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.
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.
Election winner Move Forward Party faced legal and political hurdles in quest to form govt, while deadly attacks continued in deep south amid controversial student-led independence vote.
Move Forward leader battled for political survival. Following general election in May, uncertainty shrouded process for election-winning Move Forward Party and its leader Pita Limjareonrat to form new govt amid investigations into Pita by Election Commission and senate. Election Commission 9 June tossed out petition lodged 10 May by Palang Pracharath Party member alleging Pita was ineligible to run in election because he owned shares in media company, but announced it would investigate further; if convicted, Pita could face up to ten years in jail and 20-year ban from politics. Pita 6 June declared he had earlier transferred shares in defunct media company. Senate 23 June announced investigation of Pita’s assets. Aside from legal complications, Move Forward and its eight-party coalition, which command 312 seats, face political challenge of securing 376 seats in joint sitting with 250-member senate to form govt; election commission 19 June endorsed all 500 newly elected MPs, paving way for first session of new parliament in early July.
In deep south, violence continued as student group held independence referendum. In Pattani province, IED attack 5 June wounded one army officer and civilian in Saiburi district; militants 10 June killed police officer in Khok Po district; militants 17 June assaulted police base in Muang district; IED attack 21 June wounded three defence volunteers and soldier in Raman district. In Narathiwat province, gunmen 17 June ambushed four villages in Chanae district, killing one. In Yala province, IED attack 15 June wounded four police officers and civilian in Raman district. Meanwhile, student group at Prince of Songkla University in Pattani province 7 June simulated referendum on Pattani independence during seminar that included two speakers from Move Forward’s coalition. National Security Council secretary general 9 June informed PM Prayuth Chan-ocha about event and announced investigation, describing call for public referendum as “illegal”. Commander of Fourth Army Area 12 June called proposal for referendum unconstitutional and threat to nation’s territorial integrity.
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.
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.
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.
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