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About
Democrat dominance in the deep
south
By
Bradley Everett, Guest Contributor
13 July 2011Posted in: Election Watch, Southern Thailand, Thailand,
Uncategorized
Why were the Democrats so dominant in the Deep South?
While the Democrats had a miserable day in most of the country on July 3, in the far
south of Thailand they did unexpectedly well. In Malay Muslim-majority Pattani,
Yala and Narathiwat the Democrats took nine seats out of 11. This was a large
improvement on the 2007 election when they managed only five seats out of 12
(Narathiwat lost a seat following the cut in the number of constituency seats from
400 to 375 mandated by the constitutional amendments earlier in the year).
The Democrats gains meant disappointment for Gen Sonthi Boonyaratglin. Former
army chief Gen Sonthi was hoping to capture a majority of seats in the three
provinces for his Matubhum Party, a bizarre mixture of somewhat discredited ethnic-
Malay politicians from the Wadah group (for more info on the Wadah group see
Duncan McCargos piece), the henchmen of an exiled fugitive (a different one) and
led by the erstwhile coup leader. In the end, Gen Sonthi ended up with only one
constituency seat plus one party list seat for himself.
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6/18/2014 Democrat dominance in the deep south
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Admittedly, the Democrats also almost swept the board in 2005. That victory,
however, was in the wake of the upsurge in violence in the Far South and the Tak
Bai incident which, coming only a few months before the elections in February 2005,
was still fresh in the minds of voters as they went to the polls. As was the silence of
their representatives from the Wadah group, who at that time were in the ruling Thai
Rak Thai party.
This time around, however, the Democrats went into the elections as the ruling party.
Their record when it comes to violence in the Far South is distinctly unspectacular. In
its two and a half years in power, the Democrat-led government was unable to make
any significant headway in bringing down the violence in the region where around
4,500 people have been killed since 2004 in insurgency-related bombings and
shootings as well as criminally motivated killings stemming from a breakdown of law
and order in many rural areas. While violence has undoubtedly fallen sharply since
the 2007 peak, the improvement was already well underway by the time the
Democrats took office in December 2008. And while there was no incident quite as
emotive as Tak Bai under Democrat rule, the authorities have still been unable to
bring charges against anyone for the murder of 11 Muslims while they were praying
in a mosque in Narathiwats Joh-I-Rong District in June 2009.
The Democrats attempts to begin lifting the widely disliked Emergency Decree in
force in the three southern border provinces since 2005 came to a screeching halt in
January of this year after a well-organized attack on an army company base in
Rangae was followed by a series of car bombs in urban areas of Narathiwat and
Yala. In the end the decree was lifted in only one district of Pattani rather than the
planned five districts across the three provinces.
The Democrats campaigned on a policy of effectively more of the same for the Far
South. Deputy Interior Minister Thavorn Senniam was frequently in the media trying
to boost faith in the ability of the newly empowered Southern Border Provinces
Administrative Center (SBPAC), a bit of a Democrat pet project, to bring peace to
the region. This contrasted sharply with their rivals, Pheu Thai and Matubhum, who
were both campaigning on promises of a major restructuring of administration in the
Far South some sort of autonomy in the case of Pheu Thai and a new thabuang
(minor ministry) to administer the Far South for Matubhum.
Given this somewhat ropey record, how were the Democrats able to win all but two
seats? A closer look at the provisional election results shows they were not as clear
cut as may seem at first glance. In a number of the nine constituencies won by the
Democrats, the vote tallies were very close between two or three candidates. In
Narathiwat Constituency 3 only around a thousand votes separated first place
Democrat Jeh-aming Tohtayong, Chairman of the House Committee on National
Security in the previous parliament and prolific blogger (http://www.jehrrming.net/),
and second place Kamonsak Siwamoh, a lawyer for the Muslim Attorney Center
(MAC) standing for Matubhum. The third-placed Chat Thai Pattana candidate was
only a further thousand votes behind.
