Thailand: Uniformed Misbehavior

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April 23, 2019: Many believe that the military knows what the voting results are and do not like who the voters selected. The military warned of possible civil war if voters responded violently to whatever the official election results the military eventually announces. These results will not be available until May 9th. All this indicates that the military may be trying to rig the vote and are threatening violence if Thai voters do not accept these official results. Meanwhile the military government is charging major candidates with various crimes and trying to take them out of politics one way or another. The recent elections appear to have the democrats winning big and pro-democracy parties are already seeking ways to form a coalition government. The military government has responded to that by trying to arrest key pro-democracy politicians on false charges. Actually this effort began before the March elections. In February two heads of pro-democracy political parties were charged with the offense of criticizing the military government on Internet social media. This is a common tactic but the courts undermined it by scheduling the court hearings after the elections. The military got around that by delaying the official announcement of election results. What the military is fighting against is the prospect of the pro-democracy parties winning a big enough victory to gain power and reverse some of the damage the military government has done in the last five years.

The military is particularly concerned about the party leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, a billionaire businessman whose party was apparently among the top three favorites. Juangroongruangkit proposes to reduce the armed forces strength by 50 percent (to 170,000) and the number of generals 75 percent (to 400). Such cuts appear to be popular with most Thais, no matter which party they voted for.

The generals feel their prospects are good because they have the resources to rig the election and prosecute any pro-democracy leaders who complain. The military had stressed that because the economy is doing well it is unwise to switch governments. Thailand has the fastest growing economy in the region and is in the best economic shape in six years. The economic angle appears to be less of a factor than the military hoped. It turns out that there was no way to make the pro-military candidates attractive to voters. The exit polls published by the media indicate that the democrats were won in a big way. The military thought they had prepared for this possibility by changing the constitution to make it more difficult for a government to form without at least a military faction. That’s because to form a government you need a majority of the combined 500 member parliament and the new 250 member senate whose members are not elected but appointed by the current government, which for the first five year term of the new senate means all members will be selected by the generals. After that if the military can maintain control over those appointed senate seats, they have a lock on controlling or having a decisive role in any future government.

The only sure way a non-military government can be formed is by gaining control of 376 seats (76 percent) in the parliament. Before the military changed the rules, a majority in parliament was sufficient to form a government. But now those 250 appointed senators are supposed provide a decisive vote when forming new governments. The majority of Thais oppose this new system but the current military government is seeking to maintain power indefinitely while pretending to be a democracy. This makes the military leadership feel more secure it is an inherently unstable situation, with the pro-democracy Thais perpetually angry at a rigged system the generals have created. Another source of popular anger is the degree of censorship the military has sought to impose on the Internet. In addition to the traditional lese majeste (criticizing the monarchy) laws, criticism of the military or spreading information the military decides is “fake” is also a felony.

Another major source of aggravation is that as long has the military has a lot of control over the government there will be higher defense spending (usually on expensive weapons Thailand does not need) and closer links with China, nation most Thais do not trust, or at least trust less than any other major power in the area (India, Americans, or Japanese).

The military didn’t need the true election results or exist polls to show them how unpopular they are. A recent opinion poll asked Thais what the worst things were about Thailand. A majority (52 percent) chose politics (the corruption and bad behavior of those in power). Another 26 percent cited the lack of democracy and 19 percent choose a “lack of unity.”

War In The South

Voters in the three southern Moslem majority provinces favored democratic candidates. This is not expected to change much when it comes to ending the separatist violence down there. The peace talks with southern separatist groups, which began in 2014, are stalled because the separatists refuse to make a deal until there is an elected government in Thailand, preferably one not dominated by the military. A key problem remains because the largest separatist group, BRN, has refused to negotiate unless there are international mediators. The Thai military government refused to allow foreigners to play a role and has never expressed any interest in any autonomy deal. But the last (2014) freely elected government did show interest in some sort of special status for the three Moslem provinces. But with the continued (and still slowly declining) violence down there that interest in a special status may be pushed aside by a new government putting its first priority in undoing all the political changes the military government put in place. To make matters worse the BRN has found that it has factions of fighters who believe attacks on civilians are not counter-productive because they embarrass the military, whether the military runs the government or not. These radical factions seem unconcerned that killing civilians turns more southern Moslems against BRN and the goal of a separatist state.

No matter who is running Thailand the recently elected Malaysian leader is seeking ways to get the peace talks going, if only because those three provinces are becoming a sanctuary for Malaysian Islamic terrorists. The Malaysian terrorists are fairly secure in those three Thai provinces as long as they stay out of sight and cause no trouble. From their Thai hideouts they can organize fatal mayhem in Malaysia.

The only good news down south is that the separatist and Islamic terrorist violence there continues to decline. In 2017 there were 140 violent (often non-fatal) incidents in the three Moslem provinces. That’s a 90 percent reduction from the peak year (2007) and the decline continued into 2018 and early 2019. While the violence continues to fade it shows no signs of going away completely. The violence has waned mainly because the government (elected or military) sent more troops and more economic development cash to the south. That, plus the fact that most southerners lost faith in the violence after a few years. There are still diehard separatists down south, as well as a criminal underground (mainly smugglers) to sustain the separatists. There was a brief upsurge in violence at the end of 2018 and in early 2019 but nothing dramatic and apparently an effort by more extreme separatist factions to trigger a military intervention by Malaysia. That was never likely but the separatists are running out of options.

April 22, 2019: Thailand and Cambodia officially reopened the railroad linking the two countries. Thailand had recently completed is part of the project. In mid-2018 Cambodia completed reconstruction of the rail line from its capital to the Thai border. This railroad had been built before World War II by the French colonial government and entered service in 1941. The rail connection was destroyed in 1974 after years of fighting in the area. It took nearly half a century for peace to return, reconstruction to be completed and the two governments to negotiate a renewal of cross border rail traffic between the two countries.

April 16, 2019: In the south (Pattani province) a defense volunteer was killed by separatist gunmen on a motorcycle.

April 8, 2019: The military government announced that the official results of the March 24th elections (that were to return democracy) won’t be known until May 9th at the earliest.

April 5, 2019: In the south (Yala province) two border policemen were killed while praying in a mosque. Four separatist gunmen entered the mosque and shot the policemen to death.

March 30, 2019: In the south (Narathiwat province) a soldier was wounded when separatists fired on him and two other soldiers who were off duty. When the police arrived they found a second bomb that had not gone off.


 

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