See More on Facebook

Analysis, Opinion

Peace hopes dimmed by Prayut’s return

Thailand’s restive southern provinces did not back the former coup-leader.

Written by

Updated: July 30, 2019

Three months after disputed elections, the dust has almost settled. We now know the new government will be led by General Prayut Chan-o-cha, who has ruled with an iron fist for the past five years after staging a military coup in 2014.

What does this mean for people in the deep South, who have suffered violent conflict for the past 15 years?

Not long after the coup, I remember Malay-Muslims saying it was an opportune time for peace talks with the government. They believed that power in Thailand lay in the hands of the traditional elite, who provided tacit support for the post-coup military government. Hence, negotiations under a military regime had more chance of success.

Needless to say they have been proven wrong. The Kuala Lumpur-facilitated peace talks, initiated by the Yingluck Shinawatra government and resumed under Prayut’s leadership, failed to achieve any tangible results. A year was lost to a dispute over whether or not the MARA Patani, a newly established umbrella organisation of separatist groups, should be mentioned in the terms of reference. The Thai government refused to officially acknowledge that MARA Patani was its dialogue partner, fearing that would be tantamount to recognising the existence of organised armed groups and risk attracting international intervention. It insisted on using a vague term, phuhentangchak rat, or people with different views from the state.

At the same time, MARA Patani faced serious questions over its ability to control militants and also over the mandate of several Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN) members who joined the grouping. The BRN clarified it was not involved in the military-led peace talks. However, it later expressed readiness to talk to the Thai government, provided its preconditions were heeded – most importantly the involvement of international observers. That demand fell on deaf ears, as the junta again feared such a step would internationalise the conflict and open the door to secession.

After Mara Patani made a tactical compromise and agreed to accept the new terms of reference without change in September 2016, the talks were limited to the establishment of “safety zones” in some districts. The joint technical team finished drafting the safety-zone framework and implementation plan in early 2018. This plan, designated for Narathiwat’s Joh I Rong district as a pilot project, failed after Thai authorities refused to endorse the agreement reached by the technical team. The repeated foot-dragging has raised suspicions over the junta’s commitment to a peaceful negotiated settlement.

In late 2018, Malaysia’s political landscape shifted dramatically. Mahathir Mohamad returned as premier, prompting changes in the facilitator and the composition of dialogue teams on both sides. Abdul Rahim Noor, a former Malaysian police chief, was appointed as new facilitator, followed by the appointment of General UdomchaiThammasarorat – a former southern commander and currently an appointed senator – as the new head of the Thai dialogue team. Udomchai’s appointment was not well received by MARA Patani.

Given that the southern policy continues to be in the hands of the same cliques, it is hard to take an optimistic view of conflict resolution in the deep South.

At the heart of the conflict is the question of local people’s power to manage their own affairs according to their way of life. Some use the term “right to self-determination”, which has become controversial, as it is considered a euphemism for independence. In reality, self-determination can be either “internal” or “external”. It could range from some degree of autonomy, to outright secession. The latter is not a viable option under the Thai Constitution, which says the Kingdom is indivisible.

Prayut’s track record shows he has no intention to discuss any political grievances in the South or give any concessions. His approach is to focus on quelling the violence, while maintaining the status quo.

Opinion is divided on whether the “pro-democracy” camp, which comprises seven anti-junta political parties, would perform better in this matter. Most of them have campaigned on political platforms starkly different from the previous government’s approach. They advocate political as opposed to military means to resolve the conflict, and for decentralisation, particularly in the fields of culture and education. Newcomer Future Forward Party has proposed reducing the military presence in the South, while Prachachart, the only party led by a Malay Muslim with a strong base in the South, has promoted multiculturalism and recognition of different ethnic identities. However, these proposed policies won’t be implemented as long as the military-led government remains in power.

The coup leaders have transformed into a purported “democratic” government via one of the most controversial elections in Thai history. The 2017 Constitution, drafted by a junta-appointed committee and passed by a tightly controlled referendum, has institutionalised a distorted electoral and parliamentary system, which give coup leaders-turned-politicians a huge advantage over opposing parties. In other words, authoritarianism has been embedded in the political system. One of the most outrageous constitutional clauses enabled the 250-member Senate, appointed by the coup leaders, to vote alongside the 500 lower house MPs in the selection of the prime minister.

The political system has been so distorted that it cannot fairly represent the will of the people. If one counts popular votes for the pro-junta and anti-junta parties nationwide as well as in the deep South, there is no doubt that the victory belongs to the pro-democracy camp.

The military’s conventional approach to tackling the southern conflict has been a failure. A new way of thinking will emerge only if a more genuinely democratic electoral and parliamentary system begins to function.


Rungrawee Chalermsripinyorat is a former Regional Desk journalist at The Nation and currently a PhD candidate at the Australian National University.

