flow of resources in the market and in industry. If anything I think that banks in Asia – on the whole – are less exposed to toxic assets. But we are trying to compensate for the shortfall of external funds and capital coming in due to the shortages in America and Western Europe. We are talking about trying to implement our own Chiang Mai initiative, a multilateralized fund to the tune of $80 billion. Maybe we can expand that to use it to compensate for the resources that have dried up. And look into the Asian bond market more actively, more seriously because there are a lot of savings in the region.
So ASEAN is using the learnings and structures put in 10 years ago after the Asian financial crisis to address the global crisis?
What about the situation in Thailand?
I think the Thais are going to go through their problems and will reestablish themselves trying to find a balance in the system. There have been a lot of pressures, I think partly because of the efforts to try to position themselves for a lot of external problems and pressures and competition, exports and how to streamline our own structure our own society and economic institutions. All of these things are problems for our country and we are going through that motion. It has taken some time but I think we will see all these problems through.
And the political situation?
Yes, it is still going on. I think it will take a few more weeks in order to find that balance and that consensus so that we can move forward. We are hoping that the mechanisms that are already in place can accommodate – all these problems, all these pressures – going back to the Parliament within the constitutional means and try to accommodate each other.
Will politics remain within the constitution?
I would certainly hope so. It is a very, very difficult process. The country has been deeply divided and what we are trying to do now is trying to heal that rift and I think the Thais are trying to do their best.
What is the perception of people outside of Thailand?
There is a lot of concern. As President Clinton has just said, it is worrisome for the US because Thailand has been a very close and the first ally of the United States in Asia. A lot of concerns, a lot of worries, but I have tried to comfort them that we will pull through and with their support, their sympathy and their understanding that this is an extremely difficult process for us. Hiccups here and there once in a while, but on the whole it is a very, very open and participatory society. I think if anything because it has been very, very open; very, very equal and very, very participatory. But institutions and the structures we somehow need to streamline and fine tune them.
Will this constitution last or is there a need for a new one?
The Constitution is written to be amended. That is the furthest we could go – to amend – but you know the situation is quite fluid.