From the energy transition a new beginning between Thailand and Saudi Arabia

The Thai giant PTT aims to produce green hydrogen and restart diplomatic relations with Saudi Arabia.

Thailand's state-owned oil giant, PTT Group, will invest $7 billion in green hydrogen with Saudi Arabia's leading renewable energy company, ACWA Power, while aiming for decarbonization and restarting diplomatic ties between the two countries.
The investment is part of the different approaches taken by PTT Group to find a balance between reducing emissions and maintaining profitability. The agreement would also prove to be an important step in restoring diplomatic relations between the two kingdoms, which were suspended for about 32 years until January 2022. The two companies, joined by the State Electricity Generation Authority of Thailand, signed a memorandum of understanding to start the project. The investment commitment of seven billion dollars is looming as a further step in its realization.

Auttapol Rerkpiboon, the CEO of PTT, said the project aims to build a plant in Thailand with a production capacity of 225,000 tons of hydrogen per year, the first step needed to make Thailand an international exporter as well as the main supplier in ASEAN, of green energy. The investment plan will serve to identify green hydrogen as a future energy source to create demand and fuel the increasing use of electric vehicles in the region.

Unlike "brown" and "grey" hydrogen, whose generation involves fossil fuels, green hydrogen is obtained using exclusively renewable energy sources and, consequently, generates zero emissions. Following in the footsteps of many other countries, such as Saudi Arabia, Kazakhstan, Singapore and Australia, Thailand is also investing significant economic resources in the production of green hydrogen on a gigawatt scale. PTT's net-zero strategy thus aligns with the Thai government's commitments to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050 and net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2065. However, using green hydrogen on an industrial scale requires two key factors - high capacity and low cost of capital - to bring prices down to a competitive level and encourage people to stop using fossil fuels. In this sense, PTT is trying to generate supply ecosystems to increase demand. Its subsidiary PTT Oil and Retail has partnered with Bangkok Industrial Gas, Toyota Daihatsu Engineering & Manufacturing and Toyota Motors, to set up hydrogen charging stations in the kingdom's Eastern Economic Corridor, a special industrial zone in Bang Lamung district, in Chonburi province. The station is expected to serve fuel cell vehicles which will be used as limousines from U-Tapao Airport to the popular tourist destinations of Pattaya, Chonburi and surrounding areas. The investment in green hydrogen production facilities will surely help in healing relations between Thailand and the Saudi kingdom decades after their ties were soured by the Blue Diamond Affair, which began with the theft of jewels from a Saudi prince's palace by by Thai gardener Kriangkrai Techamong in 1989. A theft worth $20 million, including a 50-carat blue diamond. The two countries only reached a diplomatic thaw in January 2022, when Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha paid the first visit by a head of government in more than three decades. After the resumption of relations, a further sign of the thaw between the two countries came from the Saudi state oil giant Aramco, which increased the supply of crude oil, petrochemical products and liquefied natural gas to PTT Group.

Italy’s mission in Thailand

By Maria Tripodi, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation

From 16 to 18 May, I was on a mission to Thailand to attend the 79th session of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) and for bilateral meetings, in conjunction with the stopover in the country of the Multipurpose Offshore Patrol Boat "Francesco Morosini". It was my first visit to Thailand, as well as the first by an Italian government member since 2018, reflecting Italy's renewed focus on a key player in the Indo-Pacific. At the ESCAP Commission, I spoke on 'Disaster Resilience: Early Warnings for All in Asia and the Pacific'. Italy is at the forefront of the fight against climate change and disaster management in the region and supports ESCAP's 'Multi-Donor Trust Fund for Tsunami, Disaster and Climate Preparedness' with a contribution of €260,000. This commitment was highly appreciated by the UN Under-Secretary-General and ESCAP Executive Secretary, Armida Salsiah Alisjahbana, to whom I renewed my intention to continue working together towards the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The session was also an opportunity to promote Rome's candidacy for EXPO 2030, during short meetings with some of our partners in the area (Tuvalu, Palau, Samoa).

I then had a fruitful conversation with the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, Vijavat Isarabhakdi: on the 155th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Italy and Thailand, we hoped that our deep relations could continue to strengthen, thanks also to the forthcoming opening of the Italian Institute of Culture, the scholarships offered by the Italian Government, and the excellent results achieved in 2022 by our bilateral trade (+21%), which will also benefit from the EU-Thailand Free Trade Agreement, the negotiations for which were recently restarted. Italy is increasingly appreciated in Thailand, as I was able to see during my visit to the 'Future Energy Asia' fair (one of the main regional events in the energy sector) and the welcome given to the patrol vessel Morosini, excellence of our Defence, a sector in which bilateral cooperation can be strengthened.

The next 'High-Level Dialogue on Italy-ASEAN Economic Relations', to be held in Bangkok in the autumn, will be an opportunity to deepen cooperation with Thailand and ASEAN in strategic sectors: pharmaceutical, agri-food, fashion, space, renewable energy, and defence.

How Thailand's elections went

Article by Francesco Mattogno

Move Forward won the elections in Thailand, disproving predictions that long held Pheu Thai as the dominant party. The two have already decided to join together in a coalition, but the clear majority obtained in the House may not be enough

The consensus among analysts covering Thailand is that election polls are not that reliable. Both because of the method of data collection (mostly online) and because of the distribution of the sample, which comes mainly from the cities, Bangkok in particular. And indeed, the polls were wrong. Move Forward's growth in voting intentions in recent weeks was thought credible, but perhaps overstated. Instead, Pita Limjaroenrat's party won the May 14 election by a decent margin over second-placed Pheu Thai and has already formed on paper a coalition to lead Thailand according to its own political agenda, focused on constitutional and institutional reforms that promise to shake up the country's power structure. Precisely because of this, however, seeing Move Forward govern will not be so easy.

On Sunday, Thais voted to elect the 500 members of the lower house of parliament, but not the 250 members of the senate, appointed instead by the now-defunct National Council for Peace and Order, i.e., the military junta that led the country from 2014 to the 2019 elections. According to ad hoc provisions in the constitution, until 2024 senators have the power to participate in parliamentary votes to appoint the prime minister. A condition that in 2019 allowed coup general Prayut Chan-o-cha to remain in power despite the fact that his candidate party, the Palang Pracharat (PPRP), came second in the election. And that now potentially outvotes the Move Forward-led Democratic Front although it won a clear victory at the polls.


The Pita-led party won a total of 152 seats (one more than originally expected), beating what was thought to be the main pro-democracy formation, Paetongtarn Shinawatra's Pheu Thai, which elected 141 MPs. Among the scenarios speculated both before and after the vote was that Pheu Thai might choose to ally with pro-military and conservative parties in an attempt to form a compromise government. On Monday, however, the party debunked this assumption, and Pita officially declared the birth on paper of a coalition involving four other parties besides Move Forward and Pheu Thai: the Prachachart (9 seats), Thai Sang Thai (6), Seree Ruam Thai (1) and the Fair Party (1).

The coalition's 310 seats are more than enough to achieve a majority in the House, where the PPRP elected 40 MPs and Prayut's "new" party, the United Thai Nation (UTN), 36. But that is less than the 376 needed to form a government without the senators' vote proving decisive. The idea of Pita and his people is that the popular mandate received is too strong, and that the Senate will not vote en masse to prevent him from governing. Otherwise, "those who are thinking of abolishing the election results or forming a minority government will pay a rather high price," he said at the press conference proclaiming victory. The Move Forward leader considers the hypothesis just described "unlikely," but some senators have already said they will not support him as prime minister.

For this, the third-place finisher in the election, Anutin Charnvirakul's Bhumjaithai (BJT), which won 71 seats, could prove crucial. Anutin is the outgoing health minister in the PPRP-led government, however, his is a center party, not anti-establishment but not completely siding with the military either. For now Pita has stated that "it is not necessary" to involve the BJT, but that could change. Meanwhile, the Move Forward leader-who says he is "ready to become Thailand's 30th prime minister"-is preparing a memorandum of understanding for the coalition. A kind of "government contract" in which the program of things to be done during the first year of the ruling executive will be outlined.


There are indeed several issues on which the parties must agree. The coalition is made up of those who have shared the last four years in opposition, but relations, especially between Move Forward and Pheu Thai, have had ups and downs. The key issue is undoubtedly that involving Article 112 of the Thai Penal Code, i.e., the "law on lese majesty," which provides up to 15 years in prison for anyone who "defames, insults or threatens" members of the royal family.

Move Forward has among its candidates several of the protesters charged with lese majesty for their role in the 2020-21 democratic and anti-monarchy demonstrations, and Pita has long expressed his desire to repeal the law. As the elections have approached, the party's position has softened, but the intention to amend and depower the rule remains, and has been confirmed by the leader himself in several post-victory statements.

