Will Thailand’s politicians talk about the violence in the Deep South during the election campaign?
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Will Thailand’s politicians talk about the violence in the Deep South during the election campaign?

VOA seems hopeful with the headline “Thai Election Season Brings New Push to Address Violence in South”. Key excerpts:

But with elections scheduled for July 3rd, both the governing Democrat Party and opposition Puea Thai Party hope to lure voter support in the region.

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, the Democrat Party leader, last week set out policies promoting special development zones. But Panitan Wattanayagorn, the government spokesman, says those reforms rule out regional autonomy.

“There are various study groups working on these issues along the way of creating a special zone specifically for the needs of the locals based on the current constitution. The constitution doesn’t allow the separation of the areas in such a way that reduces the sovereignty or the unity of the country,” stated Wattanayagorn.

In a bid to win votes in a region historically dominated by the Democrats, the opposition Puea Thai Party has favored a form of decentralization, but not the complete autonomy called for by insurgent groups. Kudeb Saikrajang is a Puea Thai Party supporter and former party spokesman.

We believe in the kind of autonomous entity for the provinces to work that way. But it doesn’t mean to have to be absolute authority to run the province. We may have more decentralization for the people there. And I think it’s the model for the South. I believe that a policy remains, remains with the party,” said Saikrajang.

BP: First, the Democrats have dominated the South although not the Deep South. In the 2007 general election, the Democrats won 5 out of 12 seats in the three southern border provinces/Deep South with PPP and the other third parties winning the rest. Hence, given that one party dominates the area many constituencies in the Deep South will be very competitive so you have policy positions from both of the major parties. For example, as mentioned above, Puea Thai have recently proposed a single elected governor for the three provinces – see here. This is a different form of decentralization that the Democrats have proposed which has been more autonomy at local level.

Second, while the main political parties will have policies on the Deep South. It doesn’t mean we will get much discussion in the election campaign about the violence in the Deep South. As noted by Anthony Davis in early May, a correspondent for Jane’s Defence Weekly who closely follows the southern insurgency, the violence in the Deep South  “remains a sideshow” (source). This is despite a string of high-profile attacks in Thailand’s Deep South in January and February 2011 – see herehere, and here. Since then the level of violence has stayed the same/slightly increased.* BP doesn’t expect we will get much discussion about the violence in the Deep South during the election. There will be some, but when you realize that more than 4,000 people have died over the last 7 years, shouldn’t the violence be a bigger issue?

*Despite claims by government that the violence was decreasing, the Secretary-General of the National Security Council Tawin Pleansri stated in early March conceded that the violence is increasing. Some preliminary figures that BP looked at back then showed that the level of violence – in terms of deaths – had increased slightly. BP should note that Tony Davis, in a talk at the FCCT in early May, said that he was skeptical that the violence has increased and that for some indicators it has, but for others it had not.  He said there were 21 IED attacks a month in 2009, 19 a month in 2010 and 15 a month in 2011. He said that for small arms attacks they had gone from just over 10 a month in 2009, to about 9 a month in 2010, and to just over 10 a month now. Nevertheless, Tony was rather pesimistic stating that insurgents are becoming leander and meaner.

In more recent months, the insurgents appear to be going on bursts of violence. For example, 8 people killed in a 24-hour period in March and then again in early May.

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