Accessibility links

Khmer Temple Takes Central Role in Thai Political Debate


A 900-year-old Khmer temple on the Thai and Cambodian border has taken center stage in efforts to oust Thailand's prime minister. Samak Sundaravej's government is under intense pressure over an agreement with the Cambodian government about the temple, as well as its handling of the economy. As Ron Corben reports from Bangkok, the parliament is in the third day of debate on a no-confidence motion.

Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej's government agreed earlier this year to back Cambodia's plan to list the Preah Vihear Temple as a World Heritage Site under the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.

For centuries, the two countries have disagreed over ownership of the temple, which sits near their border. In 1962, the International Court of Justice granted sovereignty to Cambodia, but adjacent land is under Thai control.

During parliamentary debate this week on a no-confidence motion, the opposition has accused the government of signing the agreement in haste and surrendering Thai sovereignty. The government rejects that allegation.

Panitan Wattanayagorn, a political scientist at Chulalongkorn University, says the public questions Cambodia's right to solely file for World Heritage status.

"The issue of the Preah Vihear temple is one clear significant question that the government needs to clear up the misunderstandings around that quick decision to support the Cambodia to register that temple with UNESCO," said Panitan. "That is one issue that needs to be cleared quickly because it arouses the nationalist sentiment among many Thai voters."

Panitan says Thais had expected both countries to jointly seek the UNESCO designation.

The Khmer Kingdom during its height reached the far western provinces of Thailand. In past centuries, Cambodia and Thailand fought repeatedly over territory.

Some members of the opposition allege that the temple agreement is linked to plans by former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra to invest in Cambodia, which the government denies. Mr. Thaksin was ousted in a coup in 2006, after months of opposition protests against his government.

The temple is just one of several issues the opposition has raised this week in three days of debate on the no-confidence motion. Opposition leaders have called Mr. Samak incompetent and criticized his handling of the economy.

Thousands of people have been protesting outside Mr. Samak's offices all week, demanding he step down. His coalition government is seen as being too closely tied to Mr. Thaksin, whom the opposition says was corrupt and abused power.

A vote on the no-confidence motion is expected on Friday. While political analysts here say Mr. Samak probably will survive, news reports Thursday say the foreign minister and the commerce minister may be replaced after the vote.

XS
SM
MD
LG