Although it has been blunted, it remains a radical position in the Thai context: the monarchy is among the most powerful in the world and a source of political legitimacy (the king must approve the appointment of the prime minister); no other major party has dared to question it so openly. At the press conference where Pheu Thai announced that it had agreed to join the coalition, Pateongtarn said that the party "will not support the abolition of Article 112," but that "there can be discussion in parliament on how to implement it effectively."

But Move Forward's program goes beyond the monarchical issue. The party has also proposed organizing a referendum to elect a constituent assembly to rewrite the constitution, replacing the 2017 military-driven one and thus limiting the army's influence and power in Thai politics. Then there is the will-this one shared with Pheu Thai-to cancel compulsory conscription, produce an anti-monopoly law, raise the minimum daily wage from 330 to 450 baht (from 9 to more than 12 euros), and legalize gay marriage. On marijuana, however, Move Forward would like to limit its use to medical purposes only.

On foreign policy, Pita proposed de facto non-alignment between the U.S. and China, but called for "rules-based diplomacy" to be respected. He condemned Russia's aggression in Ukraine, and on Myanmar he said Thailand should cooperate with the international community so that the Burmese people can "resolve their conflict." This too is a de facto distant position from the Thai military's top leadership, which has always maintained an ambiguous relationship with Myanmar's military junta.


Pita has been accused of holding some 42,000 shares in ITV, a Thai broadcaster that closed in 2007 but whose registration still remains active. This would be a violation of election laws (which prohibit candidates for parliament from having holdings in media companies), and at worst could lead to disqualification of the candidate and the party. Pita says he is calm, but for similar litigation Move Forward's de facto predecessor, Future Forward, was dissolved in 2020 and its top leadership banned from politics for ten years.

The matter will be investigated by the Election Commission. In case the military wants to overturn the election result, at the moment it is believed that the judicial route is more likely than a further coup, which has been denied by Armed Forces Chief Narongphan Jitkaewthae himself (who will also be on an official visit to Hawaii until May 28). If it is legitimate to have doubts about such statements, the same may be true for those of Prayut, who once the defeat became clear said he would respect the democratic transition. With the Senate on the conservative side, the possibility of a pro-military minority government also remains alive, which at that point (for numerical issues) should be led by the BJT. There is no shortage of time for possible reversals. The Election Commission must publish official election results within 60 days, then parliament will be convened to vote for the prime minister. After being approved by the king, the premier can form his government. It is expected to happen no earlier than early August.

Thailand on the ballot: here's what's at stake

Everything is set for Thailand's May 14 elections. Paetongtarn Shinawatra's Pheu Thai dominates in the polls but is unlikely to rule alone, while pro-military parties know they can count on the 250 votes of the unelected senate. Move Forward and Bhumjaithai the most interesting variables, but they will not be "free and fair" elections

Article by Francesco Mattogno

For two decades, elections in Thailand have been held according to an almost identical script. It is expected that the ones set for May 14 will not deviate from it too much either. It will again be a struggle between the Shinawatra family party and parties associated with the conservative, military-linked, pro-monarchist establishment. The Pheu Thai (PTP) - the third name of the Shinawatras' populist party, which has been dissolved twice in the past - won every election from 2001 to 2019, but ruled on and off only as long as the military allowed it to.

Despite two coups (2006 and 2014) and a new constitution written by the military (2017), Pheu Thai remains the country's leading electoral force. The generality of polls ahead of the May 14 elections give it between 46 percent and 49 percent, with its main premier candidate, Paetongtarn Shinawatra, still leading the polls by at least twenty points ahead of the other parties' incumbents. But to win will not be enough.

In Thailand, only the 500 seats in the lower house of parliament are elective, while the 250 seats in the senate (which participates in voting for the prime minister) are military-appointed. A condition provided for ad hoc in the 2017 constitution that allowed coup general Prayut Chan-o-cha to retain the prime minister's post in 2019 and hope for reelection today, despite the fact that his party, the United Thai Nation (UTN), is third and far behind in the polls (10-15%). Further behind, but for the same reason still struggling, is the other general behind the 2014 coup, Prawit Wongsuwon. He was the premier candidate of the main military as well as ruling party, the Palang Pracharat (PPRP), at 2 percent.


Fifty-two million Thais will be called to vote. Pheu Thai's stated goal is to win about 300 seats, a threshold that would demonstrate an indisputable popular mandate and thus make it theoretically difficult for the Senate to thwart the formation of a Shinawatra-led government. According to analysis by the Thai website The Nation, this is not an impossible goal, but certainly a complicated one. And it is already clear that in order to build a stable executive - achieving a majority of at least 376 seats - the party will have to form a coalition.

Behind Pheu Thai, in second place in the polls is a progressive party, the Move Forward (MFP). Born from the ashes of Future Forward, which came third in 2019 and disbanded in 2020, Move Forward gathers among its candidates and voters many of the young people who participated in the democratic and anti-monarchy protests of 2020-21. It is a strong party among the under-25s and in urban centers. Forecasts put it at around 15-20 percent and potentially growing, but it should be considered that the polls mainly take into account Bangkok and major provincial cities, making the sample unrepresentative of rural areas of the country. However, Bangkok is the city that awards the most seats (33), followed by those in the northeast, a Pheu Thai stronghold region.

That Pheu Thai and Move Forward may form a post-election alliance (along with other smaller progressive parties) is evident. Move Forward leader Pita Limjaroenrat has ruled out coalitions only with those associated with the coup, namely PPRP and UTN. On alliance with the military, however, the Pheu Thai leadership has long maintained ambiguity. Only recently did Paetongtarn state that she did not "like the last two coups," i.e., the coups by which the military deposed and forced into exile first her father Thaksin and then her aunt Yingluck. More direct is the party's other premier candidate, real estate tycoon Shretta Thavisin, who said he did not want to join those who "looted the sovereign power of the people."

Complicating a relationship that would seem a foregone conclusion are Move Forward's radical stances toward the law on lese majesty. In the past, Limjaroenrat has explicitly called for the amendment of the infamous Article 112 of the Penal Code, which provides a penalty of 3 years to 15 years in prison for anyone who "insults or defames" the royal family. Thailand's monarchy is one of the most powerful in the world, and challenging it poses a risk to the political survival of parties that try. In the election campaign no one, including Pheu Thai, ever mentioned the law on lese majesty, and even Move Forward itself has toned it down.


To be accused of high treason is easy; even more so is to respect the status quo. Thailand's Democratic Party (DP) has always been a master at this, although in recent years it has begun to pay for its own unscrupulous political transformism. In 2007 the country's oldest party reached 38 percent of the vote: today it is given around 4 percent. Democrats have often "declared things pleasing to the masses before elections" but have no clear political agenda, writes the Diplomat. The latest vote-catching move is the proposed legalization of sex toys (today owning one in Thailand can result in up to 3 years in prison), but there is a fair chance that this could drive away even the last remnants of the conservative electorate left to the Democratic leader and current Minister of Commerce, Jurin Laksanawisit.

Also part of the current PPRP-led government is Health Minister Anutin Charnveerakul's Bhumjaithai (BJT), the man behind the chaotic legalization of cannabis. He is a figure to be reckoned with because of his ability to put the BJT at the center between conservatives and progressives. If Pheu Thai dominates in the agricultural northeast, Move Forward is strong in urban centers, and Prayut's UTN in the south of the country, BJT seems able to pick up votes just about everywhere. It is given around 5 percent, but there are estimates that believe it is more competitive.


Charnveerakul's is seen as a balancing profile, one that would be capable of serving as prime minister either in a conservative government together with the military or in a progressive government. The BJT leader has also stated that he would support the formation of an assembly to rewrite Thailand's constitution, i.e., one of Move Forward's key policy proposals. Indeed, the Progressive Party and Pheu Thai have included a number of constitutional and army reforms in their election program, including the abolition of compulsory conscription.

These are measures that would challenge the current conservative legacy order of the coup and help make it difficult to think that the Senate would support an eventual Pheu Thai premier, particularly a Shinawatra. Because of this, and the fact that Paetongtarn will give birth to her second child right around the time of the elections, the possibility of a compromise prime minister (or that Pheu Thai will aim for Thavisin) should not be discarded.

If on the political level one can still notice markedly two poles, the conservative and the progressive, anti-military poles, things change when it comes to the economy. "Populism has won," argues analyst Titinan Pongsudhirak. Beyond minor differences in form, each party has as the mainstay of its economic program the presence of one or more subsidies and welfare measures. Unbridled welfarism was inaugurated by the Shinawatras, who made it the primary source of their popularity for two decades, particularly among farmers. An approach not appreciated by all, especially in Bankgok, but one that has the merit of clearing the air on the issue of huge income inequality in Thai society and actually strengthening the welfare system, an issue on which the Prayut government also built some of its support. Today the same pro-military parties that portrayed the Shinawatras as irresponsible are among the most generous in promising economic aid, but the really ambitious proposals always come from Pheu Thai, which pledges to double the minimum wage for workers and to give everyone over the age of 16 10,000 baht (about 270 euros). Ideas that have drawn criticism for their potential burden on government spending. Little is read instead about how to structurally reform Thailand's economy, which has not grown as much as those of the region's major states for a decade. One common desire is to make the country a manufacturing hub for new technology industries, such as electric cars, reinforcing a process that has already been underway for some years.

