Nakhon Pattani Model...Is it really a solution to the southern unrest?
By the News Desk
The southern unrest problem has re-emerged as a topical issue in the national agenda when Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajva and his Malaysian counterpart, Mr Najib Razak, made a historic visit to the deep South early December in what was seen as a joint effort by the two countries to address the problem.
Unfortunately though, news of the historic visit was overshadowed by news of bombing and shooting attacks by suspected militants which claimed at least five deaths and dozens injured. Such upsurge of violence which coincided with the visit of important figures is nothing new for the three strife-torn southernmost provinces. But this time around, the thuds of explosions and the smokes of gunfire will not simply die down as were the cases in the past. This is because the violence also occurred at the time when the “Nakhon Pattani” (Pattani City) concept recently raised by General Chavalit Yongchaiyudh, chairman of the Puea Thai party, was overwhelmingly received in the southern region.
The question now is: Will this “Nakhon Pattani” concept offer a political way out for the conflicts in the deep South?
There is no denying that the brouhaha over the “Nakhon Pattani” concept was sparked off by General Chavalit although this was not the first time that such an idea was floated. Even for the retired general himself, this was not the first time that he publicly talked about the concept. Two years ago during the government of Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont, he floated the concept when he offered himself as a “middle ring chain” to resolve political conflicts in the aftermath of the September 19 coup in 2006.
Yet, General Chavalit has not revealed much details about the concept apart from saying that it is just another model of local administration similar to the City of Chiang Mai and Bangkok Metropolitan Administration with a special law to be enacted to guarantee self-determination by the people in accordance with their way of life and religious faith but under the Constitution and the Thai law.
However, at a seminar held in June last year at Chulalongkorn University, two research papers pertaining to the subject of local administration model for the deep South were presented for discussion.
One of the papers, jointly written by Associate Professor Srisompob Chitpiromsri of Political Science Faculty of Prince of Songkhla University, Pattani campus and Sukree Langputeh, a lecturer at the Faculty of Liberal Arts at Islam University of Yala, titled “Special Administration in Southern Provinces”. The paper proposed the setting up of a bureau with the status of a ministry and directly answerable to the prime minister to be called the Southern Border Provinces Development Administration Bureau. It also proposed a people’s assembly mandated by the Constitution to be named Chamber of Southern Border Provinces and an assembly of religious wise men in every tambon to counter-balance the authority of the local administration bodies.
The other paper, by Chanthana Bapsirichote, a lecturer at Political Science Faculty of Chulalongkorn University, is a study of different models of administration in various countries, including electoral systems for multi-ethnic and multi-cultural societies.
The weak point of the “Nakhon Pattani” concept proposed by General Chavalit is that it was viewed with suspicion, especially by the Democrats, that it might actually be part of a political game of the opposition Puea Thai party. Similarly, the “Special Administrative Zone” idea proposed by Chalerm Yubamrung, then interior minister of the People’s Power led government last year, was also greeted with cold response and quickly faded off.
Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, in his interview with Bloomberg news agency in June this year, said that his government was considering allowing people in the three southernmost provinces direct election to choose their representatives in the same fashion like the elections in Bangkok and Pattaya.
But despite the cool response to the “Nakhon Pattani” concept floated by General Chavalit from the government, the response to the concept by academics, non-governmental organizations and people’s sector in the deep South is totally different. The proposed concept has become a topical issue for widespread discussions. Thus, it is not an overstatement to say that they favour the concept. A plan is afoot to gauge opinions of the people in the three southernmost provinces plus in four districts of Songkhla province about the concept.
At a seminar entitled “ Nakhon Pattani under the Thai Constitution: Truth or Dream” held on December 10 at the Prince of Songkhla University, Pattani campus, a model of local administration for the deep South was proposed by Udom Pattanawong from the Southern Islamic Culture Foundation.
In essence, the proposed administrative model calls for the dissolution of all the existing provincial administrative organizations, the tambon administrative organizations and the municipalities on ground that they are duplicating one another and they have little access to the people.
Instead, it proposed the creation of three “nakhons” (cities) namely the Pattani City, Yala City and Narathiwat City, each with its own administrators to be elected by people in the three provinces. The three special zone cities will coordinate with the central government in Bangkok through the Southern Border Provinces Administrative Centre, an independent body answerable to the prime minister.
Another model, to be called “Pattani Maha Nakhon” (Greater Pattani City) which combines the three southernmost provinces plus four districts of Songkhla together under one single administrative body, has also been floated. It was further reported that a law calling for the creation of this administrative model was being drafted by Akkacha Promsoot, a member of the Political Development Assembly.
But as far as the Democrats are concerned, it is unlikely that they will accept the “Nakhon Pattani” concept. Initial reactions from the Democrats to General Chavalit’s proposal are that the model is tantamount to recognition of the separation of an autonomous state from the kingdom of Thailand which, according to the Thais’ mindset, is not divisable.
The Democrats’ alternative to the autonomous “Nakhon Pattani” model is decentralization under which people in the deep South will be able to elect their own administrators to manage their own affairs. The Democrats have stopped short of saying a “special administrative zone” model for the region.
Dr Panitharn Wattayakorn, deputy secretary-general of the prime minister, explained that an autonomous state for the deep South was not possible under the Thai law. He, however, suggested that the new law pertaining to the creation of the Southern Border Provinces Administrative Centre will allow the creation of a people’s council, to be named Peace Council, to take care of policy matters for their localities.
Mr.Niphon Boonyamanee, Member House of Representative from Democrats Party, said at a seminar held on December 2 by the Isra Institute that the deep South did not need a new administration model provided that the existing local administrative bodies are empowered to manage educational, cultural and language affairs to meet the wishes of the local people.
He asked where the three governors of Pattani, Yala and Narathiwat would be placed if the three provinces are to be merged under one administrative body. “Also, will the members of the provincial and tambon administrative organizations still around,” he asked.
Worse still, the Nakhon Pattani concept is likely to worsen the conflicts and may drive Buddhist Thais in the deep South to take up arms to fight for their independence, according to Lt-Gen Nanthadej Meksawat, former chief of special operations unit of the National Security Centre and author of the wellknown book entitled “Secret Operations…Dousing the Southern Fire.”
But in the opinion of a Malay-blooded academic, Abdulloh Abru, of Islamic Studies College of Prince of Songkhla University, Pattani campus, the structural problems experienced by most Malay Muslims in the deep South all along are injustice, human rights violations and double-standard treatments.
Last but not least, the lingering question is: Will all the problems be solved and how can they be resolved if the Nakhon Pattani concept has become a reality?