Thai National identity, Thainess and Malay-speaking South’s grievances
It is quite clear that the grievances of the Malay-speaking South has mainly to do with forced-imposed ethnic identity of Thainess on one hand, followed by the unfulfilled rights of self-determination, from the Malay-speaking population’s point of view, on the other.
By Sai Wansai
Saturday, 17 January 2009
The practice of “Thainess”, based on three commonalties of Thai language, Buddhist religion, and monarchy (chat, satsana, phramahakrasat), has long been institutionalised officially as a successful collective national identity.
While the said practice of “Thainess” has worked quite well in general, for decades, it has been resisted and even rejected by the people of the deep South, often referred to as Pattani Malays, to borrow a phrase from Don Pathan.
The way to go for the Thai political class and especially the Ahbisit-led government would be to tackle this national identity issue in a more comprehensive and wider perspective. But any attempt of innovation on Thai national identity should be formulated along the line of "unity in diversity", where cultural autonomy depicting the Southern Pattani Malay as a distinct ethnic group, along together with the dominant group, is being accepted.
The widened Thainess norm along this line to include the Malays from deep south into the fold would, no doubt, take away a lot of animosity, which are recently abundant and evident in the area.
Parallel to this ethnic identity hurdle, critical-thinking on how to accommodate the rights of self-determination for the people in this area could be earnestly discussed.
Basically, the outcomes of implementing the Right to Self-determination fall roughly into two categories. It could be understood in a strong or a weak sense. While the strong sense insists that a nation be given statehood, the weak sense only requires that a nation be given some form of self-government. Weak national self-determination is thus compatible with a multinational state in which nations are given some political autonomy. It is clear that the weak notion of self-determination can encompass differing degrees of self-determination, including confederations, federations, consociational democracies, and unitary states with subnational autonomy – that is, regional parliaments, local governments and so on.
This writer believes that the majority of the people from this three southern provinces would opt for a higher degree of autonomy, given the example and successful give-and-take autonomy resolution of the Ache region in Indonesia, short of total separation. Besides, most hard line secession movements within Asian continent are now more in line with aiming at a higher degree of autonomy than outright total independence.
As such, a practical solution for the Thai southern conflict would depend on pragmatic political accommodation and how wide and inclusive the norm of "Thainess" or national identity could be stressed to embrace the people, who see themselves as being underprivileged and underrepresented within the national context.
(Sai Wansai is the General Secretary of the exiled Shan Democratic Union - Editor)