Government falls back on a failed peace initiative
The govt's Wadah faction has lost credibility in the deep South, but some in authority still seem to think it can build bridges in the strife-torn regionIt started off as a good idea - a Malay-Muslim political entity working and speaking for Malay-Muslims who are Thai citizens.The Wadah faction now incorporated into the Pheu Thai Party first surfaced in the Malay-speaking deep South 17 years ago and made its presence felt from the start. But over time, it became like any other faction in Thai politics: self-serving.
Wadah came into being at a time when previous generation of insurgent separatists - communists and Malays - had effectively disappeared. People actually thought a new beginning was in the making - that the nation's relationship with the Malays of the southernmost provinces was about to take a big step toward reconciliation, and that Wadah could help seal this once and for all. So when Wadah came into the picture, there was some hope that it would serve as the interlocutor between the state and the Malays of the South.
On the surface the Wadah politicians appeared to have the best political capital to carry out such a task. They were local Malays and some of them had family members who were part of a long-standing separatist movement that surfaced in the 1960s.
Wadah came into being under the wing of General Chavalit Yongchaiyudh, and would eventually merge with the Thai Rak Thai Party of Thaksin Shinawatra to stand in the general election in 2001. But as its political star rose, relations between the Malay-Muslims in the deep South and the Thai state remained as shaky as ever. Playing both sides could only last for so long.
Wadah's moment of truth came in late 2004 in the Narathiwat district of Tak Bai. It was a protest that had gone wrong. More than 1,000 young Malay-Muslim men thought they could shame the police into releasing a group of village-defence volunteers who were accused of providing government-issued weapons to the insurgents. They didn't think that security officials would do anything drastic because they were unarmed. But they were wrong.
Troops fired live rounds into the crowd, killing at least eight people. More than 1,000 others were loaded into the back of military trucks, one man on top of another. By the time they reached their destination in Pattani four hours later at least 78 of the young men had suffocated to death.
Wadah kept silent, possibly out of fear of upsetting Thaksin. Then it tried to justify why it had to stay with Thaksin. Some members tried to argue that the ruling party controlled the budget needed to develop their communities.
But the problem between the Malays and the Thai state has never really been about development, or poverty, not even food security.
Malay-Muslims felt insulted and immediately turned their backs on Wadah. The group has never recovered, politically speaking. Members tried hard to stay in the public spotlight - running in more general elections, as well as going for seats in the Provincial Administrative Organisation. But nothing worked because the Malay-Muslims have been unable to forgive them for the Tak Bai massacre.
Over the past year or so, shortly after the Yingluck government came into being, some in the Wadah faction were assigned to carry out legwork for the real leader, Thaksin, as he strove to bring peace to the deep South. Wadah's job was to pave the way for the government's meetings with the separatist leaders. But it took the government some time to realise that Wadah hadn't regained its political capital, even with the separatist leaders.
Like Wadah, Deputy Prime Minister Chalerm Yoobamrung has little to lose in terms of credibility and integrity. So this made him perfect for the ruling Pheu Thai Party to throw out all sorts of gimmicks and test the waters. Wadah just happens to be Chalerm's latest smokescreen.
Bringing Wadah members into his political orbit should be understood in that light, not much more, given their appalling record since the Tak Bai massacre. Their recent appointment is more to do with national politics rather then a genuine attempt to address the insurgent violence in the Malay-speaking South.
Unfortunately, these policy-makers don't seem to think that the people in the deep South deserve better.