Bangkok – It's an idea that has raised eyebrows among those who believe in the sanctity of a unitary Thai polity. But the National Reconciliation Commission (NRC) and Thai-Muslim leaders believe that some form of a "special administrative zone" in the deep South may be needed to end the bloody insurgency in the area. Proponents of the idea argue that such an arrangement would allow for the peaceful coexistence between people of different races and cultures.
The NRC has assigned Thammasat University's faculty of political science, Mahidol University, Prince of Songkla University's Pattani campus, and the National Research Council to conduct studies on what is the most suitable form of administration for the three Muslim-majority provinces of Pattani, Yala and Narathiwat.
It has also asked the political science faculty of Chulalongkorn University to research another programme on democracy in connection with diversity of races and cultures.
NRC secretary-general Gothom Arya said the two programmes are in line with Article 78 of the Thai Constitution, which requires the state to decentralise powers to localities for the purpose of independence and self-determination of local affairs, develop local economics and infrastructure.
Another NRC member, Mr Srisak Walliphodom, noted that former Thai prime minister Chavalit Yongchaiyudh had once suggested the creation of Nakhon Pattani, a special administration area, to allow locals to practise their own way of life.
However, General Pallop Pinmanee, deputy director of Internal Security Operations Command, described the idea as dangerous because it might lead to two administrative centres.
"If we allowed them to combine the three southernmost provinces into a self-ruling unit and hand it to local people to govern, we would have two capitals," Gen Pallop said. "The Kingdom should not have two capitals and the government should not accept this idea."
He added that existing local bodies, such as provincial administrative organisations, are already sufficient to handle local needs.
Chulalongkorn University academic Panitan Wattanayagorn acknowledged that the idea of a special zone is a sensitive issue that must be handled with great care since it involves national sovereignty. "If we do create a new administrative form, we should make sure it's fair to all," he said.
* Self-rule idea called 'dangerous' (The Nation, Nov 14)
* NRC urges special administrative zone (Bangkok Post, Nov 13)