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 The New York Times
Originally published in Nikkei Asian Review
King Vajiralongkorn 6 April signed draft constitution, important step toward general election; Constitution Drafting Commission now has until 2 Dec to complete ten organic laws, four governing parties and elections. Changes to draft constitution requested by king were revealed following promulgation: in most significant, Article 5 revised to return to past formula giving king – rather than Constitutional Court and committee of state-agency chiefs – authority to resolve political disputes not covered elsewhere in constitution; other changes give king complete control over appointment of regent during his absence and rescind requirement for parliamentary counter-signature to royal orders. Marked uptick in insurgent attacks in deep south from late March, including 3 April attack on police station in Krong Pinang district, Yala, wounding at least nine police; over twenty bomb attacks across three southernmost provinces and SE Songkhla on night of 6-7 April targeting electricity poles, causing power cuts but no casualties; thirteen attacks across Narathiwat, Pattani and Songkhla provinces 19 April, wounding eight people; ambush in Narathiwat 27 April killing five rangers and wounding one. Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN) 10 April issued statement reiterating points from Oct 2015 statement, setting out conditions for participation in dialogue with Bangkok: called for “participation of third parties (international community) as witnesses and observers”, credible and impartial mediator and process “designed clearly by the negotiating parties and agreed upon before the start of negotiation”; govt dismissed statement.
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 militants [of the National Revolutionary Front] continue to demonstrate that they have the capabilities to launch attacks across the region despite of the security measures by the Thai state.
[The main southern Thai insurgent group BRN] perceive the current (peace) process as one driven by Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur for their own interests.
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