What Next for Stability in Thailand?
23 Dec 2014
Seven months on from the May 2014 coup in Thailand, the International Crisis Group examine the prospects for stability in the country.
On 3 December 2014, at the end of another year of political turmoil in Thailand, the International Crisis Group released a report on the country. A Coup Ordained? Thailand's Prospects for Stability says that a nine-year cycle of popular protests followed by military and judicial interventions to oust elected governments has left the country deeply polarised, culminating in the 22 May 2014 military coup.
The coup brought some of the violence and street protests to an end but left political uncertainty throughout the country, with the ruling National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) still undecided about a timeline for a return to democracy, but with talk of an election towards the end of 2015.
Two overlapping conflicts in Thailand
The report warns that curbing the power of elected representatives in favour of appointed officials could ultimately risk another round of violent conflict. It frames the crisis in Thailand as a combination of two overlapping conflicts:
1. A conventional power struggle between former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, his family and allies against traditional elites associated with the monarchy, military, bureaucracy and, in the electoral arena, the Democrat Party (DP).
2. An older conflict between two sources of political legitimacy: popular sovereignty and traditional hierarchy.
The report holds that an important factor in this conflict is that the armed forces maintain an identity as a guardian of the three pillars of Nation, Religion and Monarchy, a pre-democratic order which has served as the basis of national ideology.
Three pillars in Thailand: Nation, Religion, Monarchy
On the insurgency in the majority Malay-Muslim southern region of Patani, the report highlights the 6,000 lives which have been lost in a decade of violence. Dialogue had begun between Thailand and the Malaysian government in an attempt to halt the insurgency, but these talks were put on hold following the coup in May 2014. However, there is now hope after General Prayuth Chan-ocha, the Thai prime minister, met his Malaysian counterpart Najib Razak at the beginning of December 2014, with the two leaders agreeing to press ahead with peace talks using a revised format.
- The NCPO has expressed a clear commitment to renewing a peace dialogue with militant groups waging waging a separatist insurgency in the majority Malay-Muslim southern region, and the military administration has put the conflict on its policy agenda;
- Militant attacks increased following the May 2014 coup, but since then there has been a significant decline in attacks and casualties;
- The NCPO concentrated all decision-making and policy implementation in the hands of the military, with costly results;
- The Yingluck government initiated a dialogue with militant representatives in early 2013, with Malaysia acting as facilitator. Talks unravelled after three plenary meetings, before establishing effective confidence-building mechanisms, and never advanced to substantive discussions on possible solutions;
- In a farewell speech at the Fourth Army Region headquarters on 28 September 2014, General Prayuth said he would bring the southern violence to an end before the inauguration of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Economic Community at the end of 2015;
- Prayuth has insisted a dialogue will continue, but in secret, with Malaysia remaining the facilitator. Prayuth has also ruled out any form of "self-rule" for the southern provinces, which would appear to diminish the incentives for militant leaders to talk;
- With powerful groups on both sides not yet committed to compromise, near-term prospects for progress in the dialogue are dim.
This article summarises an external report, and is not to be taken as the view of the Tony Blair Faith Foundation.
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