Princess Pa in Vienna – through the lens of a fellow diplomat Sun Thathong

I first became involved in Princess Pa’s work when I joined the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 2009. I was assigned to be part of a team campaigning for the “Bangkok Rules on the treatment of women prisoners and offenders” to be adopted by the United Nations General Assembly. It was to be a culmination of a project Princess Pa was professed to be passionate about. I recall being up until three in the morning in Brazil, defending the inclusion of a paragraph on these draft Bangkok Rules in the outcome document of the Twelfth Crime Congress in 2010. This would later pave the way for the successful adoption of the rules later that year in New York. At that time, I learned a great deal about her personal motivations and efforts behind the initiative. Her sense of justice made a strong first impression on me. 

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Princess Bajrakitiyabha at the 12th session of the Human Rights Council 

September 2009, Geneva 

Source: Jeff Hoffman, UN 

A year after the Bangkok Rules were adopted, I took leave to pursue a law doctorate in the United Kingdom. It was not until I returned and was posted to Austria in 2018 that I re-encountered Princess Pa’s work. But this time, it was the fruits of her labour in her capacity as a Vienna-based ambassador during 2012 – 2014.

Two years is considered a relatively short time for a posting, but it was enough time for her to leave a lasting imprint. And throughout my four years in Vienna, I came to admire her as a model lawyer-diplomat, whose passion for justice and the rule of law served Thailand’s interests in many significant ways. From a practitioner’s perspective, I have found this to be deeply inspiring.

Princess’ Road to Vienna

Before arriving in Vienna, I had often wondered how, at such a young age, Princess Pa would handle the job of being Ambassador of Thailand to Austria, Slovakia and Slovenia, and Permanent Representative of Thailand to the UN and other Vienna-based international organisations. How would she handle looking after more than 6,000 Thai people in three countries and simultaneously representing Thailand in several international organisations? To say that the job was demanding is an understatement and some would say it should have required decades of experience in diplomacy.

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Princess Bajrakitiyabha addressing the UN General Assembly’s High-Level Meeting on the Rule of Law, 24 September 2012, New York. 

Source: UN 

In my view, having a law doctorate from Cornell, a distinguished career as a Thai lawyer-prosecutor, and prior experience working at the Thai Permanent Mission to the UN in New York, actually prepared her in more ways than one when compared with other fellow, career diplomats.

Then I realised one very important factor. Being born a public figure, Princess Pa naturally underwent ‘diplomatic training’ since birth. Moreover, as a member of the Royal Family, service to her people and compassion for their trials and tribulations was in her blood. The UN had already recognised her skills in diplomacy when it named her UN Women National Ambassador to Thailand in 2008. The successful adoption of the Bangkok Rules back in 2010 was also in part the result of her appreciation of and skills in multilateral diplomacy.

Princess Pa had already mastered a diplomat’s essential skills some time before coming to Vienna. This explains why, despite her relatively short tenure as Thai Ambassador and Permanent Representative in Vienna, she was able to make such remarkable contributions, advancing Thailand’s national interests and multilateral diplomacy.

Leading the leaders  

A permanent representative’s main task is to represent their country and promote its interests at international negotiations. Some may take on extra, voluntary roles in conducting meetings and chairing decision-making bodies of these organisations. I was astonished to learn that, while she was in Vienna, Princess Pa personally took on a long list of these voluntary leadership positions in several fora.

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Princess Bajrakitiyabha chairing the 21st session of the Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice in Vienna, 23 – 27 April 2012

Source: UNODC

For the Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice, a UN body dealing with crime prevention and criminal justice matters, Princess Pa served as chair of its annual session from 2011 to 2012. For the Commission on Narcotic Drugs, a UN body dealing with drug-related matters, she served as second vice-chair of its 2013 annual session and as first vice-chair the following year. For the International Atomic Energy Agency, an organisation that seeks to promote the peaceful use of nuclear energy, she served as vice-president of the 2013 annual session of the Agency’s General Conference. She also served as vice-chair of the inaugural session (2012) of the General Assembly of the International Anti-Corruption Academy, an institution that promotes anti-corruption education. 

I had seen other Thai permanent representatives performing similar roles and have been part of the team serving them, but I never heard of a single permanent representative taking on such a long list of roles over such a short period of time. Indeed, being elected to these positions, one after another, was testament not only to the trust that the Viennese diplomatic circles placed in Princess Pa, but also to her incredible work ethic and competence. In discharging the above positions, she helped build bridges, resolve tensions and advance common goals. In doing so, she raised not only Thailand’s profile, but also the profile of the organisations themselves.

Princess Bajrakitiyabha met with the UN Secretary-General during the UN General Assembly’s Thematic Debate on ‘Drugs and Crime as a Threat to Development,’ 26 June 2012, New York

Source: UN

Influencing the global agenda 

Princess Pa also sought to widen Thailand’s influence in other ways. One was to make Thailand better known as a hub of international meetings. At the first session of the General Assembly of the International Anti-Corruption Academy in 2012, she conveyed Thailand’s offer to host the Assembly’s second session in Thailand the following year, an invitation that the Assembly gladly accepted. Then in 2014, Thailand hosted two UN meetings chaired by Princess Pa herself – a preparatory meeting for the 13th Crime Congress and an expert group meeting to develop draft model strategies and practical measures on the elimination of violence against children.

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Princess Bajrakitiyabha at the ECOSOC panel discussion on crime prevention in the context of post-2015 development agenda, 22 July 2013, Geneva

Source: Jean-Marc Ferre. UN

Another manner in which Princess Pa widened Thailand’s influence was through actively engaging with relevant actors in promoting Thailand’s causes. In 2013, Princess Pa joined a panel discussion on crime prevention in the context of the post-2015 development agenda at an ECOSOC meeting in Geneva. Later in 2013, on the margins of the UN General Assembly’s annual session in New York, she moderated a high-level panel discussion on gender-related killings of women and girls. She also met with the Deputy UN Secretary General to discuss issues related to the rule of law and sustainable development. Outside the UN, she delivered speeches at meetings of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), where Thailand is a partner country, to share Thailand’s experiences in promoting the rule of law, sustainable development, and women’s empowerment.

Achieving concrete outcomes

In less than two years, more than ten resolutions proposed or co-proposed by Thailand were successfully adopted by Vienna-based UN bodies. During 2013-2014, the Commission on Narcotic Drugs adopted five resolutions proposed or co-proposed by Thailand on matters such as alternative development and prevention of drug abuse. During the same period, the Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice adopted eight resolutions proposed or co-proposed by Thailand on matters such as elimination of violence against children, treatment of prisoners, and criminal justice.

This high number does not in itself indicate unprecedented achievements, given that it is common for Thailand to propose and co-sponsor a few (or more) resolutions at Vienna-based international organisations each year. It does show, however, that under Princess Pa’s ambassadorship, Thailand continued to be proactive and perform well in Vienna. It is also worth noting that it was during Princess Pa’s ambassadorship in Vienna that Thailand finally ratified the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime and its anti-human trafficking protocol, having been their signatory for more than a decade.

It would be misleading to conclude that Princess Pa initiated and accomplished all the above tasks by herself. The crucial supporting roles of her staff who helped to propose agendas, draft speeches, and lobby for support should not be overlooked. But it would also be naïve not to acknowledge the unique persuasive power that Princess Pa had over her counterparts, both domestic and foreign.

An inspiration for all

Princess Pa left Vienna and returned to the Thai Attorney General’s Office in October 2014. She has since then taken on even more roles such as the UNODC Goodwill Ambassador for the Rule of Law in Southeast Asia, and carried on with her royal duties and personal passions. On reflection, I cannot help but think of Prince Wan Waithayakon – one of Thailand’s greatest diplomats and Princess Pa’s own first cousin thrice removed – who presided over the UN General Assembly in 1956. They are known for having a similar grace, compassion, and competence. But while Princess Pa has stepped off the path of a career diplomat for now, she has already cemented her place as a role model for the new generation of diplomats, and remains a symbol of empathy and justice and a source of inspiration for all.


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Sun Thathong è un avvocato-diplomatico thailandese, attualmente in servizio come consigliere presso il Dipartimento dei Trattati e degli Affari legali del Ministero degli Affari esteri della Thailandia. In precedenza ha ricoperto il ruolo di Primo segretario presso l’Ambasciata reale thailandese e la Missione permanente della Thailandia a Vienna (2018-2022).

