Thailand’s junta has relinquished military rule in favour of pseudo-democracy in which a pro-military party governs with a narrow parliamentary majority. There are no obvious near-term triggers for political turmoil in Thailand, but the country’s fundamental political and social divisions have not been bridged, and there is potential for future conflict. In the deep south, the Malay-Muslim separatist insurgency continues, while the dialogue process appears moribund. Crisis Group aims to reduce the risk of escalation in the south and limit medium-term threats to political stability by supporting strengthened democratic institutions and promoting substantive peace talks.
Despite winning big at the polls on 14 May, Thailand’s Move Forward has been blocked from forming a government. In taking this step, as Crisis Group expert Matt Wheeler explains in this Q&A, the party’s conservative opponents are nudging the country toward turmoil.
Authorities convicted several individuals on lèse-majesté charges and condemned killing of Thai nationals in Israel, while violence persisted in deep south.
Courts handed down spate of convictions for lèse-majesté. Notably, Provincial court in Phitsanuloke 4 Oct convicted graduate student of lèse-majesté for Facebook posts, deferred sentencing for two years. Chiang Mai Provincial Court found activist Wanwalee Thammasattaya guilty of lèse-majesté, sentenced to two years and eight months in prison. Ratchapisek Criminal Court 11 Oct convicted man of lèse-majesté for post criticising COVID-19 vaccine production by Siam Bioscience company, which is owned by King Maha Vajiralongkorn; court gave suspended sentence of one year and six months. Activist Saharat Sukkhamla 19 Oct convicted of lèse-majesté for speech at protest Nov 2020, sentenced to two years and granted bail. Meanwhile, parliament 25 Oct voted to reject motion proposed by Move Forward Party to hold referendum on election of Constitution Drafting Assembly.
Govt condemned killing of Thai nationals in Israel. Following outbreak of war between Israel and Hamas (see Israel-Palestine), PM Srettha Thavisin 8 Oct condemned Hamas attack, which killed 29 Thai workers and saw at least eighteen taken hostage; some 30,000 Thai nationals work in Israel.
Insurgents continued attacks across deep south. Militants 30 Sept-1 Oct attacked security outposts in eleven locations across Pattani, Narathiwat and Yala provinces, causing no casualties. In Yala province, IED 3 Oct wounded two workmen in Yaha district. In Pattani province, two motorcycle-borne gunmen 5 Oct threw IED at security post in Nongchik district, lightly injuring two soldiers. Motorcycle-borne gunmen 6 Oct shot and killed chief of Don Sai subdistrict in Mai Kaen district. In Narathiwat, militants 21 Oct staged coordinated attacks in Tak Bai district, including three separate bombings and assault on checkpoint that wounded four police officers. Deputy PM Somsak Thepsutin 12 Oct announced govt would extend emergency decree for three months from 20 Oct but lifted decree in three districts – Krong Pinang in Yala, Thung Yang Daeng in Pattani and Yi-ngo in Narathiwat.
There’s a sense of hopelessness [in Thailand] — that there’s no way to effect any kind of real change in the available political avenues.
Negotiations between Bangkok and the main insurgent group in Thailand’s southernmost provinces are on hold, after making some promising advances. Structural and procedural changes could help keep the talks going when they resume.
The Thai government has restarted talks with the main insurgency in the country’s southernmost provinces. A quiet back channel helped the parties make progress – and reach a Ramadan ceasefire – while the official negotiations hosted by Malaysia paused. The parties should build on these achievements.
Youth-led protests demanding a new constitution and reforms to Thailand’s monarchy led the country to a perilous juncture in 2020. In this excerpt from our Watch List 2021, Crisis Group urges the EU and its member states to push for the cessation of excessive use of force against protesters, strengthen efforts to monitor the human rights situation and offer support should a reconciliation process materialise.
Young pro-democracy protesters have roiled Thai politics with a previously taboo demand to reform the country’s monarchy. As the state resists change, and conservative citizens recoil, the risk of violence is growing. The standoff poses Thailand’s existential question: is the king sovereign or are the people?
Anti-government protests and popular demands for reform, including of the once-sacrosanct monarchy, have accelerated in Thailand. In this Q&A, Crisis Group’s senior analyst for South East Asia, Matt Wheeler, explains how this crisis over political legitimacy has now reached a dangerous impasse.
Sound public health policies have largely spared Thailand from the coronavirus to date. But a looming economic crisis could shake the foundations of the political order. What is needed is revision of the 2017 constitution to allow for more pluralism and less inequality.
Talks to end the insurgency in Thailand’s southernmost provinces have repeatedly encountered obstacles, including the main rebel organisation’s abstention from the current round. With a new Thai official taking charge, and inviting that group to rejoin, both parties should drop objections that have hindered progress.
On 5 November, insurgents in southern Thailand staged their deadliest attack in years, killing fifteen people. Crisis Group’s South East Asia Senior Analyst, Matt Wheeler, explains what happened and what it means for the stagnant peace-dialogue process.
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