Articles, Opinions & Views: The Problem in Southern Thailand Part Three

Views & Articles
No Atheists
In A Foxhole
“When you're left wounded on

Afganistan's plains and

the women come out to cut up what remains,

Just roll to your rifle

and blow out your brains,

And go to your God like a soldier”

“We are not retreating. We are advancing in another direction.”

“It is fatal to enter any war without the will to win it.”

“Old soldiers never die; they just fade away.

“The soldier, above all other people, prays for peace,

for he must suffer and be the deepest wounds and scars of war.”

“May God have mercy upon my enemies, because I won't .”
“The object of war is not to die for your country but to make the other bastard die for his.

“Nobody ever defended anything successfully, there is only attack and attack and attack some more.

“Fixed fortifications are a monument to the stupidity of man."
“It is foolish and wrong to mourn the men who died.
Rather we should thank God that such men lived.

The Soldier stood and faced God

Which must always come to pass

He hoped his shoes were shining

Just as bright as his brass

"Step forward you Soldier,

How shall I deal with you?

Have you always turned the other cheek?

To My Church have you been true?"

"No, Lord, I guess I ain't

Because those of us who carry guns

Can't always be a saint."

I've had to work on Sundays

And at times my talk was tough,

And sometimes I've been violent,

Because the world is awfully rough.

But, I never took a penny

That wasn't mine to keep.

Though I worked a lot of overtime

When the bills got just too steep,

The Soldier squared his shoulders and said

And I never passed a cry for help

Though at times I shook with fear,

And sometimes, God forgive me,

I've wept unmanly tears.

I know I don't deserve a place

Among the people here.

They never wanted me around

Except to calm their fears.

If you've a place for me here,

Lord, It needn't be so grand,

I never expected or had too much,

But if you don't, I'll understand."

There was silence all around the throne

Where the saints had often trod

As the Soldier waited quietly,

For the judgment of his God.

"Step forward now, you Soldier,

You've borne your burden well.

Walk peacefully on Heaven's streets,

You've done your time in Hell."

& Infor
Malaysian Food
Other Stuff




The Problem in Southern Thailand Part Three
Tuesday, May 10, 2005


The redemocratisation in 1992 was not caused by the economic factor alone. The continuity of political liberalisation in the 1980s was also an important condition. Political freedom, free elections of the House of Representatives, and freedom of expression were allowed during the quasi-democracy period and they facilitated the expansion of the democratic norm, particularly in urban areas. They had also provided opportunities for democratic institutions and processes to establish themselves.[1] Thus when the coup broke out in 1991, the democratic mood was too strong to be wiped out. Although it subsided when the coup started, the mood regained strength some weeks later when several democratic forces began to mobilise public support for their cause against the military junta. The most dramatic event of political liberalisation and democratisation in the 1970s was the student uprising in October 1973. This demonstrated the students’ and the people’s disaffection with the military regime led by Field Marshals Thanom Kittikachorn and Prapas Charusathien, who succeeded Field Marshal Sarit Thanarat in 1963. Coupled with the continuity of military rule for more than ten years, corruption and nepotism on the part of the politicians in uniform had led to the rise of the people’s discontent with the military leaders, reducing drastically their legitimacy to govern. [2]

However, this democratic period was short-lived. It lasted for three years only. This short span of democracy resulted because the people’s commitment to democracy during that period was still weak. They were against the Thanom-Prapas regime not because they had a passionate attachment to democracy but because they abhorred the military leaders. Democratic forces were not strong enough to sustain the growth of the democratic mood. The fact that the people lost faith in democracy rather rapidly because of the failure of the democratic government to maintain political stability indicated that they did not have a strong attachment to the democratic idea in the first place.[3]

The situations at home and abroad were not conducive to democratisation. The communists were in complete control of Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia in 1975. At home violent clashes between left-wing student organisations and rightists supported by the military often occurred. The communist insurgency in the country was on the rise and the Communist Party of Thailand (CPT) started to penetrate into the national Student Center of Thailand, the main student organisation. Demonstrations, protests, and labour strikes organised by students to fight for social justice and the interest of the urban and rural poor were a common phenomenon during this period. Assassinations of student, labour union, and farmer leaders intensified the conflicts between the left and the right. This volatile political situation, coupled with the fragile democracy, made the urban middle and upper classes feel insecure. They were convinced that democracy was not the answer to the political instability.

