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(November 1, 2019) Thai chairmanship ends on upbeat note

Just as Thailand's chairmanship of Asean is about to end and a flurry of Asean-related summits are about to transpire, this year has been more eventful for Southeast Asia's 10-member grouping than anticipated. Despite its domestic constraints, Thailand has managed to steer the sometimes unwieldy ship of Asean with limited propulsion and direction. If Vietnam as the next chair can build on momentum from this year, Asean might just be able to regain and reboot its role in the near term as the de facto bridge, broker and buffer for the wider Indo-Pacific region, notwithstanding its usual warts and flaws.

Thailand's domestic political situation stood in the way at the outset of the country's role as Asean chair. In the first half of the year, elections and the resulting government appeared murky and volatile. At first, it was unclear when polls would actually take place, then it became uncertain about what kind of government stability and capability could come out of such a controversial election from a flawed constitution. At the 34th Asean Summit last June, the hosting Thai government was still in transition mode as coalition formation had not been completed. Lingering memories of the last time Thailand chaired Asean in 2008-09, when street protesters disrupted top-level meetings, also compounded a sense of unease about Thailand's performance as host of major international events when its domestic politics have become extreme and violent.