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South seems not to count at election time


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South seems not to count at election time

By The Nation





The border provinces are afire again, and yet the attention of politicians and voters lies elsewhere


The last time there was sustained discussion about granting the southern border provinces any form of autonomy was eight years ago. The Malay-Muslim insurrection in its current form has been going on for 15 years and claimed 7,000 lives.


In 2011 there was a national election in the offing, and almost every party contending it stated the intent, if elected, to grant the far South some form of special status. The Democrat Party did not pledge autonomy outright and yet won 11 of the region’s 12 House seats in the poll. 


Democrat leader Abhisit Vejjajiva once said autonomy didn’t necessarily mean there should be administrative or bureaucratic reform to let southerners elect their own governors and municipal chiefs. He pointed out that historical, social and cultural factors had to be considered, given that the violence is rooted in the Thai state’s refusal to recognise the region’s fundamentally Malay identity.


Thailand is now heading towards its first general election in many years and the political atmosphere in the South has changed dramatically in the meantime, with its veteran politicians jumping to parties where they frankly don’t belong. It is thus next to impossible to predict how southerners will vote this time around. If the past tells us anything, though, it is that they do not attach high priority to regional autonomy, not even the vast majority who identify as Malay rather than Thai.


In 2011 the Democrats’ campaign emphasised equality and justice, and they won the vote in the South. Yingluck Shinawatra won the election nationally – and then, under pressure from the Army, reneged on her party’s promise to bring a measure of autonomy to the South. 


It could be argued that campaign promises are meant to be broken, and that the southern Malays expect little or nothing anyway, regardless of which parties form the government. The far South doesn’t seem to be a major consideration in parties’ strategy for any general election. The aim is national victory, and if catering to Yala, Narathiwat and Pattani threatens that, they will be ignored.


Thai society in general has never warmed to the Malays, whose very distinctiveness challenges ingrained notions of unified nationhood. Citizens elsewhere are fuming about the ruling junta’s latest election delay, not about the recent spike in violence in the border provinces.


And yet we have seen a retired schoolteacher brutally murdered so his vehicle could be turned into a car bomb and a bloody shootout at a school while kids were in class. A police station came under attack. Insurgents have been gunned down in turn. Fifteen years on, the end still is nowhere in sight.


The government’s latest chief negotiator, General Udomchai Thammasaroraj, has failed to progress with peace talks, which to be meaningful must include the main perpetrators of the violence, the Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN). Discussions with the separatist umbrella organisation MARA Patani have produced no results in three years. Udomchai is simply going to have to concede something to the BRN as a lure. As it is, decades of broken promises form a barricade to peace. 


A worthwhile first step would be to find someone trusted by both sides to mediate, just as the Malaysian government is facilitating the talks with MARA Patani. That dialogue should continue, but until the insurgents with the guns are included, the solution will remain out of reach.


Source: http://www.nationmultimedia.com/detail/opinion/30362260

-- © Copyright The Nation 2019-01-15
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7 hours ago, webfact said:

A worthwhile first step would be to find someone trusted by both sides to mediate

Start with exclusion of the Thai military and pro-military politicians would be the first step.

The second step has already been proposed by BNR two years ago- third party international mediators. However, the Thai military leadership has repeatedly refused such suggestion as it would "internationalize" negotiations whereas the military views the insurgency as strictly an internal matter, ie., within the context of Thailand's existing sovereignty.

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