The continuity of the parliamentary system in the 1980s had strengthened the House of Representative and other related institutions, for example, political parties. Although number of problems still confronted the party system, the role of political parties was more familiar with the democratic forces able to expand their base of support. The political liberalisation was made possible by a gradual transfer of power from the military to political parties in the 1980s. When the army supported its commander-in-chief, General Prem Tinasulanond, to replace General Kriangsak Chamanand as Prime Minister in 1980, the military still dominated the political scene. The political parties, realising their weaknesses, agreed to accept the army chief as the government leader. The major parties like the Democrats, Social Action, and Chat Thai were invited to join the Cabinet. This was intended to pacify the liberals and the political parties as well as to ensure the government’s smooth relationships with the House of Representatives.

Democratic development requires the development of political institutions capable of reconciling conflicts of divergent interests among societal groups on the one hand and a political culture compatible with democracy in aspects like political participation, tolerance of divergent political views, and willingness to compromise on the other.[4] The political institutions, notably the political parties and elected House of Representatives, have been more effective in dealing with the military without threatening its corporate interest. In addition, their strength seemed to emerge in early 1983, when the new army chief, General Arthit Kamlang-ek, launched a campaign to amend the Constitution in order to perpetuate the military-dominated Senate’s censure power and the eligibility of active military and civil service officers to hold political posts in the Cabinet and the Senate. This move was opposed by a number of political parties, the mass media, and intellectuals who did not want to see the continuation of the military’s political domination. This resistance showed that they wanted the military’s withdrawal from politics. The amendment proposal was narrowly defeated, marking a big set-back for the army and the first triumph of the parties against the army since General Prem came to power. It was also the first effort of the parliamentarians to challenge the political domination of the military since their power was scrapped in the 1976 coup.[5]

Failures by the military to seize power in 1981 and 1985 revealed that the political role of the military was less recognised. They indicated that a sizable part of the military establishment did not agree with the coups and preferred to give the representative government a chance. The failure gave the parliamentary democracy an opportunity to strengthen itself. After the failures, the political parties were more assertive in decision-making in many areas, including foreign policy, defence, and national security.[6]

The first economic development plan was introduced in 1958, the Thai economy began to grow continuously at an impressive rate. In the 1960s the Thai economy’s average growth rate. In the 1960s the Thai economy’s average growth rate was around 8 per cent per year and inflation was contained at 2 per cent per year. The average current account deficit was less than 2 per cent of the gross national product (GNP). In the 1970s the Thai economy was affected by the fluctuation of commodity prices, the rise in interest rates, and the 150 per cent increase in world oil price during the last two years of the period.[7] The economy continued to grow at an average rate of 6.8 per cent and the inflation rate increased to an average of 7 per cent a year, the current account and inflation worsened in the second half of the 1970s. During that period the current account deficit increased to 5.4 per cent of the gross domestic product (GDP) and the inflation rate rose to more than 10 per cent a year.

While the military authoritarian rule dominated the political scene in those two decades, with a brief democratic period from 1974 to 1976, government intervention in the economy was limited. The economy was largely left as an open system relying on the free market mechanism and the private sector’s initiatives. The government’s role was to provide economic infrastructure, like roads and power supply, human resource development, and foreign investment incentives. Nevertheless, the 1970s was a period of political instability, with student uprising in October 1973, two short-lived democratic regimes, two military coups in 1976 and 1977, and intensified Communist insurgency, violent protests from the left and the right. This instability made it impossible for the government to readjust the financial and economic structures.[8] Hence, when the 1980s approached, there was not much confidence in the economic outlook of the country. Despite the pessimism, the 1980s saw a marked achievement development for Thailand as the economy grew at an average of 7.5 per cent a year, with a current deficit of 3.6 per cent of the GDP and inflation kept at 4.6 per cent a year; but this occurred not without difficulty. During the first half of the decade, the government had to adopt a number of unpopular austerity measures and in November 1984 it had to devalue the baht. In 1985 and 1986 the economic outlook was still depressed, with an average growth rate of only 4 per cent. During these two years the government had to launch again economic adjustments like a tighter budget ceiling, restrictive control on state enterprises, and a cautious external debt policy. The adjustment policy involved institutional development, agriculture, industry, energy, and a fiscal programme.[9] In addition, the economic restructuring was aimed at achieving increased efficiency in operations of state enterprises, stimulation of private savings, and increase in productivity and export capacity. At the end of 1988 the country achieved a double-digit growth rate for the time. There are several factors contributing to that economic achievement. One of them is a shift to the export-led growth strategy. Since 1985 exports grew at 17.8 per cent a year in volume terms with manufactured exports continuing to increase substantially in the last half of the decade. This indicated a successful diversification of Thai exports and an important structural change in the Thai economy which no longer relied on agricultural products. Another factor is the increase in tourism income. The factor contributing to the success of diversification is, as Pisit Leeatham points out, “the dynamic private sector that engineered the export drive. Likewise, the success of tourism demonstrated the ability of the private service sector to adjust itself and to respond effectively to government policy.[10] The success of the private sector also reflected the increasing strength and influence of the market economy in determining the government decision-making.[11]

