Myanmar opposition hopes for change of government in Thailand

Myanmar troops patrol in a rural area.

Opponents of junta rule in Myanmar are putting their faith in the upcoming Thai general election to bring an end to military-backed rule of prime minister Prayut Chan-o-cha. Critics of Myanmar coup leader, senior general Min Aung Hlaing, hope that a new Thai administration led by the Pheu Thai party will be more critical of the Tatmadaw (Myanmar’s armed forces).

The current Thai administration, through its powerful military, has maintained close contacts with the Myanmar junta since the coup there in February 2021. Senior army personnel frequently hold meetings with their counterparts and Thai TV Channel 7, army-controlled, has carried programs encouraging tourism in Myanmar. There is mutual and ongoing cooperation on natural gas operations in the Andaman Sea.

Ma Khine Thet, an exiled Myanmar researcher, said a Pheu Thai-led government in Bangkok might be more inclined to support the critical American line on Myanmar rather than following the Chinese lead in supporting the Tatmadaw. Zach Abu Abuza, a professor at the US National War College, stressed that Thailand is currently caught between the US and Chinese superpower rivalry.

Meanwhile, the Myanmar Office of Immigration and Population has slightly modified the health requirements for incoming tourist permits. Fully vaccinated foreigners no longer need a pre-entry PCR virus test and medical insurance, though compulsory, no longer must be bought from the Myanmar junta’s monopoly insurance provider. Some tourist attractions, such as the floating water festival at Inle lake in Shan state, have reopened after three years under closure. However, there is no sign that the junta’s aim of attracting 1 million foreign tourists in 2023 will be achieved any time soon.

Critics say that it will be difficult for an incoming Thai administration substantially to reduce ties with China. She provides more foreign tourists to Thailand than any other country on an annual basis, is Bangkok’s biggest trading partner and has invested billions of dollars in Thai business initiatives such as the Eastern Economic Corridor.