One controversial decree, two very different reactions

Updated On: Jul 22, 2005

Bangkok –  The Thai media, academics and opposition politicians are united in their condemnation of Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra's executive decree which places near-absolute powers in his hands to solve the ongoing separatist violence in the deep South. Yet, the move enjoys overwhelming public support, with some 72.6 per cent of Bangkok residents and 86.3 per cent of people in the deep South backing the move. Why the wide gulf between the two groups?

     According to the survey of 1,463 people conducted by Abac Poll, a credible public opinion agency, more than 70 per cent said the need for security outweighed human rights issues.
    Under the new decree, the government can, among other things, detain anyone for 30 days without a warrant, tap phones, ban demonstrations and censor news. Mr Thaksin issued the decree after a series of coordinated terror attacks rocked the southern province of Yala province on July 14. 
    The huge support by Bangkok residents comes as no surprise since they have always viewed Muslims in southern Thailand as different and problematic. 
    In the words of The Nation, "Thaksin and Bangkokians see eye-to-eye on many issues". "Most citizens have already censored their ability to feel empathy towards local Malay Muslims," a commentary in The Nation said. 
    But how does one account for the strong support for the tough move in the South itself? 
    According to Singapore's The Straits Times, many Thai Muslims are fed-up with the violence which has severely disrupted their lives. 
    Since the military's attempts at a softer approach – such as putting development teams in villages- seems to have had little effect, Southern residents are now putting their hopes that a tougher approach may end the spiralling violence.
    Some academics believe that public support for executive decree is due to the fact that Thais are blissfully unaware that the move amounts to a "silent coup d’etat" which has overturned the 1997 Constitution.   
    "It seems that Thai society isn't very active and accepts this decree easily. My greatest fear is the creation of a new norm, in which the people don't participate. The rule of law becomes useless under this norm," said law expert Charoen Kumpeeraparb of Silapakorn University

* Move shows a failure to learn from past mistakes (The Nation, July 21)

* Decree a silent coup, public unaware of dangers – legal experts (The Nation, July 20)

* Thais back 'iron fist' in South (The Straits Times, July 19)