Nevertheless, the economic adjustment programme was not entirely successful. The economic success in the 1980s failed to narrow the gap between the rich and the poor, the urban - especially Bangkok - and the rural areas. Nor did it strengthen the labour unions and labour force. The unbalanced development and income distribution gap remained very serious problems despite the government effort to resolve them. [12]

To meet the national economic development, the Eighth National Economic and Social Development Plan were created. The main points of the Eighth Plan (1997-2001) are:[13]

Philosophy: The Eighth Plan created a new paradigm in Thailand’s national development to recognise “human beings” as the center of development. It focus on development of human potentials in physical, intellectual and spiritual aspects, including popular participation of all development partnerships for the sake of self-sufficiency at all levels irrespective of race or religion.

Concept: Philosophically, economic development has been considered a major tool for social and human development. Focus has been shifted from growth orientation to growth with stability. The people shall be the originator and recipient of both benefits and effects of development. The Eighth Plan, will focus on:
a. To empower people as a prime mover of development.
b. To distribute wealth to people, as the center of development.
c. To minimise effects on the underprivileged groups of people, provide welfare and generate opportunity for development to meet their full potentials.

Targets: The following development targets to be used as indicators of success are:
a. Availability of good quality care and education for well- balanced early childhood development.

b. Upgrade the quality of education at all levels; extend basic education from six to nine years to all school-aged children; continuos training for school teachers; further extension of basic education to 12 years.

c. Upgrade the skills and basic knowledge of industrial workers, particularly in 24-45 age group.

d Provide opportunities for underprivileged groups to realize their development potential, and increase their access to basic social services.

e Reduce the number of preventable accidents, focusing on the workplace, traffic, the transport of toxic chemicals, and fires in high- rise buildings.

f. Lower the current account deficit to 3.4 per cent to GDP by the last year of the plan, while keeping the rate of inflation at not more than 4.5 per cent per year, in order to safeguard economic stability.

g. Increase household savings to 10 per cent of GDP by the last year of the plan.

h. Upgrade and expand infrastructure provision in the regions and rural areas.

i. Reduce the incidence of poverty to less than 10 per cent of total population by the last year of the plan.

j. Preserve and rehabilitate forest areas to cover no less than 25 per cent of the country.

k. Promote investment in rehabilitation and protection of urban, regional an rural environments.

Development Strategies: With the above concept, there comprise of 7 main strategies under the Eighth Plan, namely:

a. Development of Human Potential at all ages and in all aspects of spirit, intellect, and vocational skills. Focus will be on health protection, and public services for the underprivileged groups of people both in urban and rural areas.

b. Creation of an Enabling Environment to fully develop potentials of all Thais, by creating social security in various aspects, and providing services necessary for living.

c. Enhancing the Development Potential of the Regions and Rural Areas for thorough improvement in people’s quality of life. Focus will be on popular participation, development potential of each community, promotion of development partnerships, as well as an area-based administration for the utmost benefits of local people.

d. Development of Economic Competitiveness to Support Human Development and Quality of Life, emphasizing an area- based economic development, and strengthening of production base to cope with the global changes.

e. Natural Resources and Environmental Management, aimed mainly at rehabilitating and conserving natural resources and the environment in urban and rural areas. The private sector and non-governmental organisations should play a greater role, and economic instruments should be increasingly used for effective administration.

f. Development of Popular Governance, stressing warm and trusting relationship between government and the people, promotion of popular participation in public activities, and efficiency improvement in government service.

g. Improvement of Development Management to Ensure Effective Implementation of the Plan stressing a development management system based on the area-based approach, the integration of functions and the participation of all stake-holders (the area-function-participation system). Also included would be delegation of administrative authority, participation of development partnerships and systematic evaluation and monitoring.


