Chance for Autonomy and "Our" Future

Deep South Watch
            The 10th National Congress of Political Sciences and Public Administration, which took place on 1-2 December 2009, was not only an academic forum with academic presentations and Q&A sessions by academics and students in various field, but also the time in which the debate on a new form of governance for the southern border provinces received interest.  In additional, as Prince of Songkla University was its host, the Congress thus was inevitably full of the mentioned arguments and suggestions.
1. Speech: Time and Center Stage
            The event started with Duncan McCargo, a political scientist from University of Leeds, United Kingdom, who can be regarded as one of the experts on the Southern unrest.  McCargo made of speech untitled "Thinking the Unthinkable: Autonomy in the Southern Border Provinces of Thailand" instead of a broader topic such as "Conflicts and Thai Politics" as set by the host.  McCargo chose to directly consider this hot political offer and stated that his speech was on behalf of the "voice" of the locals and a number of "operatives" in the Southern border provinces with whom I had opportunities to talk during data collection for his research, although these individuals did not dare to bring up the subject of "political offers" openly.
๐ Pattani and Legitimacy of the Thai State
McCargo started with the question on the problem of violence in the southern border, whose death toll was currently more than 3,500 and at was considered to be the third highest in the world after Iraq and Afghanistan, a figure which the Thai society did not really want to hear.  Meanwhile, the conflict in Northern Ireland, McCargo's homeland, lasted more than 30 years, resulted in less than 3,500 deaths, yet became known all over the world, in contrary to the case of the Southern border.  McCargo raised a question on whether the Thai society and the international community could accept such high number of deaths.  If "we" could not accept the figure, then each of us would have to take responsibility in finding a solution.  Despite the fact that each and every Thai governments have tried to do so, it was evident that the problem could not be solved.
This British political scientist provides a frame that perhaps as a country goes through a political crisis such as the current one, new opportunities may be resulted.  When a political VIP decreases his or her role, political changes may occur.  Furthermore, if we believe that problem in the southern border provinces cannot be separated from the national political crisis, then finding a solution to the Southern border may also serve as a way to resolve national crisis.
McCargo invited us to look at the core, in which the problem of the Southern border is a political problem, in which the Thai state is losing historically existing legitimacy, especially when there are anti-state forces in the area.  The use of force by security agencies to deal with the problem thus only technically reduces the conflict at a certain level, but does not solve all the issues.  Meanwhile, other methods of the Thai state in solving the problem is done by choosing very appropriate words, such as "reconciliation" and "justice", for which no one denies, but the emphasis on these concepts alone may not allow one to see other solutions, e.g. decentralization of power or a new form of governance, which may help the issues of reconciliation and justice, demanded by many parties, to not be a problem any longer.
Then why did the "Patani Muslims" stage a resistance?  McCargo raised an issue and mentioned that in his opinion, the core of the problem was not in socioeconomic issues, and the problem of narcotics and other interests were not the main issue either.  Furthermore, religion was not the issue.  Certainly, there might be some words and explanations which refer to religion, but the existing violence was a result of political motivations, i.e. the desire to control the area by themselves.
However, McCargo defended his hypothesis that the mentioned desire of the Patani Muslims was not only the thought of "everyone", but the escalation the problem was a result of the legitimacy of the Thai state not being adequate to govern the entire country.  Therefore, the way to solve the problem would be to increase the legitimacy of the state.
“I am not saying that separation is required to solve this problem, but if the 3 Southern border provinces are to remain a part of Thailand, the state must have higher legitimacy.  The problem is whether that is possible.”
The problem that McCargo saw was at the constitutional level, which specified that the Thai state must be a unitary state.  Another issue was the lack of a proper terminology to describe this change, as the word "special administrative zone" is a word that has been highly opposed, using the word "autonomy" seemed to be an easier approach.
The time is right?
However, this political scientist from the West deemed that this was the right opportunity for change, as the 2 opposing sides in national politics could become allies in this issue, especially among the "Liberal Wing" of both sides.