Narathiwat Constituency 4 showed a similar pattern with the first-placed Democrat
candidate less than two thousand votes clear of the second-placed Chat Thai Pattana
candidate who himself was less than two thousand votes clear of Wadah stalwart
Najmudin Uma standing for Matubhum. In Yala Constituency 2 the Democrat
candidate beat Pheu Thais Sukarno Matha, younger half brother of Wadah leader
Wan Muhamad Noor Matha, by only a few dozen votes.
What is interesting is that while there were many three horse races between the
Democrats, Matubhum and one of either Bhum Jai Thai or Chat Thai Pattana, Pheu
Thai put up a fight in only two constituencies, both in Yala the powerbase of the
banned former Wadah leader and Deputy Prime Minister Wan Noor.
One advantage that likely helped the Democrats pip their rivals is the strength of the
Democrat brand among Buddhists in the region. Many Thai and Thai-Chinese
Buddhists in the three Southern border provinces share the same love for the
Democrat Party as people in the other 11 provinces in the South. This gives
Democrat candidates a boost compared to their rivals, which can be seen in the
results.
The constituencies where the Democrats won by large margins all have significant
populations of Buddhists. In Constituency 1 of Narathiwat and Constituency 1 of
Gambling, State,
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6/18/2014 Democrat dominance in the deep south
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Pattani, covering the muang (provincial town) districts and surrounding areas, the
Democrat candidates won by thousands of votes. In Yala Constituency 1, which
covers little more than Yala Municipality a major Buddhist population center the
Democrat candidate Prasert Phongsuwansiri got more than three times as many
votes as his nearest rival. The Democrats also had a very big win in Pattani
Constituency 2 which includes the Buddhist-heavy districts of Mae Lan and Khok
Pho. The Democrats influence over local officials, many of whom are Buddhists
from the Upper South, will also have boosted their chances in many areas. There are
also rumors going around that members of the military were actively conversing on
their behalf.
Rise of the Muslim parties
While Southern Buddhists are renowned for their party loyalty, Malay Muslims in the
Far South are generally thought to have very weak links to parties. Malays I spoke
to in Pattani insisted that the majority of Muslims would choose the person not the
party. This election saw attempts to change that with the emergence of two broadly
Muslim-interest parties, Gen Sonthis Matubhum and Muktar Kilas Prachatham.
Why then were they unable to defeat the Democrats?
Matubhum, the Muslim party that was in with a real shot of competing in this
election, is composed of former Wadah politicians and a few other Malay Muslims
from the Deep South combined with the remnants of the political machine of
Wattana Asavaheme, a notoriously corrupt politician known as the Godfather of
Pak Nam who served 10 terms as an MP for Samut Prakan. In 2008, Wattana was
sentenced to 10 years in prison by the Supreme Court for a corruption case
connected to land titles. He is now assumed to be living abroad. The two groups are
brought together under the leadership of Gen Sonthi, who was number one on the
party list.
Number two on the party list was Man Patthanothai, who served as deputy finance
minister under Abhisit after Matubhum joined the Democrat-led coalition in June of
last year. Showing where the balance of power in the party lies, the one ministerial
portfolio granted to Matubhum by Abhisit was given to Wattanas representative, a
Thai Buddhist from Bangkok, despite the fact that the partys three MPs at the time
consisted of two Muslim Wadah members and the wife of a Wadah member (Surin
MP Farida Sulaiman, wife of former Pattani MP Muk Sulaiman).
The holder of the partys one party list seat in the previous parliament, Wadah
veteran Ariphen Utrasin, was bumped down to number three on the party list this
time around behind Gen Sonthi and Man Patthanothai. Barring some kind of miracle,
this basically guaranteed he would lose his seat. Number four on the party list was a
former army general. Wadah founder Den Tomeena was shunted all the way down
to eighth on the list.
