Thailand: Running Out Of Excuses

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June 20, 2018: There has been much less violence in the Moslem south this year and most of the shooting incidents that do occur are the result of personal feuds or criminal activity. This is the continuation of a long-term trend since the separatist violence began in 2004. It peaked around 2008 and slowly declined since. The peace negotiations, brokered by Moslem majority neighbor Malaysia, are on hold at the moment because of the unexpected results of recent national elections in Malaysia. There a reform party, led by a 92 year old veteran politician, displaced an increasingly corrupt (and reckless about it) political party that had controlled the government for over half a century and was believed to be unbeatable in an election. The hosting of the Thai peace talks was apparently not tainted by the corruption but the new government has to decide if the current Malaysian officials handling the peace talks will continue. These decisions could take weeks, or months, to arrive. The new Malaysian rulers have a lot of more vital decisions to make first, especially since the Malaysian reformers have a long list of new policies they want to implement during their first hundred days of power. That hundred days ends in early September. For the moment the Thai government and the Thai Moslem separatist groups are willing to wait.

Anticipating Democracy

A recent opinion poll found that 39 percent of Thais said their primary political concern was the restoration of democracy by the military government while 33 percent were most concerned about the performance of the military government and the rest were most concerned with the political parties and their leaders who would participate once democracy was restored. When asked what would happen once democracy was restored 51 percent thought a new, elected, the government would perform better than previous ones and 43 percent believed it would be about the same. One thing most Thais agreed on was the restoration of democracy. Something the pollsters did not touch was the fact that the democratic opposition has deliberately encouraged its followers to hold back on violence as long as it seemed elections would soon be restored. But if the military government keeps delaying elections, again and again, that would change. Given how corrupt the military government turned out to be (and the new king has long been before he succeeded his father) it is no surprise that the generals want to delay the return of democracy and possible retribution. But civil war is nothing the generals want because that would be a disaster for the country and their personal reputations.

Seeking An Alternative To Chinese Cash

Thailand and four neighboring nations (Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam) have formed a financial coalition to finance and operate an investment fund for infrastructure and development projects. This fund, which Thailand will be the largest contributor for, will make member nations less vulnerable to Chinese investment projects which often come with unwelcome (and often not obvious) conditions. Then there is the desire to reduce Chinese influence in general.

June 19, 2018: The military government announced that the coronation ceremony for the new king must take place before the return of elections. This was the first time the generals ever brought this up. Thus it is possible that the long-delayed elections, currently scheduled for February 2019 could be delayed again if the coronation date is not before early 2019. The new king assumed power in 2016 after the death of his father. It is still unclear when the new king wants to hold the coronation but since the king and the military government are on very good terms there is the possibility of more delays for the long promised elections.

June 17, 2018: A recent opinion poll found that 48 percent of Thais believed the corruption problem cannot be fixed because it is so deeply ingrained in Thai culture. Asked to name the main causes of corruption 69 percent said greed and selfishness, 28 percent said it was loopholes in the audit (monitoring) systems, 19 percent blamed it on the lenient punishment of offenders, 17 percent thought it was changes in social values and 14 percent attributed it to poverty. Yet 20 percent of Thais believed the corruption problem could be handled if a government made enough of an effort. The current military government used that as one of its justifications for taking power. Yet the military government has proved quite corrupt and the military response was to try and suppress the embarrassing news of this.

June 15, 2018: In a major change to how the monarchy operate the new king has taken personal control over the family fortune. Currently, this is estimated to be worth over $30 billion and consists mainly of real estate and shares of major corporations. In the past, the royal assets were managed by the semi-independent Crown Property Bureau and not taxed. A law was passed, at the king’s request, in 2017 to allow the change and with that came another change; the royal fortune was now subject to taxation.

June 13, 2018: The government extended emergency rule, in force since 2005 in the three southern Moslem provinces, for another three months. The emergency rule makes it easier to search for and arrest terrorism suspects. But it is unpopular, and the government keeps saying that the rules will be lifted "soon." The security forces want the rules to stay until the Islamic terrorism is gone.

June 11, 2018: In the south, more troops were ordered to patrol areas where there had been recent shootings. None of these recent attacks were found to be related to Islamic terrorists or separatists but were largely about more mundane criminal activities (drug smuggling and distribution and disputes over gold mining territory).

May 29, 2018: In the south (Pattani province) police have arrested six of nine suspects believed responsible for the May 20th incident where someone placed small bombs near 14 ATMs and banks. Three people were wounded and this was believed to be an attack deliberately staged at the start of Ramadan.

May 25, 2018: In the south (Pattani province) small bombs were placed near three ATMs. There were no casualties. These bombs were apparently placed by the same group that carried a similar action on the 20th.

 

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