Thailand mulls postponing ASEAN summit due to political turmoil

Other News Materials 30 November 2008 10:55 (UTC +04:00)

Thailand, reeling from its worst political crisis in decades, is expected to postpone hosting the 14th summit of the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) scheduled for mid-December, officials said Sunday, dpa reported.

"The prime minister and foreign minister will decide at the cabinet meeting on Tuesday whether to postpone the summit," Foreign Ministry spokesman Tharit Charungvat said.

Thailand has been thrown into a political crisis by the anti-government People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) movement which seized Bangkok's two commercial airports last week and continued to occupy them by Sunday.

Although Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat declared Suvarnabhumi International Airport and Don Mueang Airport under emergency decree on Thursday and ordered police to clear out the demonstrators, the authorities have thus far not acted.

Observers said police are fearful of attacking the PAD, which has widespread support among Bangkok's middle class and Thailand's political elite, including the army, partly because Somchai could lose the premiership post this week.

On Tuesday or Wednesday, the Constitution Court is expected to rule on whether the ruling Somchai's People Power Party committed election fraud in the December 2007 polls.

If the verdict is guilty, as expected, Somchai and other PPP executives would be forced to resign because they would be banned from politics for five years.

That would likely cause a violent reaction from pro-government forces massing in Bangkok, called the "Red Shirts."

Given the political chaos, it is doubtful that Thailand will be in a position to host the ASEAN summit on December 15-17, diplomatic sources said.

Somchai decided to move the summit's venue from Bangkok to Chiang Mai, 550 kilometres north of Bangkok, to avoid the capital protests.

Diplomatic sources said Thailand can postpone the summit by a few months, without infringing ASEAN etiquette. Thailand holds the chair of the 10-nation regional bloc through 2009.

Previously, each country held the rotating chairmanship for one year, from July to June, but the new charter changes the term to run the calender year, meaning Thailand will keep it for 18 months until the end of next year, a senior ASEAN diplomat said.