Deep South Watch
Center for the Study of Conflict and Cultural Diversity (CSCC) PSU.
A group of researchers from the Prince of Songkla University’s recently established Center for the Study of Conflict and Cultural Diversity (CSCC) conducted a survey among people in the southern border provinces. Supported by the National Research Council, the purpose of this research project was to develop a better understanding of locals’ attitudes toward social, economic, and political conditions in the violence-struck region.
From February through March of 2009, the research team collected data from 1878 respondents in the provinces of Pattani, Yala, and Narathiwat, as well as four districts in Songkhla province. Of those surveyed, 956 were men and 916 were women, or 51 percent were men and 49 percent were women. 1,657 of the respondents, or 88 percent, were Muslims, while 199 respondents, or 12 percent, were Buddhists. These figures are roughly consistent with the population in the region as a whole.
When asked to comment on personal economic conditions, 1,143 respondents, or 88.2 percent of the total number of respondents, said that they had sufficient income. 699 people, or 37.4 percent of the respondents, said that they did not have adequate income. Hence, despite Thailand?s current economic problems and the far south’s ongoing unrest, the data indicate that majority of the people in the predominantly Muslim region believe that they have an adequate income, or at least enough to survive.
However, when asked about the most important problem facing local communities, 91 percent of the respondents said unemployment, followed by illegal drugs.
These opinions show that locals seem to perceive that the current problems confronting communities in the deep south are largely economic and social. Such perceptions are reflective of the alarming rates of unemployment and drug abuse – particularly among young men -- plaguing the region. Somewhat surprisingly, respondents did not prioritize the insurgency as the top problem in communities. Respondents instead ranked this as the third most important problem.
Hence, though the current conflict and violence are viewed by locals as a key problem, more pressing issues are economic and social, specifically the often related problems of unemployment and drug abuse.
In terms of respondents’ perspectives on the underlying causes of the conflict and violence, 23.6 percent ranked unequal treatment by state officials as the primary cause. In contrast, 23 percent of respondents traced the situation to insurgent groups. After these two causes, other causes mentioned by respondents included injustice (16.1 percent), state violence (13.5 percent), poverty resulting from a lack of development (8.5 percent), a lack of education among youth and overpopulation resulting from large Muslim families (8.5 percent), Autonomy right (4.5 percent), other (1.9 percent), and poor management of resources (.4 percent).
Another question relevant to the conflict and violence was whether people have trust and confidence in Thailand?s current government led by Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva. The data show that 41.5 percent of the respondents expressed moderate levels of trust and confidence in the Abhisit government; 35 percent of respondents said that they trust this administration; and 19.3 percent expressed strong trust in this Democrat Party-led government.
This data thus indicate that in spite of the current political turmoil in Thailand’s national-level politics, the country’s economic doldrums, as well as the ongoing unrest in the southern border provinces, most people in the far south seem to have some confidence and trust in the current government.
However, data from this question may be somewhat misleading. For instance, when asked whether the Abhisit government would be able to solve the current conflict and violence in the far south, respondents were not so optimistic. 50.8 percent said that they were not sure if the government could solve the problem, while 25.8 percent said the situation was unsolvable. Only 21.1 percent of respondents said that the conflict and violence could be solved by the Abhisit government.
Another important question concerned opinions toward the government’s plan to upgrade the Southern Border Provinces Administrative Center (SBPAC) to an institution that, in addition to its current responsibilities, would also serve as a special legal administrative unit of the Thai state. When respondents were asked if this policy would help solve the current unrest, 42.1 percent expressed moderate views. Meanwhile, 27.2 said that this policy would solve the problem, while 17.8 percent of the respondents strongly disagreed that this policy would solve the conflict and violence.
Questions concerning security measures for the region revealed interesting responses. Respondents were asked whether the large number of military and police forces in the region should remain. 23.6 percent of respondents said they strongly disagreed; 21.8 percent disagreed; 15.7 percent agreed; 4.8 percent strongly agreed; and approximately 24 percent expressed moderate support for the government’s decision to continue to use a large number of military and police forces in the border provinces.
Based on the data from this question, when the two groups that opposed this government policy are combined, they make up 45.5 percent of the total number of respondents. In other words, almost half of the respondents opposed the use of large numbers of security forces in the violence-struck region.
In conclusion, when assessing people’s perspectives on politics, most people in the southern border provinces seem to have confidence and trust in the current government. However, it seems that people do not necessarily have trust and confidence in terms of whether the Abhisit administration will be able to resolve the ongoing unrest in the far south. These attitudes towards the prospects of the government to resolve the conflict and violence in the far south may in part result from the impact of national-level political uncertainty. With the persistent lack of political stability in government, most people in the far south are frustrated over successive Thai governments’ inability to implement clearer, more effective policies. But for some individuals in this region that has had a long and turbulent history with Bangkok, more significant political changes at the regional level are necessary to begin to quell the recent wave of conflict and violence that has plagued this area for more than five years now.
Note: The results of this poll were first presented a press conference launched by the Center for the Study of Conflict and Cultural Diversity, Prince of Songkla University, on April 29, 2009.