Following the smooth royal succession, and with the military government firmly in control,there are no obvious triggers in Thailand for political turmoil in the near term. Yet the country’s fundamental political and social divisions have not been bridged, and there is potential for future conflict between elected and unelected authorities. In the deep south, the Malay-Muslim separatist insurgency continues, as does a sterile and slow-moving peace-dialogue process that is rejected by the main insurgent group. Crisis Group aims to reduce the risk of escalation in the south and limit medium-term threats to political stability by supporting the strengthening of Thailand’s democratic institutions and promoting substantive peace talks.
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.
Originally published in The New York Times
Violence continued in deep south, while new govt cabinet under PM Prayuth Chan-ocha was sworn in. Insurgents launched series of attacks on security forces in Southern Thailand: bomb 12 July targeted four defence volunteers on two motorcycles in Muang district, Yala province, wounding three. In Bacho district, Narathiwat IED explosion 15 July targeted convoy of ranger trucks in district, causing no injuries and improvised mine 17 July wounded three rangers. IED 21 July wounded four rangers in Bannang Satar district, Yala province. Army 22 July announced investigation after suspected insurgent found unconscious in army camp in Pattani province 21 July, day after his arrest; family members claimed he was tortured. Suspected insurgents 23 July killed two soldiers and two defence volunteers in bombing and shooting at military outpost in Pattani province. PM Prayuth Chan-ocha 1 July publicly apologised for delays in forming cabinet and seating new govt, threatening to use the “old method that nobody wants to see”, provoking widespread criticism for allegedly implying threat of staging coup. King Maha Vajiralongkorn 16 July swore in new cabinet, with ruling National Council for Peace and Order party filling finance and interior ministries, and PM serving as defence minister. Constitutional Court (CC) 19 July accepted petition to evaluate PM’s qualifications as PM to determine if being junta leader made Prayuth a “state official”, which would disqualify him from standing as PM candidate. Same day, CC accepted petition accusing Future Forward Party leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, his party and its executives of trying to end constitutional monarchy.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
Originally published in Bangkok Post
Originally published in Nikkei Asian Review
Originally published in The Interpreter