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.
Parliament appointed PM from opposition Pheu Thai after forging coalition with pro-military parties, raising prospect of protests and unstable coalition; insecurity persisted in deep south.
Pheu Thai joined forces with establishment parties to form next govt. Pheu Thai, which came second in May elections, 2 Aug abandoned eight-party coalition led by election winners Move Forward Party, citing latter’s promise to amend lèse-majesté law; Pheu Thai nominated real estate tycoon Srettha Thavisin as its candidate for PM. Pheu Thai 21 Aug announced it had formed 11-party coalition comprising pro-military parties, which essentially pairs party with same pro-military coalition that was rejected in May polls, breaking Pheu Thai’s election promise not to join forces with 2014 coup plotters. Joint sitting of parliament 22 Aug appointed Srettha as PM, ending months of jockeying; all signs, however, point toward unstable coalition hobbled by mutual mistrust, as well as possible street protests by disaffected voters.
Authorities arrested self-exiled former PM upon his return. Pheu Thai de facto leader Thaksin Shinawatra 22 Aug returned to Thailand after 15 years in self-imposed exile to escape abuse of power trials following 2006 coup that deposed his govt. Arrested upon arrival, Thaksin appeared at Supreme Court before being taken to Bangkok Remand Prison to begin eight-year sentence for three convictions; local media late Aug reported Thaksin applied for royal pardon.
Southernmost provinces witnessed slight uptick in attacks. In Narathiwat province, motorcycle-borne gunmen 3 Aug killed Muslim man in Cho Ai Rong district. Motorcycle-borne assailants 7 Aug attacked eight-strong army patrol in Tak Bai district with pipe bombs and small arms, killing soldier. IED attack 17 Aug killed ranger in Si Sakhon district. Gunmen 19 Aug killed off-duty paramilitary ranger in Chanae district. Militants strung banners in Bacho, Cho Ai Rong, Rangae, and Yi Ngo districts with message, “Is there lasting peace?”. In Pattani province, IED attack on military truck 3 Aug killed soldier and wounded five others in Yaring district; gunmen next day killed retired army colonel in Yaring. Combined army, police and defence volunteer force 16 Aug surrounded suspected insurgents in Nongchik district, ensuing gunfight killed two suspects. Gunmen 27 Aug killed former village headman in Saiburi district.
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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