Asian politics and leadership this week

By Joshua Corcuera

Thailand went to the polls last Sunday, May 14, with a record-high voter turnout of more than 75%. The outcome is simple and straightforward: a resounding victory for the pro-democracy opposition and a humiliating defeat for the current military government.

The Move Forward Party led the vote with a stunning victory, closely followed by Pheu Thai, another opposition-leaning political party led by the well-known Shinawatra clan. Interestingly, Move Forward ran on a liberal and progressive platform which gained enormous support among young Thais. As the results were reported, Move Forward won the highest number of seats among contesting parties, as well as the largest share of the popular vote.

Meanwhile, the conservative, military-backed parties placed a mere fourth and fifth. For context, a military junta seized power in 2014 and rewrote the Constitution to enable themselves to remain powerful and influential. So much so that, despite its huge loss early this week, they would still have a say on who will be the next Prime Minister of Thailand. This is because the country’s 250-seat Senate is entirely chosen by the military, and is not elected by the people.

Hence, the future of the political landscape in Thailand is still precarious and uncertain. However, the will of the people is too strong and too loud to deny: there is an overwhelming desire for change. During its existence and the campaign, Move Forward has called for huge reforms, even in the topics and issues that are considered taboo in Thailand, particularly the strict lese majeste laws that seek to prevent Thais from criticizing their monarch and royal family.


In other news regarding Asian politics this week, former Philippine Vice President, Atty. Leni Robredo, is one of the selected speakers in the 2023 Asian Leadership Conference held last May 17 and 18 in Seoul, South Korea.

Robredo was joined by other prominent leaders such as current South Korean President Yoon Suk-Yeol, former British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, as well as the former leaders of Australia, Italy, Israel, Poland, among others.

In a Facebook post, Robredo shared a picture with 97-year-old Mohamad, Malaysia’s premier for over two decades, first serving from 1981 to 2003, then from 2018 to 2020. She also had snapshots with the first lady of Ukraine, Olena Zelenska, in the said event.

However, some Filipino progressives in social media raised alarm of whether Robredo’s team was informed of the fellow speakers she has joined with for the event. Given the prestige of the other speakers in their respective countries, there is no doubt that some of these people have stirred controversy back home.

For instance, former Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett was criticized for opposing equal rights for LGBTQ+ people and has served in the notorious Israeli Defense Forces. Meanwhile, even the incumbent leader of South Korea, Yoon himself, also caught controversy as he vowed to abolish the Ministry of Gender Equality and promoted the militarization of his country.

To me, though, it is extremely unfair to judge Robredo simply because of the fellow speakers she found herself with on the said event. Progressives were primarily concerned, as it seems in social media, that some fellow speakers were conservatives or were positioned in the right of the political spectrum.

With this, it is best if they were to perceive this event as an opportunity for a healthy, constructive exchange of ideas between the left and the right, between the liberals and the conservatives, and so forth. Moreover, Robredo’s presence and participation, arguably, may counter conservative voices in the event, if the situation calls for it in the first place.

To begin with, the said event does not necessarily put the political left and right against one another; it focuses more on the sharing of experiences of leaders during the time they were still in power. It may be merely a coincidence by the event organizers that several former leaders speaking in the event share different political beliefs.

Furthermore, the argument by some progressives exhibits some sort of generalization fallacy. It is important to note that there are nearly 400 leaders in the said conference from various fields dealing with leadership, and it is not strictly confined to leadership in politics.

Nonetheless, the presence of a Filipino in the Asian Leadership Conference is a good recognition that we Filipinos are capable of sharing valuable knowledge and experience, as far as leadership is concerned, to foreigners.