Bangkok – Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, accompanied by popular television actors and several top ministers, went shopping in Pattani on Friday, Aug 19. His aim: To reassure traders in the deep South who have been threatened with punishment if they work on Thursdays and Fridays. But Mr Thaksin's visit – his second trip in a week to the region – has been dismissed as an event-marketing gimmick or a quick-fix solution that will do little to end the insurgency in the region.
During the visit, Mr Thaksin met business leaders at every stop. He promised to have his ministers visit local markets every Friday to sustain morale. There are also plans to fly movie and TV stars to brighten the atmosphere in the region, which has been gripped by widespread fear following the appearance of anonymous leaflets threatening Muslims who work on Thursdays and Fridays with mutilation.
Former Prime Minister Chuan Leekpai said Southern residents had nothing to gain from these high-profile visits, which not only ignored the root cause of the problem in the Muslim-majority region but also took security officials away from their daily routine to provide protection for Mr Thaksin and the celebrities.
Mr Chuan, who is the opposition Democrat Party's chief adviser, also accused the government of adopting a quick-fix attitude towards a complex problem.
An analysis published in The Nation described Mr Thaksin's visit as "political marketing in its truest sense". It wondered whether the large crowds that turned out to meet Mr Thaksin and his entourage were there out of their own free will or simply wanted to have a close look at celebrities.
"A problem is that this particular event marketing might give Thaksin another false picture and influence him to commit more errors in assessment and judgment over policy direction and strategy in dealing with the Southern crisis," writer Sopon Onkgara said in his analysis. "Call it a psychological victory or whatever, the fact is that Thaksin's event-marketing gimmicks will not end the killings or serve as the right way to restore peace in the area."
"Whether Thaksin likes it or not, it is a foregone conclusion among many people that the only solution to the troubles is for him to make the sacrifice of stepping down from the premiership. It's worth a try indeed, for the sake of national security," Mr Sopon added.
* Cheap goods and marketing won't save the South (The Nation, Aug 21)
* Chuan slams quick-fix in the South (The Nation, Aug 21)
* Thaksin defies militants with shopping trip (The Straits Times, Aug 20)