Southeast Asia, as well as the world's major powers, will be watching closely to see if the successor of Thai Prime Minister Kriangsak Chamanan can reestablish stability in Thailand.
For Thailand has emerged as the frontline state in noncommunist Southeast Asia's confrontation with Vietnam. Other members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), especially Singapore, are concerned that without stable leadership Thailand would be vulnerable to infiltration or even invasion, which might eventually spread to other parts of the region.
Both China and the United States share this concern. Both had have moved closer to Thailand to buttress it militarily and politically against the possibility that Vietnam might invade in "hot pursuit" of China- backed Khmer Rouge guerrillas.
General Kriangsak was widely seen, during his 27 months in office, as a skillful politician who might bring unity to thailand by ending the Right-Left ideological confrontation that his predecessor Field Marshall Thanom left behind.
But by the time of his Feb. 29 resignation, the general had come under heavy attack for unpopular economic policies, which included oil and electricity price hikes in early February. There were rumors of behind-the-scenes maneuvers to produce a coup. The opposition criticized the price rise.
Meanwhile, some officials within the government critized the general for departing, for political reasons, over necessary but unpopular economic policies. A major Cabinet shakeup in February failed to solve these problems.
The general's decision to quit forestalled an attempt by opposition politicians to force him out with a no-confidence motion next week. Leaving the government is necessary to insure stability and preserve democracy, he said.
As of this writing a joint session of parliament was scheduled to meet Monday , March 3, to choose General Kriangsak's successor. There has been speculation that if there is no agreement on a successor, the general might be induced to return to power. However, strong opposition from labor unions and five major political parties stands in the way.
Another possibility is that Defense Minister Prem Tinsulanonda could take over. general Prem is known for his work in counterinsurgency campaigns and has nearly 40 years of Army experience. He is regarded as unlikely to turn down a request to serve.
But whoever emerges on top, a fair amount of continuity is likely to result. Thailand is known for the continual influence exerted by government and military bureaucracies, regardless of who is in top command.
Still, the character and skill of the man on top are considered extremely important at a time when Thailand faces delicate problems in dealing with Vietnamese-dominated Cambodia. The kind of economic and social policies pushed by thailand's leaders will also help determine how vulnerable the country is to communist guerrilla insurgents.
any new leader will need the backing of the military and support from at least some of the country's political parties. Acceptance by labor and student groups would also help.