McCargo traced back to the part by mentioning an article written by Dr.Prawase Wasi on 24 February 2007 on the website, which proposed decentralization of power in the form of various counties all over the country.  The important thing about this article was that it did not mention only the Southern border provinces, but it mentioned 14-15 counties into normal structures that were not "special zones".  This idea did not seem to be radical.  Rather, it should be considered as "Regionalization" (see the article "นายกรัฐมนตรีกับการสร้างความเป็นเอกภาพในยุทธศาสตร์ดับไฟใต้”  (Prime Minister and Creation of Unity in the Strategy to Extinguish the Southern Fire - In Thai) by Dr. Prawase Wasi)
However, another outstanding proposal on form of administration had been made by Srisompob Jitpiromsri.  This proposal was not made groundlessly.  Rather, it was supported by research.  Jitpiromsri proposed the creation of a Ministry to specifically oversee the Southern border provinces.  Although this proposal was strongly attacked by some parties, others responded positively as the proposal was mentioned in the Report of the Extraordinary Commission to Consider, Study, and Solve the Problem of the Southern Border Provinces, the Thai Senate, and from the fact that the Matubhum Party used the proposal as a policy of the party.  Thus, it could be said that the idea did sell at a certain level.
It was not only academics who had proposed this issue.  McCargo stated that politicians, such as Pol.Capt. Chalerm Yoobamrung, had also proposed autonomy during his first week as Minister for Interior but did not continue to push the issue.  McCargo then raised a question as to why would a politician, such as Yoobamrung, make such a proposal?  It might be due to the desire to empower the ordinary people to negotiate with officials, which would be a stance of a nationalist, like Yoobamrung, in a more open-minded manner.  The recent proposal of a "Pattani City" of Gen.Chavalit Yongchaiyudth was not the first of its kind.  However, as an important figure in Puea Thai Party, this proposal was thus heavily criticized (Gen. Yongchaiyudth mentioned additional "details" of his proposal in a speech during the forum "Pattani City...Solution on the Occasion of the 6th Year of the Southern Fire", organized by Issara News Agency of the Thai Journalist Association on 2 December 2009.  More details can be found on the website of Issara News Agency in "บิ๊กจิ๋ว" ขยายความ "นครปัตตานี" ฟื้นความยิ่งใหญ่ของ "ระเบียงมักกะฮ์" ("Big Jiw" Elaborated "Pattani City", Restoring the Glory of the "Corridor of Mecca" - in Thai and discussion of the presenting expert in นครปัตตานี...โดนใจแต่ไม่มั่นใจแก้วิกฤติชายแดนใต้ (Pattani City...Sounds Right but Still Unsure in Solving the Southern Border Crisis) . What was interesting was that Abhisit Vejjajiva, Prime Ministry and an important advisor, also said in an interview with the media that special administration under the constitution might be an option in ending the unrest in the Southern border.
            McCargo mentioned all of these facts to try to emphasize that when the issue was analyzed and determined to be a political issue, the solution should also be a political one as well.  As these proposals came out publicly from various individuals, both in the yellow and red factions, would it be possible to have a "Liberalist Forum" in which a political proposal regarding decentralization is discussed and debated in order to find a solution, regardless of what the content and format mauy be, as this would be a new opportunity to discuss such issue in public?
            This was the proposal by the keynote speaker at the National Congress of Political Sciences and Public Administration at Prince of Songkla University
            2. Political Scientists and Autonomy
Polemics regarding the issue of autonomy appeared to simmer during small discussion rounds.  Even though the issue of political conflict at the center of power or disputes with neighboring countries were issues in which political and social scientists participating in the Congress had interest and participated in discussions, it seemed that the time and venue of the Congress helped the issue of autonomy in the Southern border to become more imminent.  Discussion on the topic of "Southern Border Provinces Special Administrative Area under the Viewpoint of Political Scientists" at center stage on 2 December was thus designed to be a forum for exchange of insights of academics regarding such proposal.