The two wings of the party, in theory at least, each bring a vital asset to help bring
about Gen Sonthis obvious ambition for a role in politics. The Wadah group brings
support, the Wattana group brings cash. The Wattana clans electoral support even
in his home province has fallen sharply his sons were roundly defeated by Pheu
Thai candidates in Samut Prakan constituencies 1 and 7.
The failure of Matubhum to take a significant number of seats in the Far South saw
the remnants of the previously all-conquering Wadah group of Muslim politicians
scraped together by Bang Sonthi finally wiped out of office. The only hope for the
former Wadah group this time around is that Sukarno Mata, standing for Pheu Thai,
wins a recount in Yala Constituency 2 where, according to press reports, he came a
mere 48 votes behind the Democrat candidate Abdulkarim Dengrakina.
While the rather unsavory nature of the Matubhum party is likely to have put off
voters who are close followers of political news, the majority of voters in the Far
South will not have been aware of Matubhums background seeing only Gen Sonthi
and old Wadah guys on the election posters. In fact, Matubhum was very much
branded as a Muslim party and this seems to have got through to voters. Some of the
credit this brings will, however, have been offset by having the party led by a Muslim
of Persian descent from Central Thailand rather than a Southern ethnic Malay.
Gen Sonthis previous job as army chief and coup leader will also likely have lost him
support among more nationalistically minded Malays and in rural red areas in the
Far South red usually refers to areas with large amounts of insurgent activity rather
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6/18/2014 Democrat dominance in the deep south
http://asiapacific.anu.edu.au/newmandala/2011/07/13/democrat-dominance-in-the-deep-south/ 4/8
than a love of Thaksin where dislike towards the military is stronger. This factor
could well have contributed to the partys narrow losses in Narathiwat constituencies
3 and 4 which cover the red districts of Rueso, Bacho, Rangae and Joh-i-Rong,
the heart of the insurgency in Narathiwat. It can also not be forgotten that the Wadah
group first lost their seats back in 2005 for a reason they are widely perceived to
be out of touch and ineffective, having achieved little for the region in their many
years in office.
Prachatham, the other party campaigning on an Islamic ticket, is a much smaller affair
and has a distinctly nationalistic flair. The party is led by Muktar Kila, a native of
Narathiwat and former associate of Phichet Sathirachawal, a Thai Muslim who
served as a deputy industry minister in Thaksins first term before setting up his own
short lived Muslim party Santiphap Thai. Muktars voter base comes in part from his
role as head of an influential charitable foundation that runs ambulances in the three
provinces.
Prachatham brands itself as the only Malay party. Its slogan on the top of its election
posters is Party Kita, meaning Our Party, written in Central Malay in the roman
script. Its policies listed with the Electoral Commission include being able to uphold
the Malay identity with dignity in Thai society. Given that many of the well
established Wadah politicians including Najmudin Uma, Den Tomeena and Ariphen
Utrasin have at one point or another been investigated for sedition, this is a brave
stance for a relative unknown.
Prachatham, however, failed to find widespread support. It achieved only 38,825
votes on the party list, a fraction of Matubhums 251,581 and considerably less than
the 57,867 votes raised by Thaen Khun Paen Din, the party of outspoken
Narathiwat politician and former Jemaah Islamiah terrorist suspect Dr Waemahadi
Waedaoh, who, like Chuvit, campaigned only on the party list.
Despite this, in some areas the presence of Prachatham could have had a significant
impact on the result, splitting the Muslim vote in the favor of the Democrats. For
example, Prachatham leader Muktar Kila stood in Narathiwat Constituency 3 where
Matubhum MP Najmudin Uma was expected to retain his seat. Muktar received a
respectable 7,467 votes, more than double Pheu Thais total. If just over half of
these votes had gone to Najmudin, he would have won. Constituency 4 tells a similar
tale: If only half of Prachathams 2,240 votes had gone to the Matubhum candidate
MAC lawyer Kamonsak Siwamoh, Matubhum would have taken the seat.
What about the other national players?
