No Thai Rak Thai fever in the troubled South

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Community leaders, ordinary citizens say Thaksin will have to change attitude, methods to win over Muslims

Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra will have to dramatically alter his policies and attitude towards the Muslim-majority South if he is to regain the hearts and minds of voters in the area, who unanimously rejected the Thai Rak Thai bandwagon.

The result of the election was a blunt message from voters in this predominantly Muslim region that they disapproved of Thaksin’s handling of the ongoing violence in the region and that he would need to rethink his approach if he wishes to win the approval of people in the area.

“I voted against the ruling party because I wanted things to change and I don’t want any more violence. People here cannot tolerate it [the handling of the situation] anymore,” said Saudi Awae, a villager in Pattani’s Kamiyoh sub-district.

It was perhaps the first time that local Muslims here collectively used the parliamentary channel to express dissatisfaction with the central government, said academic Srisompob Jitpiromsri, from Prince of Songkhla University’s Pattani campus.

In the past, local Muslims, who make up about 85 per cent of the population in the three southernmost provinces, would go through local politicians, most of whom had been around for decades. However such an arrangement failed to fulfil the needs of the local community, especially in times of crisis such as this.

Local Muslim Klee Yosob agreed. “Where were they when we were in trouble and needed help?” he asked.

Phaisal Phromayong, the vice chairman of the Central Islamic Committee of Thailand, said that the central government had failed to listen to local voices. “We have to accept the fact that Thaksin never really gave the Muslim politicians in the region the political space they needed to address the problems in the region.” Srisompob said the ballot result was a way for the community to tell the government that it would no longer put up with its questionable and heavy-handed tactics.

They see their religious and community leaders being arrested and taken in without solid evidence, said Srisompob, pointing to the Tak Bai massacre that ended in the death of at least 85 Muslim protestors.

Voters rejected eight out of 11 former MPs who ran under the Thai Rak Thai banner following a merger between that party and the New Aspiration Party, as well as those who defected from the opposition Democrat Party.

Even more embarrassing was that some Thai Rak Thai members lost their seats to political novices.

With the Democrats’ clean sweep, the once highly praised Wadah faction of Deputy Prime Minister Wan Muhamad Noor Matha has effectively lost its clout and mandate.

Locals felt that the group was too self-interested and the faction paid a price for this perception, said a religion teacher whose associates were arrested on allegations that they were involved in violence in the region.

“To our disappointment, they did not speak out for those who have the same roots as them,” said the teacher on condition of anonymity.

The majority of Wadah supporters were educators and religious teachers, who form the foundation of the Muslim community.

Moreover, the government’s massive economic packages have failed to cause people to turn a blind eye to what they see as brutality against fellow Muslims in the region.

“We don’t want his money. A big mountain of cash pouring into the south could not save people’s lives,” Klee said. “The dead cannot spend money.”

Klee said he hopes and believes that Thaksin will not become a sore loser and ignore the plight of locals.

“On the contrary, I think Thaksin will now do everything to win our hearts,” he said.

Srisompob agreed that the absence of Thai Rak Thai MPs in the region does not mean that Thaksin cannot initiate a dialogue with local people. However, he added that the continuation of an arrogant attitude and heavy-handed methods by the administration would only worsen the situation.

Published on Feb 07 , 2005

Supalak Ganjanakhundee

The Nation

PATTANI

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