Some lessons from the failed UN bid
Thailand and Asean have both been made to look foolish by backing the ill-considered Surakiart campaign
Four valuable lessons can be drawn from Thailand's failed and wasteful campaign to get one of its own in the United Nations' top job. First, the candidate selected by the former government for the job was there for all the wrong reasons. Former premier Thaksin Shinawatra was the biggest supporter of Surakiart Sathirathai's bid, thinking naively and selfishly that he could promote himself and Thailand if Surakiart prevailed. Even fielding a candidate for the position would raise Thailand's profile and help spread Thaksin's name around the world. What a cheeky way to promote a country.
Unfortunately, all the campaign to win Surakiart the UN's top job has done is hurt Thailand's reputation and diplomatic practices. Recent efforts have created a lot of criticism among New York-based diplomats, and now it could take years to smooth things over.
The other disappointment is that Thailand has plenty of other good potential candidates, people who would have been much more suitable in terms of personality, intellectual capacity and integrity. Too bad, then, that the Thaksin government opted to be partisan and myopic, refusing to even countenance the possibility that a better candidate existed.
So, it all boiled down to a foolish decision involving foolish people. In the future, the government will have to set up a more reasonable selection process if the country is to successfully put forward candidates for such high-profile positions.
Second, Asean must take some of the blame. This whole situation is something of a slap in Asean's collective face. In fact, this could be one of the biggest diplomatic blunders that the grouping has committed since it admitted Burma. For one thing, Asean staked its reputation and institutional integrity on backing the Thai candidate without first careful vetting his suitability. Of course, most member countries supported Surakiart only reluctantly because Thailand announced his candidacy three years before anybody else. The early bird got the worm, apparently.
This situation also revealed the weakness of Asean when it comes to talking to each other in a frank manner when sensitive issues are in play. None of the member countries had the guts to stand up and say at the beginning that there was no chance the Thai bid would succeed.
At the ministerial meeting in Kuala Lumpur last year, Singapore warned the other members of Asean that the South Korean candidate Ban Ki-moon had the right combination of support, but nobody listened. Of course, solidarity to the point of collective suicide is sort of the Asean way. In the future, Asean will have to learn how to speak out on such issues so it can head off potential embarrassments.
Third, now that Ban looks like a shoo-in for the post, how can Asean reconcile with South Korea, Japan and China, which strongly supported him? Asean's failure to cooperate with three Asian powers also revealed a lack of trust between them. These countries should have agreed on one candidate in the very beginning instead of fighting until the every end. On the surface, Asean seems to have believed that that its candidate would get backing from China and Japan, as well as the rest of the world. Imagine their surprise when the opposite occurred.
If Asean learns nothing else from the competition for the top UN spot, it must accept that its reputation does not carry as much weight as it may have once thought. Asean no longer commands the respect it did in the past. It is withering.
Finally, the Thai government must be held accountable for spending public money on such a foolish errand. The Council of National Security was too generous in allowing the candidate to continue his quest for the top spot even though he had condemned its actions on the night of the coup.
In the past three years, several hundred million baht - which could have be used to build at least 3,000 much-needed schools in the provinces - was wasted on first-class tickets, expensive wine and other perks and amenities. Worst of all, it will soon be payback time. Thailand made plenty of promises during the campaign that are likely to cost the country a fortune in terms of diplomatic reciprocity in the years to come.