Deep South opinion leaders share their views on the draft constitution and the controversial referendum scheduled on August 7. Apart from concerns about the succession of power by the junta’s National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) shared by the general public in the rest of the country, they think that the draft is not conducive to the peace process, and may even impinge on religious rights.
Thailand’s three southernmost provinces are rather different from the rest of the country. Predominantly Muslim Malay, the region, composed of Pattani, Yala, Narathiwat and four districts of Songkhla, has been pervaded by armed conflict for the past decade which has claimed almost 6,500 lives.
Predominantly Muslim Malay, the region, composed of Pattani, Yala, Narathiwat and four districts of Songkhla, has been pervaded by armed conflict for the past decade which has claimed almost 6,500 lives.
In this story, Deep South opinion leaders share their views on the draft constitution and the controversial referendum scheduled on August 7. Apart from concerns about the succession of power by the junta’s National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) shared by the general public in the rest of the country, they think that the draft is not conducive to the peace process, and may even impinge on religious rights.
Prachatai interviewed Tuwaedaniya Tuwaemae-ngae, a civil society activist from Pattani, a youth activist from Seeds of Peace, Abdul Hafez Hilae, a member of the Islamic Council of Yala, Kamal Abdulwahab, director of a private Islamic school in Pattani, and Maroning Salae, an environmentalist from Pattani.
The draft constitution may impede the peace process
Tuwaedaniya Tuwaemae-ngae, Director of the Academy of Patani Raya for Peace and Development (LEMPAR), believes that if the draft constitution passes the referendum, the peace process will be negatively affected.
Peace processes in other countries often involve the constitution, said Tuwaedaniya. For example, the Philippines Constitution since 1987 has stated that peace processes are issues of national concern, and because of that, tangible progress has been made. A good constitution moves peace processes forward by acting as a yardstick. Most importantly, with a good constitution in play, Party B (the party against the state/insurgency groups) is able to trust the state more and has incentives to participate in the peace process. However, Thailand’s current draft constitution completely fails even to mention the peace process in the Deep South.
Tuwaedaniya is also concerned that this draft constitution did not come from the people. “This draft constitution is written by the junta. This draft gives the power to check and remove [the PM and MPs] to the Constitutional Court and appointed senators. It’s completely unconnected to the citizens. It’s just the small circle of the elite exercising power and overseeing others. So why would they acknowledge or even care about local problems?
“Huge problems like the peace process aren’t even mentioned in the draft constitution, let alone smaller issues, such as those about natural resources,” the LEMPAR director told Prachatai.
In Tuwaedaniya’s analysis, suppressing political expression and excluding citizen input from the drafting process is bound to weaken the peace process in the Deep South. He anticipates an escalation of violence in the area, too. “What the NCPO is doing now just plays into the hands of the Patani liberation movement, which only adds to the divisive atmosphere that the insurgents want. The people feel isolated by the administration of the Thai state and the government itself, since they cannot participate. What’s more, this drives away people who are neutral because they see the viciousness of the Thai state, which is the instrument of the ruling class.
Like Tuwaedaniya, an activist from the Seeds of Peace youth activist group who goes by the name Bank, also believes that after the referendum, Thailand will continue to be an undemocratic state. As a result, civil society groups will be negatively affected, since every move they make or event they hold will be strictly watched and controlled.
Villagers lack an interest in and information about the draft constitution; a close watch should be kept on disturbances leading up to the referendum
Bank from Seeds of Peace
Detained by the military when he advocated the right to campaign on referendum, Bank went on to tell Prachatai that, at the moment, most people in the Deep South do not even know much about the draft constitution. “Right now, most citizens are confused and lack understanding of the issues because the NCPO bans campaigning on the referendum. So people don’t know where to get information, because we are even banned from holding events or small activities to raise awareness.”
Tuwaedaniya added that the junta is keeping a close watch on whether Deep South villagers will vote in the referendum or not. “Even without the looming referendum, the state’s ‘little birds’ are all over the place, keeping a watch on dissidents. So with the upcoming referendum, the NCPO has put a great emphasis on people going out to vote Yes. If there are people campaigning for a no vote or even not to vote, the state may see them as part of the liberation movement. So in order to survive, ensure their own safety, and avoid being constantly watched, searched, and detained, most people here will go to vote to appease the NCPO.”
The activist director also pointed out that Patani citizens may use this referendum as an opportunity to express their stance on the separation issue by writing messages on the ballots. In the last election, he said, many citizens wrote “Patani Merdeka” (Patani Independence) on their ballots.
“Armed violence may also escalate as the referendum draws near, in order to show displeasure with NCPO rule. For the liberation movement, action at this point in time is especially meaningful, since it shows that they reject the dictatorial nature of the military NCPO. Of course, the military is probably prepared to retaliate with a heavy hand,” said Tuwaedaniya.
