Giles Ji Ungpakorn
It is very encouraging to see that the policy of the “Future Forward Party” towards Patani has signs of being more progressive than government policies in the past.
Premprapat Palitaponkarnpim, one of the party’s spokespersons has stated that the autonomy proposals for Patani, originally suggested by Haji Sulong, more than 60 years ago, should be an important party of party policy. However, it is unclear how many of Haji Sulong’s proposals will actually be adopted and there are already signs that Premprapat has started to backtrack under pressure from the conservatives.
Haji Sulong was “disappeared” by the right-wing military dictatorship in 1955. He proposed the following 7 point plan which may need some updating.
- That the four southern provinces be governed as a unit, with a Muslim governor. For today’s world we should interpret this as meaning a governor who is a local citizen.
- That for the first seven years of the school curriculum, Malay be allowed as the language of instruction. Of course there is nothing to stop Thai speakers being taught in Thai in other schools.
- That all taxes collected in the four southern provinces be expended there.
- That 85 percent of the government officials be local Malays. If this corresponds to the proportion of the population that is Malay today, this would be a good proposal.
- That Malay and Thai be used together as the languages of government. This kind of proposal has been opposed by conservatives like General Prem Tinsulanon in the past. But it is standard practice in Switzerland, Canada and even the United Kingdom.
- That the provincial Islamic committees have authority over the practice of Islam. That is just devolving religious powers. But Muslim citizens in Patani should also be free to practice their religion in the way they choose.
- That the Islamic judicial system be separated from the provincial court system. Some Islamophobes have claimed that this would lead to gay people being caned. This is just nonsense. What it means is that citizens could choose whether to come under Islamic courts or secular courts. What is more, caning is a regular punishment in non-Islamic Singapore.
Recognising and respecting the local culture and promoting self-rule, are important proposals towards building peace. However, these proposals need to be fleshed out and there are other important issues that also need to be considered.
Firstly, the military and para-military police need to be withdrawn from the region because at present they are an occupying force that is responsible for much of the violence and they are an obstacle to peace. The military should also be excluded from playing a dominant role in any peace negotiations. On this important issue, it is encouraging that the “Future Forward Party” is committed to reducing the political role of the military, although they have said nothing about this in the context of Patani. However, we will have to see whether they can really succeed in cutting down the influence of the military.
Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit has suggested a separation between religion and the state and an end to state sponsorship of Buddhism. This is fine and should be supported, but it will not solve the war in Patani because it isn’t about Muslims and Buddhists killing each other. It is about the repression from the Thai state.
There was no need for Thanathorn to apologise for this proposal after being criticised by Buddhist extremists. It would make Buddhist citizens throughout Thailand free to practice their religion in a manner of their own choosing. This proposal is not contradictory to what Premprapart has suggested in any way either. The two sets of ideas help to redress the imbalance between the various beliefs in society. In the context of Patani the Muslim way of life has for too long been oppressed.
One worrying factor is that when Premprapat was asked about how far the party’s policies on Patani could progress, he indicated that anything was possible so long as it “conformed to the Thai constitution”. The Thai constitution stipulates that Thailand is “indivisible”, thus ruling out a federal system or independence for Patani. Such a clause in the constitution does not allow for meaningful discussions about the future of Patani.
Another issue that needs more discussion is the issue of taxation. Patani is one of the poorest regions compared to other provinces and redistribution of tax revenue from the centre is necessary to improve the lives of local people.
Never the less the “Future Forward Party” has stated that they will organise discussions with Patani activists and organisations in order to further develop party policy and this is a positive aim. They should not avoid talking to the separatists when conducting these discussions.
We shall have to follow the evolving policies of this party on Patani and it is to be hoped that they will go beyond the previous attempts by Thai politicians such as General Prem Tinsulanon or Chavalit Yongchaiyudh to co-opt local leaders into supporting the Thai state.