Tag Archives: Military junta

Muddling along towards the flawed Thai elections

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

The Thai Junta’s party: Palang Pracharat Party, is going to nominate dictator Prayut for Prime Minister if it wins enough votes at the general election, which is scheduled for early 2019. Given that the junta has appointed the entire senate and given that the senate and lower house can vote on the Prime Minister together, Palang Pracharat does not even need a majority of elected MPs for Paryut to continue his authoritarian rule.

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But just in case this scenario does not happen, the junta’s servants have been gerrymandering the constituencies to help ensure an advantage for the junta’s Palang Pracharat. [See https://bit.ly/2EbX685 ].

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Then there is the 20 year National Strategy, which I have previously written about, which will tie the hands of any elected government which is opposed to the military junta.

Taksin’s Pua Thai Party has budded off into at least 3 sister parties to try to get round the ridiculous voting regulations which will give smaller parties an advantage in terms of the number of seats they gain from the party list system.

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So all in all the elections are likely to be a farce. That is, if they aren’t postponed under some pretext!

The only positive thing to be said about this period before elections is that it has raised interest among the population about alternative policies to the junta and it has exposed a number of politicians for being opportunist mercenaries who have switched allegiance to join up with the junta. No doubt there have been financial incentives promised to them.

In addition to this, when the elections are finally held, the total number of votes for pro-democracy, anti-junta parties, will be of interest in terms of measuring the political pulse of the nation.

Meanwhile the Future Forward Party has been shaken by an internal dispute between the leadership and the youth wing (NGN). Committee members of the youth wing were suspended. The official reason is that they are supposed to have spent money inappropriately. But no details have been given and no real explanation has been offered either. This does not bode well for transparency and internal democracy.

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Some commentators have explained that it is a dispute over policy, with the youth wing wishing to engage in more militant activities than the leadership. According to this explanation, the youth wing were trying to emphasise progressive policies while the mainstream of the party was relying more on the personal charisma of business tycoon and party leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit. The Future Forward Party has tended to stress that it is “New” without bothering too much about detail. It also seems to have attracted a diverse group of people with different political stand-points who want to oppose the dictatorship and are disillusioned with Taksin’s parties.

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Another explanation put forward by observers is that the youth wing are “left-leaning”, whereas the top leadership are pro-business liberals. The fact that the party has tried to create an image of “moving beyond left and right” may account for left-leaning youth joining a pro-business liberal party. Sooner or later tensions arising from this contradiction and the emphasis on Thanathorn, with its associated imbalance of power between the leadership and the rank and file, were bound to cause problems. Similar tensions may arise between the handful of trade union members and the pro-business leadership. [See https://bit.ly/2IpUUJa ].

It is difficult to see how the democratic space can be significantly expanded if people remain mesmerised by these flawed elections.

 

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“Critical thinkers have to either pretend to be asleep or go to jail or leave the country”

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

This is one of many sharp critiques contained in the “My Country has this” (#ประเทศกูมี) rap sung by the group “Rap Against Dictatorship”, in late October.

Much has been written about this rap, but it is worth roughly summarising the content. The music video is set against a re-created background of the state-sponsored barbaric events at Thammasat University on 6th October 1976. [See http://bit.ly/1TKgv02    or   http://bit.ly/2d1iZbj ]. It shows that discussion about 6th October is not just about “history” but it is highly relevant to the political situation in Thailand today.

The “My Country has this” rap outlines almost everything that is wrong with Thailand today. This includes the impunity enjoyed by the rich when they break the law or the impunity enjoyed by junta leaders when they are accused of corruption. It mentions the hypocrisy promoted by the junta and suit-wearing elites who talk endlessly about “good people” and the need to “respect the law” while they engage in corruption and the creation of immoral laws. It describes how Bangkok has often been turned into a killing field, for example in 1973, 1976, 1992 and 2010. It talks about the present “parliament” which is just a lounge for soldiers and various constitutions which are written and then rubbed out by the military jack-boots, where a gun is held to our throats while claiming that we all have “freedom”. It criticised suppression of dissent and state surveillance, but also the fact that many so-called dissenters line up to follow the dictatorship like ants.