The role of military has changed markedly since the October 1973 event. The 1970s witnessed the struggles of the armed forces to perpetuate their control over the state power. The October event had ended the rule of Marshal Thanom and Prapsa and the army had to make a retreat. The event did not eradicate the military influence. The army continued to wield its power and finally staged a come-back in 1976. [14]

The Thai young officer corps known as the Thai Young Turks, involvement in politics and doctoral rule of military leaders for decades had led to corruption, nepotism in the military establishment, and inefficiency in its combat function. The group was successful in promoting General Prem Tinasulanond to the top post in the army and the premiership in 1980. The Young Turks believed that since General Prem was considered a clean-handed military leader and had never been involved in politics, he would be the most qualified person to get the military on the right track again. [15]

Another group was known as the Class-5 whose members graduated from Chulachomklao Royal Military Academy two years earlier than the Young Turk Group. The primary objective of forming themselves into a group was to look after their class members’ welfare. The group believed that there must be someone to stop the Young Turks, who were becoming too powerful, too ambitious, and disrespectful of the military hierarchy, a behaviour that the Class-5 and other senior officers could not tolerate.

The last faction consisted of the Democratic Soldiers. This group was formed out of a belief of some military officers, particularly those attached to the Internal Security Operation Command (ISOC), that the country needed a new strategy to fight against the communist insurgency. The strategy adopted by this group, influenced by an ex-communist named Prasert Supsunthorn, focused on a political reform. The group believed that a war with communism was fundamentally a political and not a military war, therefore, political means must be used. Democratic development , they believed, was the most effective means to fight against communism but what seemed to be a problem was that their definition of democracy was not widely accepted. For example, they always argued that elections in Thailand did not represent true democracy since only the rich were elected. It is true that there were a lot of flaws in Thai election but to argue that there were democratic methods of getting a representative government other than through elections was not convincing.

Among the three groups, the Young Turks failed to continue their powerful role in the 1980s. Their abortive coup in 1981 put an end to their political dominance. The Class-5 group then emerged as the most powerful faction in the military. But in influencing the leaders’ ideas, the Democratic Soldiers, however, were able to persuade the military and the government to adopt their communist-suppression strategy in 1980 before disbanding themselves later. [16] As the representative institutions were gaining more recognition and coups were less acceptable, the military saw a need to redefine its political role. As mentioned earlier, the issue of national security and communism was a justification for the military to take part in developing the political system. The military for the first time stated very clearly that political affairs could not be separated from the military affairs. In the 1980s the army included the democratic development role in its mission as a means to fight the insurgency.[17]

Several mass organisations in rural areas were not set up by the military during this period to serve as mechanisms to mobilise rural villagers to help the military in its operations against communist insurgents and to participate in village development programmes. The military claimed that some of the mass organisations were part of democratic development at the grass roots. The development programmes came from the top and participation of the villagers was not voluntary but mobilised. Military and district officers usually designed the programmes and mobilised the villagers to participate. This mobilised participation could hardly be seen as part of the democratic development process, since decentralisation and local self-government was not adopted .Therefore, in practice, democratic development hardly occurred at the village level through those development programmes. The mass organisations were believed to be mechanism of the military which might be used not only for communist suppression but also for political purposes. They could be mobilised to support the military political stands and involvement.[18]

. One of the major problems facing the army in performing its development mission is that of legitimacy. The military in principle is responsible for defending the country against outside aggression. But as national security was defined to include a domestic dimension like the insurgency, the army became involved in the suppression of insurgents and maintenance of internal order.[19] A clear perspective of the domestic dimension of national security, which is frequently labeled internal security, may be obtained through a discussion of the idea of the state component that lies at the heart of the state, providing it with “ coherent purpose and definition and also a social mechanism for persuading citizen to subordinate themselves to state authority. If the idea of the state and its institutional expression enjoy broad societal consensus, then the legitimacy of state authority is established and the subordination of individual and groups to state authority poses only a few minor problems that do not merit consideration under the label of national security. If the idea of the state, however, lacks broad societal consensus, then the physical base of the state and its organising ideology and the legitimacy of the incumbent regime are frequently contested, and internal security becomes a primary concern.[20]

