The outcomes of the 42nd ASEAN Summit  

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) convened the 42nd ASEAN Summit from 10 to 11 May 2023 in Labuan Bajo, Indonesia under the theme “ASEAN Matters: Epicentrum of Growth.” 

The two-day meeting was conducted with the inclusion of Timor-Leste as the observer state and the exclusion of Myanmar from the summit. Thailand was represented by its deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Affairs Minister, Don Pramudwinai. During the meeting, ASEAN condemned the attack on a humanitarian aid convoy that ASEAN had arranged, including Indonesian and Singaporean diplomats, for the displaced people in Myanmar. ASEAN also asked Myanmar for the immediate cessation of all forms of violence and the use of force so that a conducive environment can be created for the safe and timely delivery of humanitarian assistance to the victims, and the holding of inclusive national dialogues.  

On the South China Sea issue, ASEAN also called for all relevant claimant states to lessen the tension and practice self-restraint in the South China Sea because land reclamations and serious incidents have eroded trust and confidence, increased tensions, and may undermine peace, security, and stability in the region. The Philippines asked all parties for a swift completion of a code of conduct for the South China Sea.   

Furthermore, the leaders also noted the increasing abuse of technology in facilitating trafficking in persons in Southeast Asia, and globally, and pledged to crack down on online scams operated by human traffickers to prey on vulnerable job seekers, particularly in the poorest countries of the region. ASEAN’s efforts to combat human trafficking includes enhancing the capacity of law enforcement agencies to investigate, collect data, exchange information, and conduct joint exercises.  

In addition, ASEAN also adopted various documents that reiterated the need to promote a cohesive and immediate ASEAN response for addressing current and future threats. These include the ASEAN Leaders’ Statement on the Recent Attack on a Convoy of the AHA Centre and ASEAN Monitoring Team in Myanmar, ASEAN Leaders’ Statement on the Development of the ASEAN Community’s Post-2025 Vision, the ASEAN Leaders’ Statement on Strengthening ASEAN’s Capacity and Institutional Effectiveness, and the ASEAN Leaders’ Declaration on Combating Trafficking in Persons Caused by The Abuse of Technology among others.   

Separately, ASEAN also adopted a roadmap for Timor-Leste’s full membership into ASEAN. The Indonesian Foreign Minister confirmed that “the commitment of the ASEAN member states was very loud and clear that we are ready to support them to fulfil the criteria of the roadmap.” Vietnam and Indonesia showed their support for the membership of Timor-Leste during the summit.  

On the Myanmar issue, Indonesia Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi said “Indonesia decided to take a non-megaphone diplomacy approach to provide space for the parties to build trust” while Malaysia’s Foreign Minister Zamby Abdul Kadir said ASEAN was serious about Myanmar “but it had to come as a force together.” 

On the sidelines, the new Malaysian Prime Minister, Anwar Ibrahim, also held bilateral meetings with the leaders of Brunei, Vietnam, Laos, and Timor-Leste focusing on economic cooperation, investment, education, and agricultural opportunities.  

The summit concluded with cooperative documents being adopted and good indications for Timor-Leste’s future ASEAN membership; while the disputed South China Sea and the Myanmar issue would remain high in ASEAN’s post-summit agenda. 

The current political situation in Thailand 

The Kingdom of Thailand is seeing some momentum in its politics with the ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra recently signalling his potential return to the country, and the outcome of the Thai election to form a new parliament, held on 14 May 2023. 

Less than a week before the Thai election, the ousted leader Thaksin Shinawatra posted on social media his desire to return to Thailand by July to see his grandchildren. Thaksin said he is prepared to face justice, including several convictions on charges such as abuse of power and corruption. If Thaksin follows through on his pledge to return before his birthday on July 26, he could face at least a decade behind bars. In January last year, Thaksin again vowed to return announcing that among his intentions was his desire to help the government solve problems, give lectures, and lobby wealthy Thais to support start-ups. 

Thailand held its general election on 14 May 2023 and about 39.3 million people casted their votes. This election had the highest voter turnout ever recorded at 75.22%. The surprising winner of the unofficial results was the Move Forward Party (MFP), led by Pita Limjaroenrat, which won 151 seats in the Thai parliament. The Pheu Thai party was in second place with 141 seats. The Bhumjaithai Party, which spearheaded the campaign to legalize cannabis in Thailand won 70 seats and overtook the United Thai Nation Party of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha which won only 36 seats, while his former party – the Palang Pracharath – won 40 seats.  

The MFP and Pheu Thai have agreed to work together to form a coalition government. However, Pita will need a majority of at least 376 votes from the 500-seat House of Representatives to nullify the 250 votes from the military-appointed Senate. The Senate will need to approve Thailand’s next prime minister and this remains unclear given the MFP’s reform agenda, including its ambition to reform Thailand’s lese-majeste law. The head of Thailand’s army, General Chalermchai Sitthisat, said before the election that the military would respect the outcome of the election and pledged not to stage a coup afterwards; the army has been seizing power a dozen times in Thailand in the past century, most recently in 2014. 

On Thaksin’s return, Prime Minister Prayuth said “It is up to him, it is up to the justice system”. Thaksin said he would not “be a burden to Pheu Thai party” and would follow the legal processes. One Thai scholar said before the election that “the announcement could hint that Pheu Thai is seeking a deal that could see them joining up with their former rivals in order to get Thaksin home”.  

On the Thai election, the MFP leader, Pita Limjaroenrat, said his policy priorities over the next four years would be to “demilitarize, demonopolize, and decentralize” Thailand. There are those who questioned whether the Thai military elite will let the winning opposition rule over them. Moreover, while some are still impressed that MFP was the leading party to form a government, Thitinan Pongsudhirak said “this is an unmistakable frontal rebuke, a rejection of Thailand’s military authoritarian past. It’s a rejection of military dominance in politics.” Thaksin also praised the MFP for their ability to adapt quickly to the rapidly changing world of social media, leveraging the power of platforms such as TikTok for their campaign. He said that “the MFP has embraced change rapidly and contemporarily, using TikTok effectively. Old political parties do not understand this approach.” 

The possible return of Thaksin could mark a huge milestone for the ousted former leader while the Thai election significantly showed how the Thais are ready for a regime change under a new leader. 


Sovinda Po is a Research Assistant at the Griffith Asia Institute.