EU-Thailand FTA negotiations resume as Bangkok prepares for elections

The EU recently resumed talks with Thailand on a free trade agreement, while Bangkok is preparing for the elections. Economic relations are an essential part of the European strategy for the Indo-Pacific.

On 15 March, the Commission announced that negotiations on a free trade agreement (FTA) with Thailand would resume after a stop of almost ten years. In 2014, just a year after they were launched, the talks had been suspended in response to the military coup that ended the political crisis generated by the clash between the Cabinet, led by the family of tycoon and former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, and the ultra-conservative establishment linked to the Monarchy and the Army. Since then, the country has been led by the military's political proxies, who reformed the Constitution in 2017, strengthening the royal powers and putting the Senate under the firm grip of the Army, which appoints all senators. In this scenarioi, pro-Army forces won elections in 2019 and the European Council recommended reviving the cooperation with Bangkok and FTA negotiations ‘in light of Thailand's advances on the democratisation process'. A few days ago, after the announcement of the relaunch of FTA negotiations, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha (in power since the 2014 coup) dissolved the House of Representatives and started the process that will take the country to the polls in a few months.

It is said that History repeats itself, but this would be an understatement when it comes to Thai politics. FTA negotiations stopped when Thailand's democracy was suspended by the military and are now resuming a few months away from a major test for the country's Institutions. However, it is difficult to share the European Council's optimism: between 2019 and today, Bangkok has been shaken by intense protests calling for curbing the power of the Army and Monarchy and more democracy. These protests have gradually died down after the repressive reaction of the ultra-conservative forces. Therefore, it seems legitimate to ask whether a 'democratisation process' is really underway in Thailand, as European leaders believe. To answer this question, one has to look at the last decades of history of the ‘land of the free’. Elections are held regularly in the country and, almost always, won by supporters of the Thaksin family. The parliamentary majority is able to govern for a few years, even if clashing politically with the supporters of the Army and the Monarchy, but almost never manages to complete a full term. At that point, the incumbent government tries to force its hand by going to snap elections, but the political-institutional clash escalates and causes the military to intervene and overthrow it. A military junta governs for a few years and then allows new elections to be held, with new and suitably modified rules, in the hope that their political proxies will prevail over the pro-Thaksin forces, which, however, almost never happens. This script was repeated with disarming regularity in 2006 and 2014 and may now repeat itself in 2023.

In this context, looking at the health of Thai democracy, it is hard to believe that anything has actually changed since the years immediately preceding 2014. What would happen to the FTA negotiations if yet another coup takes place in Bangkok? Would the EU halt them once again? This is not an easy dilemma for Brussels decision-makers, and one that comes up often, especially in South-East Asia, where trade policy becomes even more 'political'. On the one hand, liberalising trade brings undoubted economic benefits for both sides. Thailand is the second largest economy in ASEAN and currently the fourth largest regional partner for the Union. Like other ASEAN members, Thailand's economy is very promising for highly innovative sectors (renewable energy, electric vehicles, semiconductors and other electronic products). The country could become a key supplier for European companies, but also a market for expansion. For an export-oriented economy like Europe (and Italy), reducing trade barriers is almost always a good opportunity for growth, and Brussels is keen to revive its FTA-based strategy to try to overcome the economic difficulties caused by the energy crisis.

But trade policy goes beyond economic interests. Europe must also take political decisions that require a difficult balancing act. On the one hand, deepening trade ties with countries with 'flickering' or 'apparent' democracy risks legitimising authoritarian regimes and undermining Brussels' international standing. Moreover, trade policy remains a polarising issue between European voters and Member States. On the other hand, recent FTAs contain rules that commit the partners to cooperate in sustainable development (i.e. economic, but also socio-political and environmental) and can positively affect the growth of Thai society. The Commission is well aware of the delicacy of this balance and requires a Sustainability Impact Assessment to be prepared during the negotiation of each FTA in order to better consider the opportunities and risks of trade liberalisation. However, there is a further political aspect to consider in order to understand the recent choice of Brussels. In 2021, the EU launched its strategy for the Indo-Pacific and strengthening (economic and political) ties with the region has become essential in the context of growing international tensions. Trade almost becomes ‘the continuation of politics by other means’. In particular, to contain the Chinese "systemic rival", which is in turn active in strengthening trade relations with ASEAN countries. On this level, Brussels must also adapt to the ongoing trade and technological clash between the United States and China. The political scenario is increasingly complex, but it brings also economic opportunities for ASEAN countries, which can replace Chinese companies in the supply chains that end up in Europe and America. However, the risk remains that the European and American governments, moved by the desire to involve Asian democracies in their action (and trade agreements) to contain the ‘authoritarian’ powers, end up underestimating or, worse, ignoring the difficulties and risks faced by the truly democratic forces of these countries. Future developments in the Thai case will be very important for understanding how Brussels intends to resolve this dilemma.

EU and Thailand moving toward free trade

After nearly a decade of stalemate, negotiations for an agreement between Brussels and Bangkok resume. Signing may pave the way for broader one between the two blocs

Finally, Thailand and the European Union have agreed to restart negotiations on a bilateral trade agreement, with the goal of concluding by 2025 an agreement that has been stalled for nearly a decade. Indeed, it was since 2014 that negotiations had stalled, coinciding with the military coup in the Southeast Asian country. Senior officials from both sides will begin talks in July in Thailand. The negotiations will cover trade in goods and services and investment in key sectors in Thailand where the EU wants to increase its share. A few examples? Renewable energy, electric vehicles and microchip manufacturing, which is seen as increasingly strategic globally. The EU is the second largest destination for Thai outbound capital and accounts for 14 percent of foreign direct investment from Thailand. Heavyweights in the Thai business community, such as real estate developer Central Group, have invested capital in Europe. The bloc is Thailand's fourth largest export market, receiving food products, raw materials, and electronic components from companies such as CP Group and Delta Electronics. The EU, on the other hand, accounts for 10 percent of foreign direct investment in Thailand. The Kingdom ranks fourth among the EU's trading partners in the region. Trade in goods between the two countries amounts to 50 billion euros ($53 billion) in 2022, while services amount to 8 billion euros in 2020. Thailand's trade surplus is 150 billion baht ($4.3 billion). Thailand plans to eliminate tariffs on exports to the 27 countries, particularly on automobiles and automobile parts, electronics, garments and textiles, food, and rubber. Thai manufacturers would also benefit from lower import costs for machinery, equipment and chemicals from the EU. This would be the EU's third bilateral free trade agreement in Southeast Asia, following those already signed with Singapore in 2019 and Vietnam in 2020. Two fortunate precedents, suggesting in the background the possibility that the negotiation with Thailand will serve as a flywheel to an EU-ASEAN free trade agreement in the future.

Thailand heading for elections

By May Thailand will go to general elections, the second since the 2014 coup. Former General Prayut seeks a third term, but he has split from the main party linked to the military and will have to contend with old allies and the third member of the Shinawatra family, as well as the young heirs of the 2020 protests

By Francesco Mattogno

There is a date that everyone in Thailand is waiting for a bit, but on balance it is just a formality: the day Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha dissolves parliament. From that point on, the election campaign will officially begin and a general election will be held within 45 days. This is a formality for two reasons. The first is that campaigning has already begun, as evidenced by the rallies around the country by the premier candidates. The second is that the natural end of the legislature is scheduled for next March 23.

Whether Prayut dissolves the chambers early or not, Thais will still be called to the polls by May. Behind the possibility of speeding up the process is a mere political calculation by the prime minister. According to the constitution, enacted by the military junta in 2017, in the event of an early dissolution of parliament, parties will be able to nominate for election even members with only 30 days of militancy, instead of the minimum 90 days that would normally be required. A very useful clause just for Prayut, who would then have more time to recruit new members in the party he himself joined in January, the Ruam Thai Sang Chart (or United Thai Nation, UTN).

Prayut's last few months have been eventful. The former army general, leader of the 2014 coup, has ruled (almost) continuously for 9 years. First as premier of the military junta until the 2019 elections, and then as prime minister elected by the military's Palang Pracharat Party (PPRP). The only time away from power was during his suspension from August 24 to September 30, 2022. That is, the days when the Thai Constitutional Court had to decide whether or not the former general had violated limit of 8 consecutive years in office for a prime minister. The limit is provided for in a provision of the 2017 constitution, but the court ruled it was not retroactive, giving Prayut the chance to remain premier theoretically until 2025.

In fact, with elections scheduled for 2023, if Prayut wins, he can serve as head of government for at most half of a natural four-year term. That is why the PPRP was ready to dump him and run Prawit Wongsuwan in his place: party leader, deputy prime minister, and one of the generals behind the 2014 coup. It was Prawit who served as interim prime minister during Prayut's suspension, and the once close relations between the two appear to have soured.

