The Nation

Thailand on the right path, southerners believe

Residents in the violenceplagued southernmost provinces are becoming more optimistic about the direction Thailand is taking, a recent survey conducted by the Asia Foundation revealed.

According to the survey of 750 residents in the restive region, at least 46 per cent said they believed the country was moving in the right direction, compared to 31 per cent last year. The "Democracy and Conflict in Southern Thailand: A Survey of the Thai electorate in Yala, Narathiwat and Pattani " report released yesterday showed that an improving economy played a major role in the assessment. "When asked what Thailand's biggest problem was, 60 per cent of the respondents in last year's national survey pointed to the economy compared to 23 per cent of southerners this year," a press release from the foundation said. As for the ongoing insurgency, 37 per cent of the residents said the main reason was the officials' "failure to understand the local population" in the deep South, while about 56 per cent believed that self governance would help resolve the situation. About 69 per cent of the respondents on the national front and 67 per cent in the South saw decentralisation as a more effective form of governance.The survey results were announced at a recent seminar, during which Chulalongkorn University's Assoc Prof Chanthana Banpasirichote reminded the audience that trust between state agencies and the local population, especially among the Malayspeaking people, was still very high. While the survey indicated that most local residents in the restive region valued democratic principles, they also acknowledged the role of money politics and vote buying, Chanthana said.She added that the study confirmed that people in the deep South did not feel they belonged in the political sense. Senator Worawit Baru of Pattani said the study showed that southerners wanted to see more of a PattaniMalay cultural identity, adding that more than 95 per cent of the locals supported the idea of having public signs written in both Thai and Jawee - Malay in Arabic text. "All over the world, from Saudi Arabia to the United Kingdom and Malaysia, you see signs in English and the local language. Thailand can't move beyond the notion that the state knows best, in order to allow local participation on issues such as local cultural identity," Worawit said.Unfortunately, he said, local identity in the Malayspeaking South has always been associated with a challenge to Thailand's nationhood.

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