An old idea unlikely to bear fruit
Chalerm's push for a curfew will win him few fans in deep SouthIt is not only sad but somewhat upsetting to see top security officials debating whether a curfew should be imposed in the three southernmost provinces where ongoing violence has so far claimed more than 5,000 lives since January 2004.
It wouldn't have been so bad if the two men were just ordinary lawmakers. But they were people in charge of security policy and their decision would have a direct impact on the lives of troops sent to the restive region to quell a bloody ongoing insurgency with no end in sight.
The two men in the spotlight are, of course, Deputy Prime Minister Chalerm Yoobamrung and Defence Minister Sukampol Suwannathat.
Chalerm has blasted Sukampol for publicly disagreeing with his proposal that a curfew be set up in the deep South.
Disagreement is fine but the manner that it's being carried out is somewhat disturbing.
Chalerm told the former air chief marshal to ask the prime minister to give him the job if he thinks he can do it better.
In a way, Chalerm was telling Sukampol that while the ruling party may respect his blind loyalty to the ruling Pheu Thai Party for going after opposition leader Abhisit Vejjajiva with all his might over the latter's time in service, he shouldn't let it go to his head.
In other words, Sukampol needs to learn his place in the Pheu Thai Party line-up. Confident over his own position, Chalerm even dragged the prime minister into the argument.
"I am the director of the new operations centre dealing with insurgent violence in the deep South, and what do I do if I am given the post but not allowed to propose ideas to do the job," Charlerm said.
Humility is not exactly a strong trait of Thai politicians. And so Sukampol noted that Chalerm was well within his right to make such a statement simply because he was superior in terms of political rank.
"The committee will meet next Friday to solve the matter, so how can ACM Sukampol conclude the military disagrees?" Mr Chalerm said.
"Maybe only one airforce officer disagrees," he quipped.
Luckily for both men, and for Thailand for that matter, this mudslinging between two men with inflated egos didn't turn into a military-versus-police stand-off.
Affecting Thailand's credibility
What is really sad is these policy-makers don't seems to understand that what they say publicly, or do, affects Thailand's credibility in the eyes of its citizens and the international community.
Lives and livelihood are at stake here and it's not just the officials sent to the restive region but the local residents as well.
A curfew in the region is nothing new as previous governments have tried it before and it did nothing in terms of curbing the violence, whether insurgency-related or just pure criminal acts with no political linkage.
Thai authorities have not been able to distinguish between insurgency violence and criminal acts and continue to conveniently blame the separatists for everything.
Besides having virtually no impact on the violence, a curfew would, needless to say, disrupt the locals' way of life economically and culturally. Aside from the fact that local residents tap rubber trees early in the morning, just hours after midnight, many funerals, as well as daily prayers, are conducted after the sun goes down.
Meanwhile, many attacks on government troops are carried out in broad daylight - not at night.
Chalerm's proposal is in line with the thinking of some hawkish military personnel who believe that by making the lives of the local Malay Muslims much harder, they would be inclined to support the government's efforts to curb the insurgency.
But such a zero-sum game mentality does nothing in terms of addressing the root cause of the conflict, which is imbedded in the historical mistrust between the ethnic Malays and the Thai State in this highly contested region. In the end, Chalerm's half-baked measure will do nothing except widen the trust gap between the two sides.