Unwilling to give up the appointment, Prayut joined the UTN, another pro-military party, becoming its premier candidate and taking several PPRP MPs with him. In the elections he will face Prawit himself, who, at 77, is meanwhile trying to clean up his image as a gray and violent general by wearing designer clothes, dispensing smiles and showing off on social media. In a Facebook post, he said he understood the importance of living in a democratic system, distancing himself from the coup to which he contributed. There are those, however, who believe that the rift between the two generals - incidentally denied by those directly involved - is a bluff, and that a post-election coalition between their respective parties is very likely.

Although they are apparently divided, the fact that the military may join forces is linked to a structural advantage. Since 2017, Thailand's parliament has consisted of a lower house of 500 members, elected by the people, and a 250-member senate appointed by the military. The prime minister is chosen by a majority vote of the MPs, including the 250 pro-military and pro-monarchist senators, from among those proposed by the parties (each party can nominate 3). Realistically, the opposition would thus need 376 seats of the chamber's 500 to elect one of its own to head the government.

However, the Senate's participation in the election of the premier is temporary. The rule will expire in May 2024, and these should be the last elections in which it will be applied. In the meantime, the road for the opposition parties seems to be able to be only one: overdo it. Those who stand the best chance of doing so are the Pheu Thai Party of the Shinawatra family. The party's candidate is Paetongtarn Shinawatra, daughter of billionaire businessman Thaksin and niece of Yingluck, who were elected prime ministers with avalanches of votes in 2001 and 2011, respectively. Both her father and aunt were later removed by coups (in 2006 and 2014) on a series of charges against them. They have been living in exile ever since.

For many, behind the indictments were the monarch-military establishment's fears of the popularity of the two populist premiers. Paetongtarn, who is 36 years old and 7 months pregnant, now promises an end to poverty and a new era of social equality, talking about doubling the minimum wage and expanding health care. Polls put her firmly in the lead, especially in the northeast of the country (her family's stronghold), but Prayut and the UTN seem to be catching up.

Despite "sympathy operations," Prawit, on the other hand, appears far behind. Equally in crisis is the historic Democratic Party, Thailand's oldest party (monarchist-conservative), whose leadership ahead of the elections is still unclear. The Democrats are part of the governing coalition along with the PPRP and the Bhumjaithai (BJT), which is, however, in the opposite position from its two allies. Led by the current health minister and deputy prime minister, Anutin Charnvirakul, the BJT's popularity is growing. It has picked up dozens of MPs from other parties in recent months, and is expected to become a surprise in the elections due to the support it enjoys in northern Thailand.

Then there is the Move Forward Party, whose support base is not regional but generational. The de facto heir of Future Forward-a party dissolved in 2020 by a Constitutional Court ruling and later transformed into the extra-parliamentary Progressive Movement-Move Forward brings together much of the youth belonging to the democratic movements of the 2020 protests. Its leader, Pita Limjaroenrat (42), says he is ready to work with Pheu Thai in an eventual coalition government that would oust pro-military parties from power. The goal would then be to write a new constitution and hold a referendum to approve it within center days. It is hard to know if that is also what Pheu Thai, which so far has never officially denied the possibility of allying instead with Prawit's PPRP at closed polls, wants. A rumor that has taken hold in recent weeks.

In 2019, Pheu Thai's paper victory (with Future Forward's third-place finish) had been overturned by the parliamentary mechanisms for appointing the prime minister. Between party and candidate disqualifications, according to Asian Network for Free Elections, "all stages of the [2019] election process were influenced to ensure a result that was not too harsh for the ruling establishment." One wonders how much things may change in 2023.

The new electoral system, approved in 2021, increased the number of seats to be allocated by the majority method (from 350 to 400), leaving only 100 for proportional. A condition that disadvantages small parties in the vote redistribution phase. The Election Commission, in addition to announcing an "anti-disinformation" collaboration with TikTok, has decided that it will not publish the vote count in real time. Thus the first official results will come on election night. "It is a method prone to being rigged," said a former election commissioner. That is also why 100,000 volunteers are expected to be mobilized on Election Day to register votes independently.

Meanwhile, regular parliamentary sessions are suspended. In the last House debate, the opposition accused Prayut of leaving Thailand in a "pitiful state" because of his poor management of the economy (which grew by only 2.6 percent in 2022). The prime minister was then accused of corruption, cronyism, and using the lese majesty law and anti-Covid measures to suppress the 2020-21 democratic protests. Also weighing on him are the skids in the country's international deployment, which is ambiguous in its ties to the military junta government in Myanmar and on its condemnation of Russia's war in Ukraine, as well as growing closer to China.

Considerations from which Prayut defended himself by mentioning all the good things his administration would do, pledging to cite data and percentages on infrastructure projects, Covid contagions, welfare. "I must ensure continuity, I will reshape the country for the better within two years," he had declared in January. Even this, beyond the formalities, means he is already on the campaign trail.

Disability-inclusive business models for an enabling environment

By Piroon Laismit

I have led many groups of visitors to our “chocolate factory” run entirely by persons with disabilities. The expressions of awe and amazement on the faces of my guests never fail to warm my heart. Enter our training centre for chocolate making and you will see to your left, visually impaired staff, meticulously wrapping chocolate bars with high precision, due to their heightened sense of touch and space. Turn to your right and you will see hearing impaired employees, stirring and pouring different chocolate mixtures into chocolate molds, monitoring these molds while they bake in the oven, and then taking them out of the oven for further processing. Every time I observe them busy at work while explaining to my guests the different steps involved in chocolate making, I always feel proud, not only of their achievements but also how they continue to inspire others. Every branch of 60+ Plus Bakery and Café was established with the aim to provide a space for training persons with disabilities, and to serve as a model for coffee shops, or restaurants, successfully run by persons with disabilities. 

60+ Plus Bakery & Chocolate Café and products

Source: APCD 60+ Plus Bakery & Café Facebook page 

Over the years, I have seen the power and impact of coming together to create opportunities for people in society – opportunities that allow everyone to realize their full potential, and to be able to live independently with dignity. This is our aspiration at the Asia-Pacific Development Centre on Disability (APCD) when we design training courses and brainstorm career opportunities for persons with disabilities, mostly persons who are visually or hearing impaired, and autistic people. We have demonstrated that they are fully capable to contribute to the food business with our 60+ Plus Bakery and Café staffed and run entirely by such persons. The Café in particular, together with our “chocolate factory,” is a success story that I am always pleased to share with others and one that I have been personally committed to. 

60+ Plus Bakery and Café by Yamazaki is a collaborative project between the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security of Thailand, the Embassy of Japan, Thai-Yamazaki Co. Ltd, and APCD. It is a project under the royal patronage of HRH Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn, established to commemorate HRH’s 60th birthday anniversary in 2015. In a very short time after its establishment and due to its immense success, the Café has expanded to include a branch at the Royal Government House and a restaurant run and serviced entirely by persons with disabilities.

Most recently in 2019, we had the honour to produce chocolate for world leaders during Thailand’s ASEAN Chairmanship that year and Thailand’s APEC Host Economy Year in 2022. It was a special opportunity to showcase the potential and talent of persons with disabilities to policy makers worldwide and a great source of pride for the men and women behind 60 Plus Café. My only hope is that with each new project and activity, their work will continue to inspire others to see beyond our limitations and to contribute whatever they can to society. 

 The Importance of a Disability Enabling and Disability Inclusive Future

As a regional development centre on disability, we strive to communicate the importance and necessity of working towards a disability enabling and disability inclusive future. 

Since the 1970s, it was estimated that 10% of the world’s population was disabled. Some 40 years later in 2011, a first-ever joint report on disability produced by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the World Bank (WB) put that number at 15%, or approximately one billion people who were living with some form of disability. By the end of 2022, this figure had increased to 1.3 billion. In Thailand currently, 3.19% of the population, or roughly 2.1 million people, live with some form of disability. 

One conclusion that can be drawn from these statistics is that disability is a fact and reality of life. Whether due to an increase in chronic diseases or ageing populations or sadly, war and conflict, disability is not something we can ‘eradicate’. Another conclusion is that the percentage of persons living with some forms of disability is not small and rather a number that must prompt us to action. 

And this action must come from having the right attitudes towards and understanding of persons with disabilities. We must continue to find ways to enable and empower persons with disabilities, to live independently and contribute to their communities. This is valuable not only for the disabled population themselves, but for society as a whole, in reducing inequalities that prevent us from reaching our full potential.