The Thai elite also perceive numerous internal threats to national security. The primary internal threat is believed to issue from the communist insurgency waged by the Communist Party of Thailand (CPT). This threat is viewed in ideological and military terms. Other domestic threats identified include regionalism in the northeast, separatism in the south, the hill tribes problem in the north, economy dichotomy, and problems of political authority. The internal threats is basically organised in three models: conflict over the organising ideology, center-periphery conflict and problems of legitimacy. In the case of the Malay-Muslim separatism in the south, it is a center-periphery conflict also has transnational dimensions because of the geographical contiguity of Malaysia and the Thai belief that Malaysia may lend a helping hand to its fellow brethren across the border. Thailand also perceives the aid given by the radical Islamic countries, principally Libya and Syria, to the separatist movements as a threat to its national security.[21]

Bangkok classifies Malay-Muslim armed separatists as terrorists or bandits and has denied political status to them. In 1948 a state of emergency was proclaimed in the four provinces under the pretext of combating communism, since then emergency powers have been used to counter the threat posed by armed separatism. The policies employed against the CPT or the Communist Party of Malaya (CPM) have been extended to cover armed separatism. For example, following the government’s Orders 66/23 and 65/25, the Fourth Army conducted pacification campaigns offering amnesty to the armed separatists who surrender. In November 1983 the government reported that some 700 communists insurgents and Malay-Muslim armed separatist had surrendered to the army commander-in-chief in the Patani province in response to the offer of amnesty. Simultaneous with the pacification campaign, the Fourth Army conducted a series of large-scale search and destroy operations against the separatist in Patani, Yala, Narathiwat under the code name “Tai Rom Yen” (peace and tranquillity in the south). Another major operation, code named “Taksin 8402,” was reported to have resulted in capture of 12 separatist camps and one CPM stronghold. Generally, government officials have claimed success in these operations and believe that the influence and mobility of the armed separatist movement have been drastically reduced. However, officials appear to be more concerned with the external support received by the separatist organisations and have focused their attention to neutralise the sources of external support.[22] The government were successful in overcoming the internal difficulties by the additional role to include the military in its nation building plan in Thailand.

Rural development is a non-military affair and the army’s involvement in it is considered as part of the military’s role of expansion. How did the army justify this non-military task? Has it succeeded? During the initial period of the army’s developmental role in the late 1950s and early 1960s, military leaders felt no need for justification partly because the army’s involvement in rural development was carried out on a small scale and partly because the military was still firmly in power. The Army Order No. 298/2519 issued in 1976 was the first effort to legitimise its development role. More important, the order referred to the 1974 Constitution which for the first time recognised the military’s involvement in national development as a source of legitimacy. It is interesting to note that this recognition was a civilian initiative and not a military one.

Maintaining national security was a major function of the armed forces. More important, because national security was defined by the military to include political, economic, and social psychological aspects, the military could legitimately get involved in political or other non-military activities to ensure national security. Development in insurgency areas was a good example of this. The military always claimed that where national security was in danger, the military should step in and carry out both military and non-military projects in order to restore security.[23] It is clear that the separatist in the south were given a part in the political and economic development.


Thai officials believe that the separatist organisations cannot survive without the support received from Malaysia and certain Middle East countries and have therefore sought to neutralise the external support through diplomacy. Thailand’s bilateral relations with Malaysia have included the following objectives: to obtain Malaysian recognition of Thai sovereignty over the four provinces; and to restrict unofficial support for the separatist organisations; and to seek Malaysia’s assistance to neutralise sources of other support for the separatists, especially from the Middle East.