When the music video was first released it had a few hundred thousand views. But when the junta’s police threatened to prosecute the artists and production team the number of views shot up to over 55 million by the first week of November. Hundreds of people on social media “thanked the police” for promoting the video. After the junta realised that their response to the video had made them a laughing stock in society, the prosecution threats were withdrawn.

The Military dictatorship have affirmed that a general election will be held around February 2019, but it will hardly be democratic. Continuing threats against dissenters continue unabated. Last week a former whistle-blowing campaigner, who was part of the mob which opposed the 2014 elections and welcomed General Prayut’s military coup, stated that he felt that he had been “used” by both the military and mob leader Sutep Taugsuban. He was paid a visit by a group of soldiers. Around the same time people with calendars bearing the photos of former Prime Ministers Taksin Shinawat and Yingluck Shinawat were taken into military camps for “attitude changing” sessions. Trials of pro-democracy activists, accused of breaking the law by peaceful protests, are still being held in military courts. Political prisoners remain in prison, including those accused of lèse majesté. Some prisoners have not yet been tried in court because the prosecution witnesses “fail to turn up”. Yet they are refused bail. This is the kind of atmosphere in which the so-called elections will be held.

The military’s constitution and their 20 year National Strategy mean that any elected government will be severely constrained within the military’s policy agenda and the powerful military-appointed senate and judiciary are there to police this agenda. New election laws have been designed to discriminate against parties which are supported by the majority of the electorate ie. Taksin’s parties.

Some new parties such as the Future Forward Party and the Commoners Party have announced that they will oppose the legacy of the dictatorship. But even if they manage to win enough seats in parliament, which is unlikely, they will not have the power to over-rule the National Strategy, the senate and the judiciary. Only a powerful pro-democracy social movement outside parliament could do that. Such movements have been built in Thailand in the past, and it would be possible to do so again. The fact that millions of Thais were able to identify with the “My Country has this” rap is a ray of hope for the future. But there is a danger of people being mesmerised by the prospects of the election without properly thinking about the issue of entrenched military power.

Thais are not the only ones mesmerised by the election. Western governments cannot wait to re-establish “business as usual” with Thailand, irrespective of whether the elections are democratic or not.

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Prayut’s election poster

 

From Peterloo 1819 to Thailand 2019

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

The dead Tory tyrant Margaret Thatcher used to bang on about the importance of the Magna Carta in the development of British democracy. This was just a lie designed to ignore the key role of the workers’ movement in fighting for British democracy. The Magna Carta was just an agreement between King John and the nobles to share power.

Two hundred years ago, in the middle of deep austerity, appalling conditions and a total lack of democracy, 60,000 men, women and children gathered in a massive protest at St Peters’ Field in Manchester. This was roughly equivalent to half the population of Manchester. It was a huge mass movement against poverty and for democracy. Other rallies had already taken place in London and other cities.

The Times newspaper reported that in Manchester thousands of spinners and weavers lived in “squalid wretchedness” and “repulsive depravity”. But this ruling class paper also denounced the role played by women in the mass movement: “We cannot conceive that any but a hardened and shameless prostitute would have the audacity to appear on the hustings on such an occasion and for such a purpose.”

Given that the French revolution had erupted less than 30 years ago and radical uprisings were still happening, the British ruling class was fearful of a full-blown working class revolution here. Local magistrates ordered the peaceful Manchester protest to be brutally suppressed. The armed Yeomanry played a key role. They were a paramilitary force drawn from the ranks of the local mill and shop owners. Many were drunk. On horseback, armed with sabres and clubs, they rode through the crowd in an orgy of violence. Many were familiar with, and had old scores to settle with, the leading protesters. Six hundred Hussars, several hundred infantrymen; an artillery unit with two six-pounder guns, 400 men of the Cheshire cavalry and 400 special constables, also took part. At least 18 people were killed, including a two year old child and a pregnant woman. Six hundred were injured. Women were singled out for violent treatment to teach them a lesson about why they should not engage in politics.

