THE OVERWHELMING vote against the charter draft in the deep South showed people in the region had a high awareness of the impact the document would have on them, experts have said.
The referendum “no” vote in Yala, Narathiwat and Pattani provinces was 59.54, 61.84 and 65.14 per cent respectively, the highest proportional opposition countrywide.
The deep South’s “no” vote was higher than in the North and Northeast.
The deep South’s reaction to the charter was unexpected after the region strongly supported the referendum on the 2007 draft constitution, with Yala, Pattani and Narathiwat’s respective “yes” votes 69.6, 72.2 and 73.4 per cent that year.
Mustarsheedeen Waba – a teacher in Pattani and a member of Southernmost People’s Network of Community Right and Environment Safeguard for Peace – said the vote was so strong against the current charter because there was a high awareness of the document and strong community groups in the deep South.
“Many people were very active for this referendum and the constitutional draft especially on religion, education and community rights issues,” he said. “Prior the referendum, there were hot debates on the draft charter everywhere.”
He said that of most concern for voters was Article 67 of the charter.
He said Article 67 gave the sense that the authorities would give priority to the protection and support of Buddhism, resulting in the majority Muslim population in the Deep South feeling that their right to practise their beliefs would be diminished. “This is the major issue among the Muslims, especially the middle-aged and elderly, and the referendum result clearly represented this concern about the new charter,” he said.
Mustarsheedeen said religion was not the only reason for the anti-charter sentiment expressed at the polls.
Locals also wanted free education until they finished high school and the firm community right for the people to be a tool in fighting projects like the Thepa coal-fired power plant in nearby Songkhla and the proposed coal-fired power plant in Pattani.
However, Panu Utairat, secretary-general of the Southern Border Provinces Administrative Centre, said the authorities considered the backlash to be partly the result of people spreading false information about the draft constitution.
Panu said there had been a concerted effort in the deep South to create misunderstandings about the charter.
“We found that there was perverted information in the area about Articles 31, 54 and 57, which were about religion and education, and we tried hard to fix these misunderstandings, such as [the false belief] the authorities would ban the wearing of the hijab,” Panu said.
“However, even though there were efforts to spread these misunderstandings about the draft charter and the insurgency to prevent people from voting on referendum day, many people still cooperated with the authorities very well and went out to vote.”
Suriyasai Katasila, a former yellow-shirt activist and deputy rector of Rangsit University’s College of Social Innovation, said the majority “no” vote in the seep South showed that people there did not accept junta rule and the presence of military in the region.
“There is the unpleasant feeling among the local people that is caused by the pressure from the Army. So they [the Army] should learn from this referendum and adjust their strategies or else there will be an anti-military sentiment among the people,” Suriyasai said.
However, Mustarsheedeen said the vote against the charter was not about activism against the authorities and the movement for independence in the deep South.
“Many people still went to vote on the referendum day, which indicated that they still participated with the Thai authorities. But those who seek independence from Thailand would not show up to vote,” he said.
According to statistics from the Election Commission, the voter-turnout rates for Pattani, Yala and Narathiwat were 52.54 per cent, 52.94 per cent and 66.1 per cent.