 Thailand’s Journey in Creating an Enabling Environment: From Social Welfare to Development Cooperation

In Thailand, work on creating an enabling environment for persons with disabilities started well before 2015 and the establishment of the 60+ Plus Bakery and Café by Yamazaki. In fact, it began in earnest decades ago in 1954, when the Foundation for the Welfare of the Disabled was established under the royal patronage of HRH the Princess Mother (HRH Princess Somdet Phra Srinakarindra Boromarajajonani). This was soon followed in 1961 by the establishment of a service center dedicated for children and a school for disabled people, “Sri Sangwan School”. 

Over the following decades, an expanding network of foundations and organizations with missions to support people with disabilities were either set up or came under royal patronage in Thailand. The Foundation for the Blind and the Foundation for the Deaf in Thailand came under the royal patronage of the HM Queen Sirikit in 1959 and 1964 respectively, the Christian Foundation for the Blind received patronage by HM King Bhumibol in 1978, and the Thailand-Caulfield Foundation for the Blind (TCFB) came under the patronage of HRH Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn in 1980. 

In my opinion, what was so distinct and pivotal about the royal patronage behind these foundations was that it gave these organizations much-needed publicity and support, improving access to critical funding and collaboration with other agencies. This, in turn improved ‘access’ for people with disabilities to public infrastructure and social services. It was the spark that ignited the engine behind a robust machinery that moved vital work forward in this area.

Source: Princess Mother’s Medical Volunteers Facebook page 

As these foundations became more established in providing support to the disabled population in Thailand, some even extended outreach to other countries, especially developing countries in Africa and the South Pacific – adding positive momentum to Thailand’s development cooperation. Deserving particular mention is the Prostheses Foundation of HRH the Princess Mother. Set up officially in 1992, it initially worked with the Princess Mother’s Medical Volunteers (PMMV), whose mobile units of doctors and nurses have been in operation since 1969 to reach out to the sick and disabled in remote areas. From the outset, the Foundation focused on using locally-sourced materials for the production of prosthetic legs to reduce costs, based on the principle of self-sufficiency. Over the years and through the support and status lent by the royal patronage, the Foundation was able to collaborate widely with academia and the private sector in the comprehensive production, design, distribution and practical application of these artificial devices.  

 Towards Sustainable Development through Training and Knowledge Sharing

In 2007, the Prostheses Foundation started projects with community hospitals to offer all-in-one service for prosthetics wearers, including repairs, refitting of spare parts and training for prosthetics production. It was at this point that the knowledge-sharing took on an international dimension, with training extended to Vietnam, Papua New Guinea and Indonesia. A few years later, the Thailand International Cooperation Agency (TICA) initiated cooperation with Burundi and Senegal. By then, the Prostheses Foundation had already produced prosthetic legs for over 3,000 disabled persons, and become among the most prolific in Southeast Asia. 

Source: TICA, Ministry of Foreign Affairs

On 28 September 2013, I had the opportunity to attend a donation ceremony for artificial limbs at the R.J. Grast Memorial Hall in Dhaka, Bangladesh, and to witness the life changing impact that they had with my own eyes. The donation was made upon the request of the Prime Minister of Bangladesh, whereby the Royal Thai Government, represented by TICA, in collaboration with the Prostheses Foundation of HRH the Princess Mother, donated one hundred artificial limbs to victims of the collapse of the Rana Plaza building in Dhaka, which housed five garment factories. Its collapse on 24 April 2013 killed at least 1,132 people and injured more than 2,500 workers. Our donation of artificial limbs from Thailand gave these workers in Bangladesh a new life and hope. 

Thailand-Senegal cooperation on prosthetic services

Source: Ministry of Foreign Affairs website

In Africa, the Royal Thai Embassy in Dakar, in collaboration with TICA, extended the expertise of the Prostheses Foundation to Burundi and Senegal by creating regular exchanges, and providing training on the production and management of prosthetics-related services. This collaboration also served to boost bilateral relations, with Thailand helping to set up a prostheses centre at a military hospital in Dakar. Officials from Senegal and Burundi also visited Thailand for study visits and further training.

In 2016, the Prostheses Foundation found exciting new collaborators. This time they were leading companies in the fields of material science and design. Dow Thailand Group, SCG Chemicals and Rubber Soul Company added innovative value by providing specialty urethane, polypropylene, elastomers and ergonomic design for better comfort and durability.

The Foundation had indeed come a long way – from gaining royal patronage to assist the disabled in Thailand’s remote countryside, to offering comprehensive learning support to communities and villages in other countries.

Institutionalising Disability Inclusiveness

Efforts to improve the welfare of people with disabilities require constant attention and commitment. There is a need for an established infrastructure of public agencies, foundations, and private sector collaboration to sustain projects. And this collaboration, as we have seen in this space, does not need to be limited domestically. Rooted in the philosophy of self-sufficiency and the principle of sustainable development, the various Foundations in Thailand whose missions are to empower people with disabilities are now all operating with a vision towards self-reliance, holistic learning, and partnership with the private sector on disability-inclusive businesses, as well as development cooperation with other countries.

We have to recognize that disability, after all, is not inability. Rather, persons with disabilities are differently abled with their own set of unique strengths. They can be empowered through inclusive policies and society will benefit as a result.

Let me end here with a favorite quote of mine, that I always come back to, from the Late King Bhumibol the Great, which he uttered in his remarks at the Foundation for the Welfare of the Disabled under the Royal Patronage of HRH the Princess Mother on 22 March 1984: “Helping people with disabilities is a very important task…because they did not wish to be disabled, but would rather be able to help themselves… So, it is our task, our responsibility to ensure our policies enable them to help themselves, so that they can contribute to society”.

* * * * *

Mr. Piroon Laismit is the Asia-Pacific Centre on Disability (APCD) Executive Director and has extensive experience on the empowerment of persons with disabilities through capacity building programs. Before joining the APCD, Mr. Laismit headed Thailand’s development cooperation projects as the Director-General of the Thailand International Cooperation Agency (TICA), Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and has also served as Ambassador of Thailand to the State of Qatar.

Thailand goes to vote, with endemic challenges on the ballot

Ahead of the 2023 elections, the ‘traditional’ powers of the army and monarchy are showing signs of internal fragmentation. The intensity of anti-government protests wanes, but protesters unite over some momentous common battles.

Contemporary Thai politics often appears stuck in a perennial struggle between the conservative domestic establishment committed to defending its control over political and social life, and periodic external progressive pressures seeking to undermine it. It might seem that no external political force has so far managed to erode the dominance of the armed forces and the royal family. In the run-up to the next elections, set for 7 May 2023, recent developments show that, in reality, the pillars of the army and the monarchy are anything but monolithic.

In this context, imposing figures such as Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-Cha may appear unmovable, but something is actually moving under the surface. In August, at the opposition's petition, Prayuth, who seized power in the 2014 coup d'état, was suspended from office for five weeks pending a ruling on his allegedly exceeding of the eight-year term limit. The Thai Constitutional Court's ruling on 30 September then reinstated him, opening up the possibility for him to run for a second term (albeit a partial one, until 2025) in next year's elections. 

The Court’s ruling amounted to a rather sterile measure, as it did not challenge the trinity of Thailand’s architecture of power (‘Nation, Religion, and Monarchy’). Indeed, on the day of the Court's deliberation, demonstrations by pro-democracy movements did not reach the numbers and intensity of the 2020 anti-government clashes. For locals, this is simply the usual ‘power games’ played by political elites. 

Beyond the usual power game

However, Francesco Radicioni, Radio Radicale's East Asia correspondent, points out that "what the story does tell us is the internal split within the Palang Pracharath (PPRP), the main governing party". Prayuth himself does not seem to be the party's favourite candidate for the next general elections. According to some analysts, the PPRP is rather leaning towards General Prawit Wongsuwon, the current Deputy Prime Minister who served as Acting Prime Minister during Prayuth's suspension and is considered to be the real architect behind the 2014 coup. He appears to be the candidate that the PPRP will focus on as the party’s next prime ministerial candidate. 

Confirming the deep internal divisions that currently exist within the party, Labour Minister Suchart Chomklin's resignation as a PPRP board member was announced at the end of November, along with the news that another forty MPs would be leaving the party to follow Prayuth into a new party — the Ruam Thai Sang Chart (United Thai Nation) party. Prawit was quick to clarify that the PPRP and RTSCP are in essence “the same party", emphasising the “brotherhood" bond that has bound him to Prayuth for the past 40-50 years. In any case, with a senate elected by the military junta and an electoral law that disfavours smaller parties, the friction between the two elderly generals - Prayuth and Prawit - is yet another confirmation that the promise to modernise the political class is likely to remain unfulfilled in this election round.

The Shinawatra family: new wine in old bottles?

Even on the opposition front, some old names are appearing among the 2023 possible prime ministerial candidates. The Shinawatra family is the foremost among these, in the person of Paetongtarn, daughter of the former leader ousted in the 2006 coup, currently in exile, and granddaughter of Yingluck Shinawatra, the Prime Minister dismissed in 2016 at the hands of the Prayuth-led junta.