Enjoyed this story? Share it.

The Nation (Thailand)
About the Author: The Nation is a broadsheet, English-language daily newspaper founded in 1971 and published in Bangkok, Thailand.

Eastern Briefings

All you need to know about Asia

Our Eastern Briefings Newsletter presents curated stories from 22 Asian newspapers from South, Southeast and Northeast Asia.

Sign up and stay updated with the latest news.

By providing us with your email address, you agree to our Privacy Policy and Terms of Service.

View Today's Newsletter Here

Analysis, Opinion

North Korea beefs up self-defense capabilities in military reorganization

The North have been making many changes ahead of talks. North Korean leader Kim Jong-un presided over a meeting of the top military decision-making body to accelerate the development of self-defense capabilities ahead of key events that will decide its national strategy, its state media reported Sunday. Discussions on ways to bolster its military capabilities through organizational restructuring and personnel reshuffle were highlighted during the third expanded meeting of the seventh central military commission of the ruling Workers’ Party. Details on what measures were discussed were not disclosed. “At the meeting, Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un

By Zaffar Abbas
December 23, 2019

Analysis, Opinion

The Chinese version

Muhammad Amir Rana asks what is the Chinese version of Islam.  TENSIONS between China and the US have escalated after the House of Representative’s Uighur Human Rights Policy Act, 2019. The move is of a piece with the allegations of many international media and human rights organisations that China is persecuting the Uighur community and violating their rights — allegations that Beijing has denied. Calling the US action a political move aimed at damaging its international image, China says it is running a deradicalisation programme to mainstream its communities. Read: Amid global outcry, China defends internment camps of minorities in Xinjiang The Chinese claim has not been verified by independent sources and mystery shrouds its deradicalisation or re-education programme. China needs to demonstra

By Asia News Network
December 16, 2019

Analysis, Opinion

India, China step up the wooing but Rajapaksa in no hurry to align Sri Lanka

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa will try to balance the competing interests of China, India in the region. The conversation in regional capitals after the emphatic win of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa in the Sri Lankan elections last month centres around a central question: Will he manage to pull a Sheikh Hasina on India and China? The reference, of course, is to the Bangladesh Prime Minister who many believe has managed to successfully push her country’s interests by balancing the competing strategic ambitions of China and India in South Asia. And Rajapaksa knows a thing or two about protecting what he believes are his country’s core interests. After all, he braved the Western world’s intense criticism – and India’s acute discomfort given its large domestic Tamil population – of the means adopted by him as Defence Minister in his brother and former President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s

By Ishan Joshi
December 12, 2019

Analysis, Opinion

Nepal moves up in Human Development Index but still lags behind in South Asia

Nepal’s human development index of 0,579 indicates that people are living longer, are more educated and have greater incomes, according to the Human Development Report. Despite global progress in tackling poverty, hunger and disease, a ‘new generation of inequalities’ indicates that many societies are not working as they should and Nepal is not an exception, according to a new human development report released on Tuesday. The old inequalities were based on access to health services and education whereas the new generation of inequalities is based on technology, education and the climate, according to the United Nations Development Programme’s Human Development Report. “Previously, we talked about wealth as a major driver for inequality. Now, countries like Nepal are in another inequality trap and that concerns

By The Kathmandu Post
December 12, 2019

Analysis, Opinion

Is polarisation driven by Hyper Information Disorder Syndrome?

In a study of Bangladesh, Brazil, Colombia, India, Indonesia, Kenya, Poland, Turkey and the US, writes ANDREW SHENG, scientists attribute populism to the rise of decisive leaders who push nationalism, demonise opponents and stir up issues that further divide societies. BANGKOK – Mass protests seem to be breaking out all over the place, from Hong Kong to Santiago, Tehran, Bolivia, Catalonia, Ecuador, France and Iraq to Lebanon.  The root causes of these protests have many local reasons, but there are common themes, such as inequality, corruption, incompetent governments, rural-urban migration, demography, anger, social media and demand for change. But underlying all these protests is the growing polarization of societies, increasingly manifested in viol

By Asia News Network
December 9, 2019

Analysis, Opinion

Rohingya Crisis Fallout

Transparency International Bangladesh has painted a grim outlook for the crisis. Bangladesh faces long-term financial, political and security challenges as Rohingya repatriation may not happen anytime soon, said Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB) Executive Director Dr Iftekharuzzaman. The fund from the international community for nearly one million Rohingyas may not sustain as no strong international initiative has been taken to oblige Myanmar for creating a conducive environment for the refugees to return soon, he said. “As a result, Bangladesh’s socio-economic instability will grow. There are risks of security at local and national levels. The crisis also creates political and diplomatic challenges for the government,” Iftekharuzzaman said. It also involves the risks of growing extremism as the people who face violence are more likely to become violent, he said at a press confere

By Daily Star
December 6, 2019