The August bombings in seven of Thailand's tourist towns portend a wider conflict, while the peace dialogue process has lost momentum. To get back on track, fragmented militants must end doubtful hopes of victory through violence, and the government must commit to a comprehensive settlement, including decentralisation and respect for the deep south’s Malay-Muslim identity.
Originally published in Nikkei Asian Review
Originally published in The New York Times
Several members of National Legislative Assembly (NLA) early Jan said general election may have to be further postponed from late 2017 to mid-2018 because lawmakers needed more time to draft organic laws on parties and polling; PM Prayuth Chan-ocha later conceded election unlikely before 2018. Prayuth 10 Jan announced king had declined to endorse draft constitution, seeking changes in provisions relating to royal powers; NLA and cabinet quickly amended interim constitution to permit amendments to draft. Prayuth 17 Jan said amendments would be completed in one month before being sent to king again for endorsement within 90 days. NCPO mid-Jan announced launch of political reconciliation process, led by deputy PM Prawit Wongsuwan and to begin with MoU to be signed by all political actors committing to follow rules and abide by outcome of next general election. Prawit said govt would seek opinions from politicians, but will not yet lift ban on political party activity. Politicians responded warily; Democrat Party member and former FM Kasit Piromya and former Pheu Thai Party parliamentarian Worachai Hema both suggested military also sign MoU and pledge to refrain from staging coups. Sapaeing Basor, reputed leader of Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN), died in exile in Malaysia 10 Jan. PM Prayuth offered condolences to Sapaeing’s family, ordered authorities to facilitate return of his remains to Thailand; tens of thousands turned out for his funeral prayers in Yala and Pattani 16 Jan. Ongoing violence in Deep South included school director shot dead by gunmen in Yala’s Muang district 4 Jan; suspected insurgent killed in military-police raid of his home in Yala’s Raman district 16 Jan.
Thailand’s military regime promised a return to democracy, but keeps prolonging its power by delaying general elections. Beyond a new constitution, Thailand needs a new social contract to resolve the crippling struggle between elected politicians and an unelected establishment that includes the army, bureaucracy and palace.
The insurgency that has plagued southern Thailand for more than a decade continues to fester. Peace talks have collapsed and rifts between the government and separatists remain deep. Resolving the conflict requires Bangkok to accept pluralism and decentralisation, and rebels to articulate their goals and commit to a dialogue process.
Martial law has brought calm but not peace to Thailand’s febrile politics. The military regime’s stifling of dissent precludes a frank dialogue on the kingdom’s future and could lead to greater turmoil than that which brought about the May 2014 coup.
After a decade of violence, the capabilities of Malay-Muslim insurgents in Thailand’s Deep South are outpacing the counter-measures of successive governments in Bangkok that have been mired in complacency and protracted national-level political disputes.
The violent border clashes between Thailand and Cambodia earlier this year have challenged the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) to turn its rhetoric into action, but to achieve peace and security more robust diplomacy is required to end a still unresolved conflict.
The bombings [in Thailand] may have been intended to compel the military government to reconsider its approach to the conflict in the deep south.
Two years of military rule haven't really resolved any of the fundamental problems [in Thailand] ... and the constitution won't succeed in doing that either. The day of reckoning is just being delayed.
Originally published in Bangkok Post
Originally published in The Interpreter