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.
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.
Regular and large-scale anti-govt protests resumed in capital Bangkok, leading to clashes with police, while violence continued in deep south. Hundreds of anti-govt protesters 1 Aug demonstrated in Bangkok, demanding resignation of PM Prayuth Chan-ocha; protesters launched projectiles at police, injuring 13 officers, and police responded with water cannons, rubber bullets and tear gas, arresting 11 protesters. Over 1,000 anti-govt protesters 7 Aug clashed with police near Victory Monument en route to Government House; police used water cannons, tear gas and rubber bullets against demonstrators, leaving at least two civilians and three police officers injured. Protesters 10 Aug gathered for rally and clashed with police in Din Daeng district; police responded with tear gas and rubber bullets, arresting at least 48 people. Near-daily clashes continued 11-19 Aug in Din Daeng. During protest at Government House, 15-year-old protester was shot 16 Aug; police denied using live ammunition. Protesters 20 Aug marched to Swiss, U.S. and Chinese embassies to air grievances against govt. Police 24 Aug arrested seven men in Nakhon Pathom province with 18 small improvised “ping pong” bombs, allegedly for use in upcoming anti-govt rally. Meanwhile, media outlets and human rights lawyers 2 Aug petitioned Civil Court to void PM Prayuth’s late-July order to censor online criticism of govt’s COVID-19 response; court 6 Aug ruled emergency decree order was unconstitutional, forcing Prayuth 10 Aug to rescind order. Opposition 16 Aug filed no-confidence motions against PM and five other ministers, chiefly triggered by alleged mismanagement of pandemic. Violence continued in deep south. Security forces 2 Aug killed insurgent in Nong Chik district, Pattani province. At least 15 militants next day attacked ranger camp on Kolok River, (Tak Bai district, Narathiwat province) on Thailand-Malaysia border, killing one ranger and injuring four others. Pipe bomb 23 Aug injured one soldier in Myang district, Yala province. Militants 28 Aug ambushed cargo train in Rangae district, Narathiwat. Bomb same day in Muang district, Yala province, wounded local official.
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.
Thailand’s Malay-Muslim insurgency appears to some observers a potential seedbed for transnational jihadism, but the separatist fronts do not share ideologies or objectives with ISIS or al-Qaeda. The future is uncertain, and a resolution of the conflict, based on political decentralisation, could help deter prospective jihadist expansion in southernmost Thailand.
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.
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.
I think the reason [for the new talks in Thailand] is that [the Muslim separatists] recognize that the conflict is not going to end on the battlefield for them; it's going to have to end at the negotiating table.
As difficult as the [peace process in Thailand] has been up to this point, the most difficult work remains to be done.
[The Barisan Revolusi Nasional sees its struggle as] nationalist and anti-colonial. Subordinating their struggle to a forlorn agenda imposed by outsiders would be counter-productive, if not suicidal.
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.
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.
Crisis Group’s second update to our Watch List 2017 includes entries on Nigeria, Qatar, Thailand and Venezuela. These early-warning publications identify conflict situations in which prompt action by the European Union and its member states would generate stronger prospects for peace.
The Malay-Muslim separatist insurgency in Thailand’s South has little in common with jihadism, but persistent instability could provide openings for foreign jihadists who thrive on disorder. In this excerpt from the Watch List 2017 – Second Update early warning report for European policy makers, Crisis Group urges the European Union and its member states to encourage Bangkok to accept some degree of decentralisation and to implement measures that can diminish radicalisation.