Anticipated loss of state support for Islam; Muslim way of life may be threatened
Abdul Hafez Hilae
Abdul Hafez Hilae, Vice President of the Federation of Private Schools in the Deep South and member of the Islamic Council of Yala Province, expressed concerns over Islam in connection with Articles 67 and 31 of the draft constitution, both of which relate to the role of the state and religion.
Article 67 stipulates "The State shall patronize and support Theravada Buddhism which has long been professed by the Thai people. The State shall promote and support education and propagation of principles thereof for the purpose of mind and intellectual development, and shall establish measures and mechanisms to prevent the desecration of Buddhism in any form and encourage the participation of all Buddhists in the application of such measures and mechanisms."
Article 67 does not stipulate that the state has the duty to patronize other religions. Hence Abdul Hafez was concerned that Islamic leaders would not receive support. He said, “In Indonesia, the Ministry of Religious Affairs has different departments for six main religions that citizens profess. Despite Buddhists are minority, the Indonesian government has a Buddhist Affairs Department and a budget to support Buddhism.”
He also thinks Article 31 is unsettling.
Article 31 says “A person shall enjoy full liberty to profess a religion, and shall enjoy the liberty to observe or perform rites according to their own religion, provided that it shall not be prejudicial to the duties of Thai people, be harmful to the security of the State, or be contrary to the public order or good morals of people."
Abdul Hafez said the Article uses broad terms that risk misinterpretation. He is concerned that the Islamic way of life could be affected. “It is ambiguous. Anyone can petition the Constitutional Court to interpret if a Malay Muslim tradition is contrary to the public order or good morals of people, and this may lead to banning the tradition.” He cited the example of the ban on burqas in France, for the sake of peaceful coexistence in society. The qurban, the sacrifice of an ox or cow at the Hari Raya celebration, where an unstunned animal is killed by slashing its throat, could be considered as contrary to the good morals of people; the azan, the call to prayer through a PA system, may be viewed as a noisy disturbance and against public order.
Private Islamic schools risk losing financial support leading to less opportunity for senior high schools
Kamal Abdulwahab, Director of Azizstan Foundation School in Pattani Province, said he worried that Article 54 of the Constitution, which stipulates that the State shall ensure the availability of compulsory education of good quality and with no charge for a period of twelve years for all children, beginning from the pre-school level to Grade 9, would limit opportunities for high school and vocational education to students in the three southern border provinces. They will need to fund themselves or apply for a state educational loan. He is concerned that Muslim Malay youth will eventually drop out from school.
“Recently the military government announced an order under Article 44 of the Interim Constitution to allow 15-years of free education to the senior high school/vocational college level in the draft Constitution. Nevertheless, at the end of the NCPO term, it is not certain if a post-NCPO government will keep this policy. The Constitution says that free education is the duty of the state, but Article 162 says that the statement of policies must be in compliance of the Duties of the State and the government must present the statement of policy to the Parliament.” I have been voicing these concerns whenever I have an opportunity, he added.
Kamal said since the 1997 Constitution, students have enjoyed free education to senior high school level, thus the rate of enrolment in education in the southern border provinces has increased. Impoverished students have more options apart from pondok schools (traditional boarding schools mainly teaching Islam) after compulsory education. Earlier, only a few studied in state senior high schools or vocational colleges. Nowadays, more than half of the kids who graduated from junior high schools will pursue high school or vocational education. 80 per cent of this choose to go to private Islamic schools, where religious subjects and general subjects are taught.
Stifling political environment is working against environment conservation
Maroning Saleh, Pattani Gulf Conservation Group
Maroning Saleh from the Pattani Gulf Conservation Group said he did not expect the charter draft to have any significance when the NCPO can exert power in any form. The Constitution is an empty ritual to fill the required steps, but it is insignificant.
“The elected government will be under the NCPO’s control. Although people share some benefits from the Constitution, it is meaningless. [The NCPO] can by-pass the Constitution and use its power under Article 44."
“There will be an election but the NCPO will control the government for the next five years. If it is like this, I don’t know why we have a Constitution, unless it is just to console us that we have a democratic Constitution."
Maroning said the NCPO’s previous actions have had adverse effects on fishers’ way of life and livelihood. [Small scale] fishers rely on the environment. Currently, there are many mega projects such as dams or power plants that ignore the EIA process. In the end the villagers face terrible environmental consequences.
“The Thepa coal-fired power plant will devastate the Pattani Gulf because it is on the Gulf of Thailand side. The sea has no boundary. When a coal-fired power plant pollutes resources and the environment, people living in coastal areas will be affected. Many people will suffer as fishers cannot fish.”