The bilateral border security cooperation is an important instrument for the attainment of the first two objectives. Commencing in 1948 Thailand has implicitly made its cooperation to counter the CPM threat contingent on Malaysian recognition of Thai sovereignty over the four provinces. Malaysia’s noninvolvement in the Malay-Muslim issue in southern Thailand, and Malaysia’s nonsupport for armed separatism. Thailand was satisfied with the assurances given by Malaysian leaders that the minority problem was as internal affair of Thailand and that Malaysia would not interfere in any way.

The escalation of armed separatism in the 1970s, coupled with what the Thai authorities believe to be sanctuary, training, and other assistance provided by Malaysian sources, reduced the value of such assurances. Thai authorities expressed disappointment with the provisions of the bilateral border agreement, which excluded the threat of armed separatism on the ground that it was an internal affair of Thailand. They sought to extend the terms of the bilateral agreement to include the threat of armed separatism in southern Thailand.[24]

In particular, the Thai authorities tried, but without much success, to extend the right of hot pursuit currently allowed with respect to the CPM to include the armed separatists. Thai military officers view this lack of reciprocity as unfair and have accused Malaysia of taking unfair advantage of Thailand under the border cooperation agreement and for harboring Muslim insurgents. The issue came to a head at the twenty-seventh General Border Committee meeting in August 1982, when the Malaysian deputy prime minister who headed the Malaysian delegation chastised the Thais for treating the CPM with kid gloves. According to Datuk Musa Hitam the strength of the CPM has actually grown and the CPM units were able to move freely due to lack of pressure from Thai security forces. The Thai authorities were displeased with this remark and in turn expressed their dissatisfaction over Malaysia’s sympathetic treatment of the Malay-Muslim insurgents.

Thailand’s desire to extend the terms of the bilateral border security cooperation to include the threat of armed separatism is likely to reassert itself, especially when the armed struggle escalates. For various reasons, Malaysia is likely to refuse this, thus making for friction in bilateral relations. In the interim, however, the two countries believe they have more to gain through cooperation than confrontation. Thailand’s membership in ASEAN also assists in limiting the support from Malaysian sources to the armed separatists. A cardinal principle of the Treaty of Amity and Concord signed in 1976 is respect for political independence, territorial integrity, and noninterference in the internal affairs of other countries.[25]

Thailand has also implicitly used several other developments to impress on Malaysia and obtain its recognition that the four provinces are part of Thailand. Examples include the ongoing physical delineation of international boundary between the two states based on the 1909 Anglo-Siamese Treaty, the periodic sealing off of the border except for the check points, and the scheduling of the recent audience of the Malaysian prime minister with the king of Thailand at the Taksin palace in the province of Narathiwat. Thailand has also sought the assistance of Malaysia and Indonesia to prevent official recognition of and support to the separatist organisations from international Islamic forums and individual Islamic states. Malaysia and Indonesia have quite successfully aided Thailand in this effort. Reliance on Malaysia to defend Thailand’s case in these forums, however, strengthens Malaysia’s hand in the negotiations on bilateral cooperation. Consequently, Thailand has sought to foster good relations with the Islamic states directly. It has invited representatives from number of Islamic bodies to visit the four provinces to see for themselves the conditions of the Malay-Muslims people. Thailand set up an Islamic Fund Foundation of Thailand in July 1983 with the objective of promoting cooperation and coordination between the central government and Thai Muslims without involvement in political issues. The chairman, General Saiyud Kerdphol, hopes that funds from Islamic countries and organisations could be channeled through this foundation for the benefit of Thai Muslims and that the availability of an official channel should reduce the financial assistance given to the separatist organisation under cover of religious auspices.[26]

Though Thailand has sought the diplomatic assistance of other countries to convey a “just and correct” image of the Malay-Muslim situation to the international public and to minimise the external support for the armed separatist organisations, it has avoided external involvement in the conflict and has turned down initiatives and proposals such as mediation and good offices because they would have the effect of internationalising the issue. Thailand desires to keep the conflict and method of resolution an internal matter, its diplomacy being directed to reducing/terminating external support and involvement.[27]

The national religion of Thailand is Theravada Buddhism, populations in the four southern most provinces are predominately Muslim (in excess of 70 per cent).[28] By stressing the legitimizing, integrative, symbolic, and moral force functions of Buddhism, the studies from which the below quotes have been selected stress the central role of Buddhism in Thai politics.