This brutal massacre of workers by the British ruling class resulted in mass protests throughout the land. It also shaped the increased radicalisation of the working class Chartist movement that pushed for universal male suffrage. Emmeline Pankhurst’s paternal grandfather had narrowly escaped death at Peterloo and no doubt the story was told to her daughters, Christabel and Sylvia, who all became active suffragettes. Sylvia also became a socialist.

Peterloo is not just an interesting chapter of history. It has great significance today in Britain and also in Thailand. Those gathered at St Peters’ Field in 1819 had already learnt the lesson that just petitioning to parliament was not enough. Mass movements had to be built. Today, as a British general election looms, with the prospect of a possible Corbyn Labour government, we need to be aware that the British ruling class will do everything in their power to obstruct Labour’s policies. We will need a mass movement outside parliament, among the trade unions, to defend any democratic mandate given to such a government.

Thailand

In Thailand, the military junta has said it will hold a general election in February. Yet this election will not be free and fair. The junta’s 20 year National Strategy will empower junta appointees in the judiciary and the senate to overrule and even remove any elected government that does not conform to the junta’s “Guided Democracy” policies.

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Liberal bourgeois political parties like the Future Forward Party have stated that they intend to rewrite the military’s constitution and reduce the legacy and political power of the military. Yet even if they manage to get elected and hold a parliamentary majority, they will be hampered by the National Strategy. The only solution will be to build a large pro-democracy social movement outside parliament to push for real change. This movement should be rooted in the Thai working class. The middle class has already shown itself to be supportive of military coups and opposed to all pro-poor policies.

As in Britain, the brutal behaviour of the Thai ruling class is plain to see with the shooting of unarmed pro-democracy activists in 1973, 1976, 1992 and 2010.

The radical poet Percy Bysshe Shelley wrote “The Mask of Anarchy” in response to Peterloo …

Listen to the poem here: https://bit.ly/2yIQsBO

Claiming that the king is all powerful is a convenient excuse to do nothing

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

Even after the prolonged illness and eventual death of King Pumipon it is unbelievable that there are some Thais who still claim that the new “idiot” King Wachiralongkorn is all powerful and able to control the military junta.

One reason for prolonging this conspiracy theory is the mutual excitement that any discussion about the monarchy arouses. Given that the junta uses the lèse majesté law to imprison anyone who criticises the monarchy, it is understandable that discussions of “prohibited” subjects should cause such excitement. However, as I have explained in a number of my blog posts, the monarchy has always been weak and used as a tool by the military. In the case of Wachiralongkorn this is even more the case than it was for his father, who at least had some credibility in the eyes of many Thais. The lèse majesté law is also in existence in order to protect the military, who always claim to be protecting and representing the monarchy. [See https://bit.ly/2F73RoD, https://bit.ly/2teiOzQ, https://bit.ly/2AF9ozT ]

But excitement and gossip do nothing to further the struggle to increase the democratic space in Thai society.

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In practice, those who have been involved with protesting against the junta’s dictatorship on the streets of Bangkok have targeted the military and their policies. If such protests began to rebuild a pro-democracy social movement from the ruins of the Red Shirts, it would be a powerful force for progressive change. In the past Thai pro-democracy movements have overthrown military juntas. They have also had an effect in pressurising governments to change policies. Even today, when the movement is not as strong as in the past, small and continuous protests by young activists have kept up the pressure on Prayut’s junta to make sure that there is no back-tracking on elections. Also campaigns to defend the universal health care service have so far stopped them introducing payment fees.

Yet there are those who belittle these struggles against the junta by saying that “democracy cannot be established without getting rid of the monarchy”. They claim that Wachiralongkorn is controlling the junta. Some of the more extreme commentators, who titillate their internet audiences with anti-monarchy stories, even go as far as to say that they are not against the military.