The other two parties to see some success in the election were Bhum Jai Thai and
Chat Thai Pattana. Though in the end they came out with only one seat between
them Bhum Jai Thai took Pattani Constituency 4 both parties were involved in a
number of tight races. As Bhum Jai Thai and Chat Thai Pattana have almost no
support based on the party in the Far south, the success was based solely on the
candidates. Given the weak party allegiance among Malay Muslims, the Far South is
potentially rich ground for picking up MPs for the mid-sized parties now that much of
the rest of the country is either firmly blue or red. Both Bhum Jai Thai and Chat Thai
Pattana bought up a number of promising candidates in the run up to the election. In
many constituencies well known candidates can be voted in whichever party they
represent. This is likely to be the case until a new block of local Muslims MPs can be
built up to replace Wadah.
In contrast to Chat Thai Pattana and Bhum Jai Thai, Pheu Thai has struggled to
rebuild traction in the Far South after the Wadah politicians, with the exception of
Wan Noors group in Yala, refused to stick with the party in its new incarnation after
the dissolution of Palang Prachachon in 2008 and instead joined the newly formed
Matubhum. Pheu Thai has been unable or unwilling to bring in big name candidates
to replace the Wadah group.
In the tightly contested Narathiwat constituency 3 and 4 races mentioned above
Pheu Thai fielded no-name candidates who, according to a former local politician in
Constituency 3, had no established vote base. This can be seen in their dismal vote
count of 3,611 and 3,148 respectively. Looking from outside the region, Pheu Thais
poor showing may be seen to indicate lingering mistrust of Thaksin among Malay
Muslim voters for his mishandling of the violence in 2004 and 2005. Anecdotally,
however, most Muslims I have spoken to do not seem to believe there is widespread
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6/18/2014 Democrat dominance in the deep south
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Share this:
bitterness toward Thaksin for the excesses of that period such as the Tak Bai
incident and attack on Krue Se Mosque and other spots in April 2004. Blame is
more directed toward the army.
A provincial breakdown of the party list vote would give a far clearer picture of
party, rather than candidate, choice among voters in the Deep South. Unfortunately,
it does not seem to be available. It is therefore difficult to gauge the support in the
Deep South for the national parties and their policies for bringing peace to the area.
However, the triumph of the Democrats and dismal showing for Pheu Thai in the
constituency vote does seem to suggest that the vague promise of autonomy given by
Pheu Thai was not a massive vote winner. This is likely to have been because of a
combination of disbelief in the achievability of the policy given the lack of details and
poor promotion by Pheu Thai, rather than an outright rejection of the idea.
Where do we go from here?
The fact that the newly announced coalition parties were unable to pick up a single
seat in the Far South will make implementing Pheu Thais Nakhon Pattani (Pattani
City) special administrative area even more unlikely. The plan was already bound to
face solid opposition from the military and ministry of interior as well as potentially
the palace. Added to this will now be a solid block of nine Democrat representatives
opposing any changes to the administrative structure that would sideline the SBPAC
seen as firmly in the Democrat orbit particularly with the current head Panu
Uthairat in favour of more decentralization to directly elected local leaders. The
lack of coalition representatives in the Far South will also sap the governments
legitimacy in making such major changes to the administration of the area. The Pheu
Thai-led coalition will again be left wide open to dubious Democrat claims that only
they really understand the South.
Pheu Thai now have their work cut out to make an impact in the South. The offer of
autonomy may give them a bit of an advantage over the previous Democrat
government in the ongoing secret peacetalks with insurgent representatives.
However, with the exiled insurgent representatives being of dubious authenticity and
widely believed to be unable to control the on-the-ground fighters, success in
bringing peace to the region still seems a long way away.
About Bradley Everett, Guest Contributor
9 Comments
1. #1
Reply
leeyiankun
Posted July 13, 2011 at 5:58 PM
To me, the south is baffling. They voted for the dems, even though they know
things are likely to get worse under them. Still they endured for the sake of
our own people? What good is the guys from your hometown, if they more
likely to end up robbing you blind?
Baffling.