A secularist politics that does not seek its legitimacy in Buddhism is implausible. The traditional politics (of Thailand) have always been Buddhist kingdoms in the sense that the consciousness of being a political collectively is tied up with the possession and guardianship of the religion under the aegis of a dhamma practicing Buddhist king.[29]
The traditional and most viable collective representation of the Thai are the monarchy and Buddhism. Buddhism can therefore serve as a means of political integration. It is the unifying ideology of all classes within Thai society....[30]

The religion (Buddhism) serves as the moral tone and social force society...Buddhism is the most important symbol and the primary base for cultural and national identification. Thus prosperity of Buddhism and vice versa; and the stability of the nation and religion cannot be separated.[31]

Because of this centrality, the successive political authorities and various pressure groups have sought to manipulate Buddhist values and the Sanggha (the Buddhist church) to justify or legitimize essentially non-Buddhist activities and policies. The centrality of Buddhism in Thai politics also give rise to another disintegrative tendency. This is in relation to the Malay-Muslim minority in southern Thailand. Much more than Buddhism, Islam prescribes detail codes for Islamic societies. In many issues areas the two value systems are incompatible, a situation which further aggravates the political and economic dimensions of the separatist problem in the south.[32]

In matters of religion Bangkok has adopted a tolerant attitude. It has, however, sought to bring the religious authorities and the application of Islamic law in the realm of personal affairs and inheritance under government control to foster integration and to enhance the legitimacy of Thai rule in the border provinces. Bangkok recognises the need to accept differences in religion and realises that any attempt to suppress Islam will result in religious strife and work against the integration of the minority community into the Thai society. Consequently, religious freedom is guaranteed in the constitution and Bangkok has sought to demonstrate this commitment by providing funds for the construction and repair of mosques, encouraging participation in annual international Koran reading competition organised by Malaysia, and assisting in the pilgrimage to Mecca.

The religious issue becomes more complex, however, when religion intrudes into other domains. For example, in the administration of law and justice Rama V, following the British practice in Malaya, allowed the application of personal and inheritance laws as contained in the Islamic Shariah code but required that in all other areas the state secular law should apply. However, as the system of Islamic law and its administration were not systematic, an effort was made to systemise the administration of justice under Islamic law. Islamic courts were created as an adjunct to the Thai judicial system, and provision was made for the appointment of an Islamic chief justice by the minister of the interior with royal assent. In 1929 a committee was appointed to codify and translate Islamic laws and on personal affairs and inheritance, and this task was completed in 1941. In 1946 the Application of Islamic Law Act was passed. The effort to systemise the administration of justice under Islamic law created the dependence of the Islamic judicial system on the state judicial system and the Buddhist political authority, which viewed by the local religious elite as un-Islamic. Therefore, they sought independence for the Islamic judicial system as reflected in the petition submitted by Haji Sulong.

Bangkok has also sought to create and co-opt an Islamic religious hierarchy to legitimise its political authority, in the south. The 1945 Patronage of Islam Act attempted to institute a link between the government and the religious authorities. The act created the office of the Chularajmontri, the occupant of which was to be considered the spiritual leader of all Muslims in Thailand. He is to advise the government on Muslim affairs and religious activities. The act also established a Central Islamic Committee in Bangkok and permitted the minister of the interior to establish provincial Islamic committees (PICs) in provinces with sizable Muslim population. The appointment of ulamas to the PICs was to be controlled by the minister of the interior. By establishing a hierarchy and exercising control over the appointment to these various committees, the government would be able to control and regulate the religious authorities and use them to provide legitimacy, as was the case with the Buddhist Sanggha. Thus the Patronage of Islam Act was viewed by the Malay community with distrust, and the sincerity of the government I promoting Islam, the avowed purpose of the act, was doubted. Notwithstanding the lack of support for these measure, Bangkok continues its efforts to enlist the support of the Islamic religious elite.

Buddhism plays a central role in state rituals and ceremonies, and the need for Muslims to participate in the activities raises many issues of religious freedom and cultural rights. The office of the Chularajmontri was asked to deliver Islamic legal opinions on 23 specific cases involving Muslim participation in rituals and ceremonies that had or could become controversial with the Muslim community. These included (1) whether Muslims should stand up during the lighting of incenses and candles by the presiding official; (2) whether Muslim students should prostate to pay respect to teachers; (3) whether Muslims could pay homage to statues of Thai kings; and (4) whether Buddhist officials would be allowed to enter mosques to meet with the Muslim congregation to explain official policies. The Islamic legal opinion answered the first three question in the negative and left the fourth to the discretion of the local mosque committee.