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Given that in the present political climate it is not possible to demonstrate against the monarchy, the claims that the king controls the junta are just a recipe for doing nothing. By demanding something that is unrealistic, without also actively fighting for realistic changes, the demands become abstract. Yes, it is right that we aim for a republic, but we need to fight in the here and now for the ending of the junta and its 20 year plans to influence politics. Yes, it is right to aim for socialism, but as Rosa Luxemburg explained, socialists must also be the best fighters for reforms under capitalism.

Some Thais, who erroneously state that King Wachiralongkorn is ruling Thailand as an Absolute Monarch, also campaign against the military junta. But there is an inconsistency in their thinking because if it is the case that Wachiralongkorn is the most powerful person in Thailand, then the only meaningful campaign would be against the monarchy.

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The real anti-democratic thugs in Thailand are Prayut and his cronies and the sooner we build a mass movement against the military, the sooner we can have democracy.

Thai Electoral rules aimed to fragment political parties

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

The junta’s anti-reformists have devised a strange and complicated equation for allocating the number of MPs that each party would have in parliament after the next election. As in previous Thai elections, there will be MPs elected directly to various constituencies and also MPs elected from national votes for party lists. In other countries, such formulae are used to introduce proportional representation. But in Thailand the number of Party List MPs will be determined by a bizarre equation designed primarily to stop a popular party, especially “Pua Thai”, from achieving a majority in parliament. The formula means that more Party List MPs will be allocated to parties which fail to gain many Constituency MPs and those that win in many constituencies will have a reduced number of Party List seats. This would give added MPs to smaller parties such as the pro-military “Democrat Party” at the expense of a party like Taksin Shinawat’s “Pua Thai Party”.

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Unlike Taksin’s parties, the Democrat Party has never won a majority in parliament and it worked hand in glove with the military after Taksin’s parties were overthrown in military and judicial coups. Taksin’s Thai Rak Thai Party won a number of general elections due to its pro-poor and modernising policies, such as universal health care and job creation and poverty reduction schemes in the countryside. The party had to change its name to “Palang Prachachon” and then “Pua Thai” after the parties were dissolved by pro-military courts. “Pua Thai” means “for Thais”.

The junta’s election formula for allocating MPs is also designed to try to make sure that Thailand goes back to having a string of weak coalition governments where different parties fight for a place at the government feeding trough. A weak elected coalition government would be easier for the military to manipulate.

However, as they say, “every force has an equal and opposite reaction”. Politicians allied to Taksin have created 2 sister parties; “Pua Tum Party” (“for justice/virtuousness”) and “Pua Chart Party” (“for the nation”). Taksin’s allies hope that this will give the pro-Taksin coalition of 3 parties an increased number of MPs compared to if they all stood in the elections under a single Pua Thai banner.

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Pua Tum has also been set up in case the pro-junta courts decide to dissolve Pua Thai on some spurious grounds. Pua Thai MPs could then migrate to the party.

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Pua Chart Thai has been set up by a group of former Red Shirts.

The “The Prachachart Party”, set up by former Thai Rak Thai Muslim politicians in the South, might also support a Pua Thai government.

No doubt there are many other machinations and deals, involving other politicians, going on behind the scenes.

Of course, we must also not forget that whoever wins the election will be severely constrained by the junta’s 20 year National Strategy and its appointees in the Senate and the judiciary.

The state of the parties so far

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

At present the presumed date for the future Thai elections is sometime in February 2019 and various political parties are going through the process of registering with the Electoral Commission and holding meetings to elect people to leadership posts. However, political parties have been warned by the junta not to declare their manifestos or to start the process of electioneering.

There are a number of parties worth a mention on the anti-military side.

