Thai Government Upheaval Forces Postponement of ASEAN Summit



Thailand has postponed a meeting of Southeast Asian leaders, which was to begin later this month, after a court ruled that the Thai prime minister and his party are banned from politics. Anti-government activists in Thailand have agreed to end protests that have paralyzed Bangkok's airports, after Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat accepted a court ruling barring him from politics. VOA's Kate Pound Dawson reports from Bangkok. 

The annual summit meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations now will be held in March.  The gathering had been scheduled to start preliminary meetings December 13.  Heads of government were to start discussions on the 15.

The Thai government announced the postponement shortly after a constitutional court ruled that Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat and his People Power Party would be banned from politics for election law violations.  An interim government will operate until members of parliament can select a new prime minister.

Summit delay could complicate charter efforts

Thitinan Pongsudhirak is an international relations professor at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok. He says the delay could complicate ASEAN's efforts to finalize its first charter. The charter aims to create an ASEAN community that would more closely integrate the 10 members.

"This is something that ASEAN sees as its way of integration and going forward into the global arena.  But the postponement will hinder this process and there will be questions from Thailand's neighbors in ASEAN whether Thailand is prepared to the host, the chair of ASEAN in the next 18 months," said Thitinan.

Airport closure bothersome for Thailand's neighbors

The closure of Bangkok's two airports by anti-government protesters already has caused some strain between Thailand and its neighbors. The international airport is one of the largest in the world and serves as an important transit hub for dozens of flights into and out of Southeast Asia.

Thitinan says the closure adds to the strain on Thailand's regional reputation.
"Because Thailand has been such a nexus of transport in the region, it certainly has affected relations with its neighbors and it also would hinder trade and investment prospects because Thailand plays such a key role as a hub," said Thitinan.

Tourists stranded, flights canceled because of protests

The week-long blockade of the airports has stranded hundreds of thousands of travelers and forced hundreds of flights to be rerouted or canceled. Thitinan says the closure also caused friction with some European countries, because so many of their citizens have been stranded.  Although the protesters agreed to end the blockades, Tuesday, airport authorities say it will be days before full operations resume.

The protesters, led by the People's Alliance for Democracy, demanded Mr. Somchai's ouster before they would consider ending the blockades.  They accuse him of acting as a proxy for his brother-in-law, former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.  Mr. Shinawatra was ousted in a coup, two years ago, and has fled the country to avoid corruption charges.

ASEAN'S other nine members are: Brunei, Burma, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Vietnam. 

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