Quality comment or not? 2 4
2. #2
Reply
Simon
Posted July 13, 2011 at 6:19 PM
Baffling that the Muslim population didnt vote for more massacres, or that the
6/18/2014 Democrat dominance in the deep south
http://asiapacific.anu.edu.au/newmandala/2011/07/13/democrat-dominance-in-the-deep-south/ 6/8
Buddhist population didnt vote for further antagonism of the insurgents?
Really?
Its not rocket science if you take your ideological blinkers.
Quality comment or not? 8 3
3. #3
Reply
leeyiankun
Posted July 14, 2011 at 7:22 AM
Simon, so you think that TRT ordered the killings? So why the Dems & their
allies havent hang them out to dry yet? This is even more puzzling, since they
had total power for yrs.
IMO, the fact that they cant convict ANY speaks more loudly than any
action they can ever take. Either Army was guilty, or TRT cant be blamed,
take your pick.
Remember that in this country, you can throw a PM out of his office for
hosting a cooking show. The courts are willing to lend a hand to tie a noose
around TRTs remains. So wheres the case now?
Quality comment or not? 7 1
4. #4
Reply
Simon
Posted July 15, 2011 at 12:09 AM
No, I dont believe that TRT ordered the killings. Im saying the populace
wont forget who was nominally in charge when they happened, or Thaksins
explanation for the deaths.
I presume you are familiar with his public statement that they died because
their bodies were weak from fasting, which he made in English on national
TV. That and other insensitivities turned a one-lame-bomb-every-two-years
insurgency into the serious confrontation we have now.
I dont know how you justify the idea that TRT cant be blamed. They were
the government. They had a moral obligation to hang those responsible out to
dry regardless of who was responsible and they didnt even try.
Quality comment or not? 5 0
5. #5
Reply
Nuomi
Posted July 15, 2011 at 3:28 PM
Thanks Bradley for this very interesting piece on the South. I have to confess
the south is a bit of mystery to myself since most of my friends and my life
relates more to the North. The only time Ive been South is to Phuket, which I
am sure, does not count as anything of value in relation to the social and
political situation there. It is like visiting Bali and arrogantly claiming to know
Indonesia.
Personally I believe the Democrats will stay in power for a while more. They
have the incumbent edge, the long-term patronage network, people who like
most people with the no-break-dont-fix-it mentality. Furthermore, the other
parties are too numerous and small, hence ended up divided the votes and
giving the DP the majority (not necessary true majority >50%) to win. You
really need someone to win and then effectively managed a developmental
improvement to start a change down south hopefully by one of their own
made-it-to-the-top southerners. Nothing inspires like a fairytale dream comes
true.
6/18/2014 Democrat dominance in the deep south
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Quality comment or not? 1 0
6. #6
Reply
Mr Damage
Posted July 15, 2011 at 9:23 PM
Probably better for PT that they didnt win in South, as such can just continue
with the DP policy to let the army do as they wish. Also read that an influential
person funds village scouts down there, another reason to just leave it be from
a political perspective. To actually deliver a potential solution would have
caused many problems for them, more so of course if nothing had changed
and the bombings, hate murders of men women, children and monks,
decapitation, and all those things the truly devout do so well had continued.
Quality comment or not? 1 0
7. #7
Reply
SteveCM
Posted July 16, 2011 at 5:12 AM
c5
They had a moral obligation to hang those responsible out to dry
regardless of who was responsible and they didnt even try.
Not arguing that the government at the time cant/shouldnt be blamed, but
can you name any civilian government that has ever been able to hang the
Thai military out to dry? Because thats who youre talking about and you
know it.
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8. #8
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SteveCM
Posted July 21, 2011 at 11:50 PM
Interesting, almost companion-piece to this article, from Asia Times Online:
http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Southeast_Asia/MG22Ae01.html
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6/18/2014 Democrat dominance in the deep south
http://asiapacific.anu.edu.au/newmandala/2011/07/13/democrat-dominance-in-the-deep-south/ 8/8
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