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The “Future Forward Party” has a clear policy of reducing the power and influence of the military by scrapping the military constitution and other junta inspired laws, and it is busy pushing its “new look” and claiming to be the party of the new generation. However, it is likely to be a party aimed at sections of the pro-democracy middle classes. It will prioritise the free-market and business interests while also claiming to support the poor in an abstract manner. Its leader, tycoon Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, has stated that it will “protect capitalism for the benefit of the majority”. In the past he has emphasised that business must make a profit before benefits for workers can be improved. It is in favour of devolving power to the provinces and has made sounds about self-determination in Patani. [See https://bit.ly/2Nf7fks and https://bit.ly/2IpUUJa ].

Without an extra-parliamentary mass movement for democracy it will be difficult for any elected party to reduce the role of the military. [See https://bit.ly/2O5ZNNx ].

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The “Commoners Party” claims to be a grass-roots party with no big-business backing and it is made up of NGO activists and villagers. It also has a position against the military’s involvement in politics, but so far its policies remain vague. It has recently been involved in a scandal when it was revealed that the elected deputy leader, Akechai Isarata, took part in the anti-election mob in 2014 which opened the door to Prayut’s coup. This stems from the NGO movement’s hatred of Taksin Shinawat and their reticence about democracy and the need to oppose military coups. He has now resigned after members of the party called on him to quit.

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Akechai Isarata

The Taksin controlled Pua Thai Party has a long pedigree of being supported by the rural poor and urban workers, which will give it an advantage at the polls. Taksin’s first party, Thai Rak Thai, brought in the first ever universal health care scheme and other pro-poor policies. But Taksin has a reputation for brutal repression in Patani and during the War on Drugs. Pua Thai also enjoys an “anti-military” image from the fact that 4 of its elected governments were overthrown, either by the military or the pro-military judiciary. Yet Taksin and most Pua Thai politicians, with handful honourable exceptions, have done nothing to oppose Prayut’s military junta over the last 4 years. It is known that they would rather do a deal with the military and the reactionaries. [See https://bit.ly/2pI87Ev ].

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Military and state murderers

In the pro-junta reactionary corner, we have the misnamed Democrat Party, which in 2008 became the “party of the military”. Abhisit Vejjajiva was appointed Prime Minister by the military and in 2010 ordered the cold-blooded shooting of unarmed pro-democracy demonstrators. The Democrats have never won a majority in any election and since the Taksin years have taken an extreme free-market position, opposing state spending on the universal health care scheme and job creation programmes. The party now pretends to oppose military coups and Prayut’s continued role in politics. But it has a record of taking part in events which create the conditions for military intervention. There is currently a contest for the leader of the party. [See https://bit.ly/2IrOIAr ].

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Also in the reactionary corner, we have the “Action Coalition for Thailand Party” set up by Sutep Tuaksuban and his mates. The Thai name is “Ruam Palang Prachachart Thai”, which means unite together the power of the Thai people. Included among founding party members are members of the Tuaksuban clan; a political mafia group who control areas of Surat Tani province in the south. They were formerly members of the Democrat Party. Sutep Tuaksuban, along with Democrat Party leader Abhisit and General Prayut, are responsible for the cold-blooded murders of Red Shirts in 2010. Sutep was also the leader of the anti-election mob which wrecked the February 2014 elections and paved the way to Prayut’s military coup. [See https://bit.ly/2QjpRS5 and https://bit.ly/2zF2bSS ]. Reactionary academic Anek laotamatat [https://bit.ly/2cPKRjP ] and former “professional student leader” turned PAD Yellow Shirt Suriyasai Katasila, along with Sutep’s lawyer, are also among the list of founding members of the Ruam Palang Prachachart Thai Party.

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Anti-election gun man associated with Sutep’s mob

Sutep’s “Ruam Palang Prachachart Thai Party” supports the military junta and it might well vote for Generalissimo Prayut to become the next Prime Minister. Prayut has refused to rule out extending his role in politics and the military constitution allows for a non-MP to be nominated as Prime Minister in some circumstances. However, anyone wanting to vote for the junta can now directly support the “Palang Pracharat Party” (power of the citizens party). It has been set up by Prayut’s cronies and is stuff full of junta officials. Naturally, when the reactionary parties talk about “the people” they really mean the military and the elites.