The preface to the legal opinion is illuminating on the problem at issue. The preface states that its decision is based on Islamic principles and many appear contradictory to the mainstream of Thai society. “ Some things that the two religions (Buddhism and Islam) teach differently will have to be tolerated by all Thais. They will be different features of our society. If we try to synthesize them or try to compromise between them it will lead to more division within our nation” Should this precept be accepted, then the Malay-Muslim community will continue to stand apart from the mainstream of Thai society and its loyalty to the state will continue to be suspected by the Thai elite. Forced integration would also create problems between officialdom and the Malay-Muslim community. The situation appears to be a no-win one, and imprudent policies such as the proposed change of the names of Malay-Muslim students to Thai names to facilitate integration can become controversial.[33]

Thus despite the constitutional provision for religious freedom, religion remains a significant divisive force, and compromise appears to be virtually impossible in many areas. The resurgence of Islam heightens the division and also increases the sensitivity of Thai officials to the possible security implications of the increasing Islamic religious activities in southern Thailand.[34] Serious effort and commitment by Bangkok to provide funds and construction of mosques shows that a substantial degree of tolerance in allowing Islam to be integrated in the Thai society. Bangkok need to do more rather to ‘force’ but should accommodate and accept the people in southern Thailand to profess the religion freely.

[1] .Suchit Bunbongkarn, State of the Nation Thailand, Singapore, Institute of South Asian Studies,1996,p.18-24.
[2] .Ibid.
[3] .Ibid.
[4] .Ibid.
[5] Ibid.
[6] Ibid
[7] Ibid,p.10
[8] Ibid,p.11
[9] Ibid,p.12
[10] Ibid,p.13
[11] Ibid,p.14
[12] Ibid,p.17
[13] Wichayayuth Boonchit and Snuntha Nateny, The Eighth National Economic and Social Development Plan and Current Economic Adjustment, Tokyo,Working Paper 64,1998,p.1-3
[14] . .Suchit Bunbongkarn, State of the Nation Thailand, Singapore, Institute of South Asian Studies,1996,p.46.
[15] .Ibid,p.47-48.
[16] .Ibid,p.48-49.
[17] .Ibid,p.50.
[18] .Ibid,p.51.
[19] .Ibid,p.56.
[20] .Ibid,p.5.
[21] Muthiah Alagappa, The National Security of Developing States, Lesson from Thailand, Massachusetts, Auburn House Publishing Company,1987,p.62-69
[22] .Ibid,p.227-228.
[23] . Suchit Bunbongkarn, State of the Nation Thailand, Singapore, Institute of South Asian Studies,1996,p.59.
[24] Muthiah Alagappa, The National Security of Developing States, Lesson from Thailand, Massachusetts, Auburn House Publishing Company,1987,p.228-229.
[25] Ibid,p.230.
[26] Ibid,p.231.
[27] Ibid,p.231.
[28] Robert B. Albitron and Sidthinat Prabudhanitisan, Culture, Region, and Thai Political Diversity, Asian Studies Review, 21(1997), p.64.
[29] J.Thambiah, “Sanggha and Polity in Modern Thailand” An Overview,” in Religion and Legitimation, ed. Bardwell L.Smith,p.132.
[30] .J.A. Nields Mulder qouted in J.L.S. Girling, Thailand: Society and Politics(Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1982),p.30.
[31] .Soomboon Suksamran, Buddhism and Politics in Thailand , Singapore, Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 1982,p.12.
[32] Muthiah Alagappa, The National Security of Developing States, Lesson from Thailand, Massachusetts, Auburn House Publishing Company,1987,p.43-44
[33] Surin Pitsuwan, Insensitive Move Worries Musims in the South,” Bangkok Post, December 10, 1983.
[34] . Muthiah Alagappa, The National Security of Developing States, Lesson from Thailand, Massachusetts, Auburn House Publishing Company,1987,p.222.

Continue to Part 4, the Final Part.....
posted by Major D Swami (Retired) @ 5:59 PM  
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