๐ (New) Architecture of Power
            Srisompob Jitpiromsri, a political scientist at Prince of Songkla University, Pattani Campus, had a viewpoint on the central issue that was not very different from McCargo's, both in term of legitimacy of the Thai state itself and in term of the heart of the matter being a political problem.  Thus, the solution to the problem requires an interest in restructuring the relationships of power in order to resolve the issue of conflict.  In other words, a new architecture of power must be created in order to renovate the relationships and power structure in the Thai political society.
            Therefore, Jitpiromsri presented the findings of his research once again, emphasizing that administrative structure was the key to solving the problem of violence in the area and not only by military means alone.  Thus in his study, conducted jointly with Sukree Langputeh, proposed 3 principles in the design of the new power structure: creation of balance, cultural conscience, and realization of the problem of state power.
            Jitpiromsri explained that in an area with many different and diverse groups of elites, the design of the new power structure must be aware of the question of how to make all parties able to live together under the new structure as the core of the problem of conflict was related to the ethnic, historical, and religious consciences which no longer could be repressed.  Another problem was the problem of state power which had not been able to go beyond nation-state level since the formation of the new nation-state of Thailand over 100 years ago, which was the architecture of King Rama V, yet the design of the new structure must consider the paradigm regarding the new unitary state (see details of the research at "การปกครองท้องถิ่นแบบพิเศษในจังหวัดชายแดนภาคใต้" (Special Local Administration in Southern Border Provinces, in Thai) by Srisompob Jitpiromsri and Sukree Langputeh)
๐ Intention Towards Autonomy
            At the same forum, Chidchanok Rahimmula, another political scientist from the host institution, observed that there were many approaches in proposing a new form of administration in the area, which was new and probably at the liking of many.  However, problems had existed in the lack of details, while a phenomenon in the area that had equally high level of priority was the limited ustice system and the high number of those detained and awaiting trial in court.
            However, Rahimmula deemed at the arguments regarding autonomy must be accepted by people all over the country, which was different from sovereignty, which required acceptance from the international community.  Under this condition, it was possible that if the proposal for autonomy was realized, it could serve as a condition for seize fire by the separatist movement.  On the other hand, the proposal for autonomy could also serve as a catalyst for national establishment in the future.
            Nonetheless, Rahimmula observed that when the topic of autonomy was discussed, it was imperative to consider whether there was a political motive on the side of the government and policy makers, and if so, to what extent?  Furhermore, the motive of those working in the area should also be considered, as well as the needs of the grassroot people in the area.  In addition, Rahimmula also posed a question that if this type of proposal was to be driven, it would be absolutely crucial to identify the leader of the struggle in the area.  Autonomy should be created for the people and not to anyone's personal interests.  Regarding the problem of which type of autonomy would be more suitable, more academic studies were required.
๐ Local Administration Must be "Non-Special"
Meanwhile, Thanet Chareonmuang, a political scientist from Chiang Mai University, pointed that the centralization of power of the Siamese State which had occurred for more than one hundred years was what Chai-Anan Samudavanija termed as "Over-Centralized State" that did not only pull in administrative power from the local level to the center, but also included the culture, language, and even religious power, all of which must depend on the center.  During the Cold War, overwhelming support from the United States for Thailand, particularly for the Royal Thai Military and the Royal Thai Police, resulted in a centralization of power that did not only remain in place, but the military dictatorship rule over a period of 26 years (1957 - 1973) also served as a base for creation of a civil service system that strongly incorporated local area up to present.
Chareonmuang also added that the success in the design of the mentioned centralized political and administrative structure, as well as external support, had created arrogance and resulted in a "3 Slows" traits of Thai politics: slow decentralization, slow development of democracy, and slow social revolution.  The 3 slows were what caused the country to face its greatest crisis at present.