The opposition Pheu Thai party has made no mention of Paetongtarn’s possible candidature as Prime Minister for the upcoming elections. Nonetheless, Thitinan Pongsudhirak, professor and director of the Institute of Security and International Studies at Chulalongkorn University, argues that for all intents and purposes she can be considered the party's symbolic leader. The Shinawatra family, which has been embroiled in several corruption and abuse of power scandals in recent years, can still count on a few strongholds, mainly in the rural areas in the north of the country. Yingluck’s daughter is likely to attract what remains of the Red Shirt movement — the protagonists of violent clashes against the security forces between 2006 and 2014 and victims of a bloody crackdown by the Prayuth army.

The only real breath of fresh air came from street demonstrations. Regardless of generational and social differences, the Red Shirt 'veterans' converge on some issues with the new protesters, who are mostly members of the urbanised Generation Z, critical of the system’s more conservative features, and sensitive to the issues of economic, civil, and gender inequality. 

During the latest protests that took place on the sidelines of the APEC summit hosted in Bangkok from 14 to 19 November, protesters did not limit themselves to demanding the cancellation of the economic summit and expressing personal attacks on Prayuth, whose already declining popularity has been sunk by his inefficient handling of the Covid crisis and the economy (which is close to slipping into recession). The general is seen more as a symbol of the dominance of the military elite — loyal ally of the royal family — as well as the man who brought the country closer to Xi Jinping's China.

As a matter of fact, the protests at the end of November, though subdued compared to those in the past, did call for deeper and more epoch-making transformations, such as the repealing of the extremely strict laws on lèse-majesté, a new constitution that would put an end to the military's meddling in political life, and above all, a reform of the all-powerful monarchy. As Radicioni suggests, in the fragmented and ever-changing landscape of Thai politics, the only constant thread remains the endemic clash between the two-headed establishment - represented by the traditional monarchy-army alliance - and the progressive drives reflecting the aspirations for modernisation and democracy in growing segments of the population. Even with all the limitations, the 2023 elections could represent an opportunity to take a closer look at the nature of the balance of power between these two contrasting forces that seem destined to mark the country's future. 

As Arnon Nampa — a Thai lawyer, human rights activist, and leading figure in the 2020-2021 protests — explained, "discussing the monarchy has caught on. We might not see a radical change like a revolution... but one thing is for sure: Thai society will not backtrack”.

A Day to be as Humble as the Soil

By Dr. Apichart Jongskul 

In December of 2013, the United Nations designated December 5th as World Soil Day. 

For those of us who may not be immediately familiar with the significance of soil, it may be a wonder why countries around the world would commit to a day to recognize and celebrate something there seems to be no shortage of in the world today. 

In fact, it is a simple matter of quality over quantity. 

The rate at which soil is becoming degraded and depleted could very well turn it into the new black gold. While soil formation does occur in nature, the process is so slow that soil may as well be regarded as a non-renewable resource. Consider this – it takes up to 1,000 years to form one centimeter of top soil, but this one centimeter can be lost with just one heavy rainfall. It should not come as a surprise then, that the United Nations has been raising the alarm bells of an impending catastrophe. Ninety per cent of the Earth’s precious topsoil is likely to be at risk by 2050. By that year, the impact of soil degradation could have already caused $23 trillion in losses of food, ecosystem services and income worldwide. These are staggering figures. 

Soil erosion in the Tanzanian Maasai landscape 

Source: University of Plymouth/Carey Marks, United Nations website

Yet, many people still hold the false perception that there is an infinite supply of arable soil, and few realize how precious it really is. While the land beneath our feet provides for 95 per cent of our food, the significance of soil spans over and above agriculture. 

Soil is the habitat for over a quarter of the planet’s biodiversity. Each gram of soil contains millions of cells of microbes and fungi, making it one of nature’s most complex ecosystems. Soils are also home to many other organisms like insects that lay and hatch eggs there. 

  Source: Infographic by the World Bank from the World Economic Forum website

Healthy soil is also necessary for preventing water scarcity. The majority of the world’s water – up to 97 percent – is found below. This groundwater is the result of melted snow and ice, and rain that has seeped into the soil through a process where the soils filter dust, chemicals, and other contaminants. Today, groundwater supplies are directly responsible for providing around 50% of the world’s freshwater used for human consumption. Groundwater also accounts for 40% of the water used for irrigated land, and 50% of the water used for the urban population. 

What’s more, soil can help protect the planet from climate change. According to an estimate by Columbia University’s Earth Institute a few years ago, soil was found to remove about 25 percent of the world’s fossil fuel emissions each year. 

Better land management and agricultural practices can enhance the ability of soils to store carbon and help combat global warming. 

Indeed, the importance of maintaining and managing the quality of our soil cannot be overstated. Our food supply, clean drinking water, biodiversity and the viability of life on earth itself depends on it. 

Thailand is a country with many different types of soil, some of which are good for farming and some of which are troublesome in terms of quality, physical state, and chemical composition, leading to low yields, crop failure and unprofitable returns.                     

Pikun Thong Development Study Centre in Narathawit province, Thailand,

which was initiated by His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej The Great to serve as a model for farmers nationwide in improving the quality of soil.

Source: Thailand Tourism Directory website

His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej The Great, who committed his reign to improving the standard of living for all Thais, and in particular for Thai farmers, placed a high priority on agricultural development and the study of soils. He directed Royal Initiatives towards the revitalization of soil through natural methods. Eventually, through extensive research and experimentation at Royal Project sites, practical and cost-effective solutions were found for various problem soils such as sandy soil, laterite soil, erosion-prone soil, saline soil, and acidic soil. They were solutions intended for ease of implementation by farmers. 

 Vetiver grass 

 Source: Land Development Department,,

 Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives website              

One of these methods was the use of vetiver grass, which behaves like a living wall that prevents soil erosion and retains moisture.

In 2009, His Majesty gave a Royal Speech in which He explained the value of his 17 years studying vetiver grass which revealed its many benefits: 

“Some grasses may be useful in some places. The vetiver grass, on the contrary, is very useful in different landscapes not only on flat land but also in mountainous areas. Vetiver can grow in both deep and shallow soils. Vetiver roots can penetrate up to five or six meters which was never expected in grasses before. More importantly, vetiver - 4 - roots only grow vertically up to five meters without spreading horizontally. Therefore, it will not disturb the roots of the crops cultivated nearby. Some kinds of vetiver can penetrate their roots very deep – about four or five meters. Some roots are as deep as six meters. For the other grasses, their roots can also go deep in the soil but only three meters deep. The long root system of vetiver offers coverage on the ground surface which can prevent soil erosion. The soil under the covering vetiver will also be strong and can be used for anything. For example, the soils along the road bank will be protected and will not slide down the slopes of the hills. This can be seen on the road to Doi Tung. Vetiver growing on the banks of the road makes the road safe and stable. It is the miracle of the vetiver grass. Moreover, it will make tree planting along the road side feasible. In addition, the soils along the roadsides have stopped eroding which had damaged the cropland below in the past.” (translation as found in “Soul of the Thai People: The Great Philosopher in Soils, His Majesty the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej, Land Development Department, Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives, 2017)

In 1993, the World Bank presented His Majesty with a specially-commissioned sculpture of a vetiver plant made of bronze, together with an Award of Recognition “for technical and development accomplishment in the promotion of vetiver technology internationally.” As a leader of research in vetiver grass, Thailand was chosen to host the first International Conference on Vetiver (ICV) in 1996 in collaboration with the World Bank and the FAO. Subsequently, the Pacific Rim Vetiver Network with Thailand at the core was established to serve 22 member countries of the Pacific Rim in order to disseminate information on the Vetiver System. To date, member countries have produced over 70,000 publications which are accessible through the website administered by the Office of the Royal Development Projects Board.

Office of the Royal Development Projects Board website

FAO observed World Soil Day on December 5thin 2012 for the first time, which was also the 85th birthday of His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej The Great of Thailand. Earlier that year, His Majesty the King was also honoured as the first recipient of the Humanitarian Soil Scientist award for his dedication to soil resource management. The award was presented to His Majesty by Stephen Northcliff, Chairman of the International Union of Soil Sciences (IUSS) on April 16th, 2012.  

This was a decade after the IUSS first recommended an international day to celebrate soil in 2002. 

Thereafter, Thailand has consistently demonstrated her leadership on soil conservation, including supporting FAO’s efforts to raise awareness on this important issue at the global level by promoting the formal establishment of World Soil Day within the framework of the Global Soil Partnership. In June 2013, the FAO Conference unanimously endorsed World Soil Day and six months later, in December, the UN General Assembly designated December 5th, 2014 as the first official World Soil Day, which has since been celebrated on an annual basis. 

