What is the problem in Thailand’s Deep South?
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What is the problem in Thailand’s Deep South?

Newsweek quotes Thailand PM Abhisit Vejjaviva as stating that the government is making progress by lifting the state of emergency in three districts in the Deep South, but the view from others is less positive. Key excerpts:

Yet analysts familiar with the region, where parts of the Muslim and ethnic-Malay majority have long clamored for a political voice, say the conflict is far from easing. In fact, while violence in the three districts in question has traditionally been low, it has risen overall during Abhisit’s two-year tenure, according to analysts. “The violence isn’t down,” says Zachary Abuza, a professor at the National War College who has done extensive fieldwork in the area. “People just accept that violence as the new normal.

The core issue is legitimacy, says Duncan McCargo, a professor of Southeast Asian politics at the University of Leeds. Thailand’s government is extremely centralized, with even regional governors appointed by Bangkok, where the military and monarchy sit. In the South, many residents feel estranged from the power structure, and the notion has been exacerbated by the military presence and decades of neglect. The red-shirt protesters who occupied part of central Bangkok for two months last year were supporters of Shinawatra, a populist billionaire who went into exile after being deposed in a 2006 military coup—and was the first prime minister to begin shifting some power from Bangkok to the country’s North, which is his base. “What you see in the Deep South is just an extreme version of the national problem in Thailand, which is that power is overly concentrated in Bangkok,” McCargo says. The red shirts took to the streets again in the capital this month following the lifting of the emergency decree.

Devolution of power is the only long-term answer, both in the Deep South and countrywide, according to Michael Montesano of the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore. Yet the controversial subject is unlikely to be broached any time soon: the Bangkok elite are reluctant to cede real power, while Abhisit’s government is backed by Thailand’s most centralized powers—the military and the crown. “It would be hard to do this even if there weren’t a political crisis,” says Montesano. Until the country’s leaders are willing to address the longstanding grievances held by Thais outside the traditional power structure, unrest, both in the South and in Bangkok, will likely continue to be the norm.

BP: BP has already blogged about the idea of autonomy for the Deep South when Chavalit raised the issue here, the idea of a referendum here, on a op-ed by Atiya here in the Bangkok Post, another op-ed by Veera in the Bangkok Post here, and an op-ed by Chandler Vandergrift in the Bangkok Post on whether autonomy is the answer here. BP does think that devolution of power through greater autonomy will help although as we have seen in the Philippines an autonomous region has not completely solved the problem (see here, here, and here). We have seen little progress on autonomy with the government struggling to deal with other domestic problems.

On the lifting of the state of emergency in Mae Lan district in Pattani province, this post from the beginning of 2008 on the violence in 2007 in Pattani:

For Pattani, 99 incidents in Saiburi District, 86 incidents in Nong Chik District, 77 incidents in Yarang District, 75 incidents in Muang District, 60 incidents in Khok Pho District, 36 incidents in Khok Pho District, 34 incidents in Mayo District, 31 incidents in Panare District, 30 incidents in Yaring District, 23 incidents in Thung Yang Daeng, 18 incidents in Mai Kaen District, and 5 incidents in Mae Lan District.

From some statistics from Deep South Watch from 2004-2008 shows that there were 32 districts in the Deep South with more violent incidents than Mae Lan. It has a low percentage of violence. According to Wikipedia, it also has a high percentage of Buddhists (37%). So BP doesn’t see that the lifting of the state of emergency in Mae Lan is a sign of progress (in the sense that the situation there has changed so much) as the violence has already been low in Mae Lan. It is more symbolic. Nevertheless, it is a good thing that in districts were there is little violence that a state of emergency is not in place.

btw, PPT has comments on the same article here.

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