Supalak Ganjanakhundee
Thu, Dec 25, 2008
The Nation, ANN
A foreign minister can't just shoot his mouth off

Only days after assuming the office of foreign minister, Kasit Piromya has learnt more lessons than in all the 37 years of his diplomatic career.

First of all, speech is more powerful than one would anticipate. The second is that taking a political stance is not a comfortable process. All good diplomats know the power of speech.

Former prime minister Chatichai Choonhavan said long ago that "a man is the boss of his words until he speaks". Speech has become the boss from the time it slips from the mouth.

Kasit has paid the price for his speech praising the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD)'s airport protests. He was widely criticised for saying the airport protesters were a lot of fun. The opposition threatened to grill him in Parliament when the new government delivered its policy announcement on December 29 for making such an inappropriate speech.

With strong connections to the PAD, Kasit took the stage in the then occupied Government House and Suvarnabhumi Airport to deliver many speeches, some containing rude words to entertain the protesters.

Kasit said it was unfair using such a speech to criticise him since the political crisis was over before he took office as foreign minister.

Unfortunately, the opposition's Jatuporn Phomphan, who led the Democratic Alliance Against Dictatorship (DAAD), did not care much about such fairness. He threatened to trace all of Kasit's words during the campaign against the previous government in order to have material for grilling the minister.

Jatuporn, who is also an MP, said he would analyse all of Kasit's speeches made on PAD stages, to jeopardise the foreign minister's mission.

The opposition MP might be no big deal, but foreign media is another matter because of its influence over the international community.

Foreign journalists have no sympathy for the PAD's aggressive manner against an elected government. Most reports and analysis from foreign media have heavily criticised the reactionary political group.

Many of the PAD's actions, notably the airport seizure, directly hurt foreigners and their interests. For them, a week-long airport closure was no joke. Stranding 350,000 passengers during the season of forgiveness is no fun at all, no matter how excellent the food and music. That's the reason why the Telegraph's report on Kasit's airport protest was so powerful.

As an experienced diplomat, Kasit should know well that PAD's perception of foreign affairs is unrealistic. Thailand cannot afford isolationism, and holding foreign travellers hostage for the group's political benefit is not good for the country's reputation.

The foreign minister was supposed to tell the international community that the airport seizure, for whatever reason, was definitely illegal and occupying the international airport would never achieve democracy. No democratic country on this planet can develop democracy and good government by allowing citizens to close airports for political purposes.

The minister should follow Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva's right direction, which made it clear that his government would never let it happen again.

The government has to bring the protest leaders to justice for such actions. The Foreign Ministry must report to the International Civil Aviation Organisation to bar those leaders from air travel since they are a threat to aviation safety.

The foreign minister, if really concerned about the country's foreign affairs, badly needs to take a new political stance, far away from the PAD. Making such a swerve might be painful for an individual, but it is necessary to restore confidence in the country.

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A foreign minister can't just shoot his mouth off