Since the launch of the World Soil Day in 2014, its celebration has become one of the most influential FAO communication campaigns to date, with hundreds of events held worldwide and huge social media and digital impact. The momentum gained has been spectacular, from a modest beginning of 42 events in 2014 to an impressive 781 celebrations across 125 countries in 2021. The celebration period last year also witnessed the hashtag #WorldSoilDay reaching 330 million users and was trending on December 5th. 

Source: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations website 

In relation to World Soil Day, Thailand also sponsors the annual King Bhumibol World Soil Day Award to recognize individuals or institutions that organize impactful World Soil Day celebrations. Recipients of these awards have come from several corners of the world, namely, Bangladesh, Costa Rica, India and Nigeria. 

However, despite the laudable efforts of numerous organizations, scientists, environmentalists and others who raise awareness about the importance of healthy soil, we are still not out of the danger zone. Intensive farming practices, the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides, deforestation, industrial activity and rapid urbanization continue to aggravate the loss of soils in almost every country in the world. 

Perhaps in moving ahead, we have to fine-tune the message. Changing minds is important and can happen when people are provided with information.

But intellectual understanding alone may not be enough to cause a change in behavior. We should also think about how to change hearts, that is, the way people feel about soil. 

Aldo Leopold, considered by many to be the father of wildlife ecology, said that “We abuse land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect.”

In this aspect, I believe that 5 December, the birthday of the late King, also has something invaluable to offer. 

When the late King was born His Majesty King Prajadhipok bestowed upon the newborn the name “Bhumibol Adulyadej” and explained that the two words mean “Strength of the Land, Incomparable and Unparalleled Power”. It was recounted that at the time the Princess Mother said to His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej, “In fact, your name Bhumibol means Strength of the Land as I want you to be on the ground of soil.” The late King later explained that when looking back to what his Queen Mother said, what she probably meant was that she wished for His Majesty the late King to be humble and work for His Thai subjects. 

True to the blessing of his Queen Mother, His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej the Great became an exemplar of humility. During Royal Visits to the countryside, the late King would often be kneeling or sitting down on the ground to listen to his people’s hardships, for hours on end. I am sure it never bothered Him to have a bit of soil on his clothes. 

This year, many important activities have been organized to celebrate World Soil Day both in Thailand and abroad. On December 5th, the Ministry of Interior organized a “World Soil Day 2022” event in every province in Thailand, to raise public awareness on the importance of soil for environmental conservation and sustainable development, and to honour the work of His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej The Great on soil management. On December 15th, the Permanent Mission of Thailand to the United Nations and the Permanent Mission of Namibia to the United Nations, together with the FAO and the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification, organized a World Soil Day celebration in New York, to raise awareness on the importance of maintaining healthy ecosystems through soil health, while also recognizing farmers who are “soil heroes.”

Indeed, every one of us can have a meaningful role to play and I believe it begins with taking the time to understand and appreciate the importance of healthy soils in our lives. At the end of the day, it is my sincere hope that people around the world take inspiration from the important work that has already been done and continues to be advanced on this issue, so that we can multiply our efforts globally, to protect our soil for future generations. 

                                                             * * * * *

Dr. Apichart Jongskul has been working on soil management and land development for decades and has previously served as the Director General of the Land Development Department of the Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives. In 2015, he became an advisor to the Chaipattana Foundation – a foundation established by His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej The Great to contribute to national development – and has since assumed the position of Deputy Secretary General of the foundation from 2018 to the present. 

A little learning goes a long way…

Article by Cherdkiat Atthakor 

How do you reach the furthest behind, meaningfully? What do you give them that will allow them to change their own trajectory in life, to impact their immediate surroundings, and to advance their societies, their countries? You give them access to quality education.  

Time and again, this has been the single, most effective game-changer in the lives of so many people who were born without other means to get ahead in life. Education continues to be, in fact, a social ladder when it comes to overcoming systems of privilege and inequality. For those who struggle on the margins of our societies, it opens doors. 

Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn has opened that door for so many underprivileged children in Thailand, engaging with the agencies responsible to improve the entire system of education in the country. 

Her sole desire has been to make quality education accessible to all, and in particular, the most disadvantaged. In Thailand, this has meant access to quality education for children living in the remote and rural areas of the country. It has also meant reaching those living in the mountainous areas where accessibility is close to impossible, and those living along areas bordering our neighbouring countries. 

The Lions Mahachak 9 Border Patrol Police School, Mae Taeng District, Chiangmai province in the north of Thailand, under the Office of the Royal Development Projects Board (ORDPB) 

Credit: Office of the Royal Development Projects Board (ORDPB) website 

Since her youth, Her Royal Highness has been a firm believer in the power of knowledge. She herself, has been devoted to studying and applying a variety of knowledge gained to improve people’s lives in Thailand. Her Royal Highness has focused on advocating “education for all” through advancing collaboration among all stakeholders, both in government and the private sector, with the ultimate goal of creating a network of knowledge-sharing, technical support, and resource mobilization, not only in Thailand, but worldwide.

Embracing her vision, government and academic institutions began to follow her example in the pursuit of academic excellence and a better life for the country’s future generations. In 1979, that vision materialized with The Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn Foundation, which began providing concrete support to needy students in schools, vocational colleges and universities. Then, in 1983, Her Royal Highness expanded these efforts to start a project to provide better access to quality education for children living in the rural outreaches of the country.

It was through activities under this project that teachers, especially border patrol police teachers, were trained on specific teaching methods under specific conditions targeted towards achieving concrete learning outcomes for these children. This project later included a particular focus and training on improving education for stateless and minority children.

Through her work, the more disadvantaged children she impacted, the more Her Royal Highness began to recognize and give equal importance to other factors shaping children’s development. This included providing good nutrition and combatting iodine deficiency through lunch projects, providing access to technology for schools in rural areas, and improving the quality of teachers through awards and scholarships.

In 1990, Her Royal Highness initiated the Deficiency Disorder Control Project. In cooperation with UNICEF and salt producing companies in Thailand, the Iodine Deficiency Disorder rate in primary school children in Thailand has continuously been kept at under 5 percent. 

In 1995, Her Royal Highness initiated the IT for Rural Schools Program, as part of her comprehensive IT project for education, to address inequality by providing access to computers and IT equipment to member schools. Through this program, teachers and students in rural, remote areas of Thailand were able to experience and develop their skills in the use of technology.

 Online learning

Credit: The Information Technology Foundation under the Initiative of Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn website 

Her Royal Highness’ dedication and contributions in the field of education over the years then inspired the Teacher’s Council of Thailand, Ministry of Education, to establish the Princess Maha Chakri Award in her honour in 2015. The Award is given once every two years to 11 outstanding teachers from ASEAN Member States and Timor Leste, honouring dedicated teachers, promoting the teaching profession, and strengthening international relations in the field of education.

 Credit: Princess Maha Chakri Award website  

Her Royal Highness’ work has also been recognized by the international community and several international organizations. One is UNICEF, which has presented her with the Life-Time Achievement Award for her significant role and unwavering commitment in improving the lives of children in Thailand, especially those in remote and disadvantaged areas. 

In 1991, Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn was awarded the prestigious Ramon Magsaysay Award for Public Service. Established in 1957, the Ramon Magsaysay Award was and is considered Asia’s highest honour, the region’s equivalent to the Nobel Prize.

It was at the Magsaysay Award ceremony, that Her Royal Highness shared with the audience a glimpse into the inspiration behind her work:

“It is the duty, and also the highest aspiration of a Thai to take part in any work aimed at the development and prosperity of our beloved country, Thailand, and to help our less fortunate neighbour have a better life.”  

Indeed, the well-being and quality of people’s lives cannot be improved by one person alone. It takes collective and consistent effort, and it takes time. In fact, it takes all of us, to do our part in contributing to societal well-being, for the future of our children and generations to come. In the world we live in today, no one is untouched by the global economic recession, poverty, crime and unemployment, and other societal ills. A quality education is what will best prepare people for an ever-changing environment, and equip them to handle the fast-paced, dynamic and unpredictable circumstances of our world.

I, for one, am also a firm believer in the power of knowledge, and that a little learning goes a long way for everyone, especially for those furthest behind, to whom we owe our best efforts to raise up.  

* * * * *

Mr. Cherdkiat Atthakor is Deputy Permanent Secretary for Foreign Affairs, who oversees the Devawongse Varopakarn Institute of Foreign Affairs that organizes training for Thai diplomats throughout their career. He has a wide range of experience in foreign affairs, previously serving as the Spokesperson of the Foreign Ministry, the Ambassador of Thailand to Kenya, as well as the Deputy Director-General of the Department of East Asian Affairs, the Department of ASEAN Affairs, and the Department of International Organizations.