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Cartoon ridiculing Palang Pracharat’s connections to junta (from Lok Wan Nee)

Of course, we have to be absolute clear that these elections will not restore democracy to Thailand, as the political agenda is going to be tightly controlled by the military’s National Strategy and their powerful appointed supporters in the senate and the judiciary. However, this system of “Guided Democracy” will be enough satisfy Western governments who have never cared about freedom and democracy in most parts of the world.

Military Junta incapable of bringing peace to Patani

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

Following an ambush by Patani freedom fighters, which resulted in the deaths of two army rangers and injuries to another 4 at Nong Jik, Patani, on 11th September 2018, Lieutenant General Piyawat Narkwanit, commander of the 4th regional army, declared Nong Jik to be a “Controlled Area”. He also stated that they may bring charges against relatives (mothers, fathers, wives etc.) of anyone arrested for the ambush. So far 8 so-called suspects have been detained. The local villages have also been surrounded and locked down while everyone has to register their weapons, boats and vehicles.

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Lieutenant General Piyawat Narkwanit

This heavy-handed response by the military is typical of the junta’s mentality and a gross abuse of human rights. Collective punishment of families and communities by the military for the actions of individuals is similar to what the Nazis carried out in occupied Europe or what the Israeli government is doing to the Palestinians. It is a form of terrorism.

The good news is that human rights lawyers and young student activists from Patani have come out to oppose such measures taken by the military. However, a number of Thai nationalist groups, including one Buddhist organisation, have tried to pressure the police to take action against the students. Patani University has also tried to put pressure on them to stop their so-called anti-state activities. Given the repressive nature of the Thai state, it is impossible to defend human rights without carrying out anti-state activities.

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The fact of the matter is that the war against the Thai State is a direct result of years of oppression and human rights abuses by various Thai governments. [See https://bit.ly/2xFce7Y ]. The military junta continue to insist that the military should play a leading role in “solving” this war. They pretend that they want to bring about peace, yet their only solution is to hold talks with representatives of the insurgents with an aim to getting them to surrender. No political solutions are on the table.

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There can be no peace unless the Thai military are withdrawn from the occupation of Patani, human rights abuses are put right and the local people of all ethnicities are allowed to freely discuss how to move forward to self-determination. Peace can only be achieved by all-inclusive political discussions led by civilians. This is not something that the military are prepared to contemplate. [See https://bit.ly/1QCoOWs ]

Meanwhile a new political party of Patani Muslims has been set up. The Prachachart Party is made up of established mainstream politicians from the area. Former policeman Tawee Sordsong, one of the founding members of this party, recent gave an interview where he stressed the need to accept multiculturalism in society, devolve political power to local communities and promote human rights. The party proposes reforming the police to ensure that it has a different structure from the military. Yet, the party does not advocate withdrawal of the military from the region or criticise the use of security laws or martial law. It merely wants troops confined to barracks and local civilians to have more say and increased political participation in security matters. Apart from advocating multicultural policies in the whole of Thailand, the party has little to say about other social and political issues such as the need for a welfare state, workers’ rights or the removal of the military from politics.

The Future Forward Party is committed to cutting down the influence of the military in politics and on the issue of Patani it proposes that the military should withdraw from the area and that the future of Patani be determined by civilians. [See also https://bit.ly/2tZG5JK ]

However, both the Future Forward Party and the Prachachart Party do not envisage the possibility of independence for Patani, if a majority of locals want this. They are not prepared to challenge the conservative nationalist view about Thailand as an “indivisible nation state”. However both parties have tentatively talked about some form of regional autonomy.

As for Pua Thai, the party is still stuck in the past with little to say about Patani.

Local mass social movements in Patani will have to mobilise to push for a more progressive political agenda for ending the war. To be successful they need to also concern themselves with issues other than Patani in order to build alliances with progressive groups outside the region.

Further reading: https://bit.ly/2eBAzDjand https://bit.ly/2bemah3 .