This Lanna political scientist and expert in local administration also stated that the Thai society still had 2 myths regarding local administration.  First of all, we often thought that the world had a 3-tier administrative system: the federal level, the regional level, and the local level.  However, in reality, there were only 2 countries that organized their administrative systems in such manner, i.e. France and Thailand.  Most countries had no regional administration.  Worst yet, it France herself, the regional administration only acted as the supervisor of the local administration and there was no control.
The second myth was that the understanding that local administration everywhere could be managed in the same manner, such as in the case of Thailand (in the Tambon Administrative Organization, Provincial Administrative Organization, and in the Municipality) without conclusion of lessons.  Other, in reality, each locality had its own unique characteristics and ever-changing dynamics, and problems in each area required location-specific solutions.  Form of administration in each locality should be self-designed, thus the administration of this locality should not be regarded as "special" as each location was expected to be different.  Designating an area as "special" would create walls in solving problems rather than ways to solve them.
Chareonmuang deemed that domestic democracy was still unstable as the fight between the democratic and the bureaucratic factions was still on-going and had to tendency to be prolonged.  However, the locality should propose its own agenda of decentralization at such time, even though the elites at present were arrogant in their success in centralization and did not have true intetion regarding this issue.
3. Political Philosophy and the Southern Unrest
๐ Autonomy and Plurinational State
            As McCargo observed that the term "special administrative area tended to create quite a big issue, while an adjective such as "special" might cloud the design of a form of local administration or the direction of decentralization from the way it should be or its accordance with the reality of the area, many individuals decided to use to word "autonomy" instead of the mentioned political proposal.  However, Weera Somboon, a political scientist with expertise in international relations at Chulalongkorn University, traced back to the origin of the term and proposed that the word "Attha-banyat" ("อัตตบัญญัติ") in Thai should be used.
In the small round of discussion on the topic of "Political Philosophy and the Problem in the Southern Border Provinces" held on 2 December, Somboon proposed that the word "autonomy" was a result from a political unit of analysis having its own sovereignty.  "Autonomy" was a portmanteau between "autos", meaning oneself, and "nomos" or the ability to set rules.  The state, in a sense, was a political unit of analysis with its own sovereignty, thus there was "autonomy" that could not be separated from "sovereign power".  Each state had its own autonomy and the vertical power. Thus the question was whether a political unit such as a state could divide autonomy in a horizontal direction? Or whether it was necessary to do so?
In this instance, the idea regarding state according to Thomas Hobbes, a major political philosopher, eliminated the mentioned horizontal level and tried to make every political unit in the state become an identically abstract concept. For example, citizenship of a state would not emphasize internal diversity and assumed that the problem regarding such differences had already been managed.  Somboon deemed that, in this instance, the idea about nation did not seem to be different, as a identical hypothesis had been created and all components had been eliminated, leaving only the ethnic core, thus making problems about the differences between political units and political levels disappeared.
Somboon deemed that this mentioned paradigm resulted in the conclusion of Article 1 of the Thai Constitution, which stated that Thailand was a unified, inseparable state. Thus a question should be posed on what was the true meaning of the Article? How could Bangkok separated from the rest of the Kingdom?  Finally, would the problem and proposal regarding "autonomy" ("attha-banyat") be able to transform the "mono-nation state" with numerous internal problems towards a paradigm of a "multi-nation state"?
๐ Past and Future
            Meanwhile, Thanet Wongyannawa, instructor from the Faculty of Political Science, Thammasart University, indicated that the demand for acceptance of the identities of people in a nation state was a growing trend in the 1970s, while political movements for cessation from the state had always been on-going, whether the cases of Wales and Scotland in the United Kingdom, the case of Basque Country in Spain and France with one of the oldest spoken language in Europe, or the case of the State of Chiapas in Mexico.  This change in the conscience for identity was not found only among the ethnic minorities, but also in the religious movement groups as well.
            In his opinion, Wongyannawa believed that the case of the Southern Border Provinces was not a problem and predicted that if the situation did not change much, in approximately 30 years we might be seeing opposition forces similar to those in the Southern border in other regions, whether in the North or the Northeast.  Thus he deemed at in the very first instance, the content of Article 1 of the Thai Constitution should be changed, although he did not strongly agree that granting autonomy would be a solution that worked.
