Soeung Sophat, Washington
Optimism about a peaceful settlement along the Thai-Cambodia border after Pheu Thai’s landslide victory is not shared by everyone.
The Cambodian government was quick to welcome the Party’s election victory and is confident the long-running dispute can now be settled more peacefully in a “new era”. The goodwill was returned by Yingluck Shinawatra, the head of the victorious party and sister to ousted premier Thaksin Shinawatra. Yingluck said her new government would make restoring relations with neighboring countries a “priority.”
This restoration process may be easier said than done. The border dispute is driven by nationalism and remains entangled in Thai domestic politics. Powerful actors will resist any “U-turn” in policy toward Cambodia. One of these is the Thai military, who, according to John Ciorciari, “will likely oppose a precipitous shift in policy from Bangkok.” Nationalist groups, particularly the People’s Alliance for Democracy, are determined to continue the opposition to any thawed relations with Phnom Penh, as they have done in the past.
Cambodia’s main opposition party cautiously welcomed the more amicable climate, saying that that international involvement remains crucial to solving the border dispute. Analysts agree, saying that Indonesia, as current head of Asean, should be keen on seizing momentum and getting the two countries to return to negotiations.
There is no question that the dispute has been internationalized, with both countries awaiting another ruling from the International Court of Justice on July 18. But as Cambodians are celebrating the third anniversary of the Preah Vihear temple’s listing this week, it remains to be seen whether the current peace at the border will hold, for good.