            While Chaiwat Satha-Anand, political philosopher from Thammasart University, proposed an issue about the "exit" based on the insight of Hannah Arendt, German political theorist, that the human life was based on the dimension of time that directed it in many forms.  As we consider the "present" as interactions of elements of the past, we considered "the past" and found that it could not be changed, while "future" was the unknown and was based on uncertainly.
The question towards the past was how could be live together when we would never be able to change anything.  Thus it was stated that humans had to live with the past with forgiveness, otherwise humans would never be able to live with the past.  Meanwhile, humans might be connected to the future with "promises" under the main condition that there was no promise that could not be canceled.  Therefore, it could be said that all human beings were based on the ground of uncertainty and sensitivity.
4. Conclusion: Questions
This Congress left quite many questions that challenged political scientists, and it might be as Srisompob Jitpiromsri said in the ending remark that the Thai society would experience problems that might be difficult to understand.  In the viewpoint of a political scientist, the interesting issue in this instance would be the core of political and administrative problems in Thailand in time of altercation or confrontation, especially in face of political conflicts and conflicts in terms of ethnicity, religion, ideology, belief, and political ideology, which were all mixed together at the national, local, and regional levels.  Contemplation of different ideas to find a solution would be a direct challenge for political scientists.
Jitpiromsri observed at arguments about nation-state entity and the globalized world was a point that was often raised to consider how a nation-state would continue to exist under changes towards a new order.  In other word, we mgiht have a nation-state that could be a country without being mono-national, or be a state with ethnic diversity.  We might have to consider a new paradigm that looked beyond the nation-state framework or, in other words, we might have a state with unitary sovereignty but have multiple autonomies, each of which would be different and varied according to the identity of people in each area.  At last, these new viewpoints were what Jitpiromsri deemed as being the challenge for Thai political scientists and public administrators to think and find a solution for the Thai society.
Perhaps this might be the time to talk about the forbidden subject in Thai soceity, such as a political proposal for autonomy, and discuss and debate these subjects without awkwardness.  Even though this could be an important condition in solving the conflict within Thai society, but in consideration of McCargo's observation, the push for autonomy by the liberal wing might only be an opportunistic act of the main rivals at the center of the Thai state.  Although a proposal that considered the roles of multiple stakeholders could result in a higher possibility of autonomy, it appeared at these proposals had not yet designated the space for armed groups that were compromising with state power at present.
Certainly, if an architecture of power was jointly designed in the future, it would be difficult to deny their involvement.  Thus the problem would be what kind of "model" would appropriately support the conflicting sides, by making the use of violence lack enough legitimacy to manage one's problems or make one's demands successful, regardless of the side that was using violence.
However, the proposal for autonomy must still be quite thoroughly debated in details, both on the question of whether the organizational re-structuring as the government was trying to push for this new legislation would be enough to answer the issue of decentralization, and if changes were to be made, what would be the interactions of power between different groups in the area and relationships between the state and the special administrative zone?  Other important questions included whether the decentralization under the said framework would actually be able to end the violence, and how, etc. 
Nonetheless, at the very least, aside from movements by intellectuals and politicians in Bangkok, movements in the area were also quite interesting.  On 10 December, the network 23 of civil societies (ูagenda and articles for the forum can be found here, in Thai) in the Southern border provinces, most of whom were advocacy groups of local Muslim Malays, in collaboration with civil political networks and academic organizations, would host an academic forum under the title of "Pattani City under the Thai Constitution: Dream or Reality?" in order to review the lessons learned in conflict areas in some countries and open a forum to reflect the voice of Thai Buddhists, as the minority of the area but the majority of the country.
Interesting Articles
(From the 10th Congress, in Thai and/or English)

Peace Studies

Southern Border
Political Conflict in Thailand
Locality and Community


Global Lessons
Thai Muslim Studies
Political / Social Sciences Knowledge