Bangkok – It's back to square one in Thailand's deep South. Less than five months after declaring that he would adopt a softer approach in dealing with the insurgency, Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra on July 17 declared emergency rule in the whole of the Muslim south.
The state of emergency applies to the three deep South provinces – Narathiwat, Yala and Pattani – as well as four districts in neighbouring Songkhla.
The new law centralises in the Prime Minister’s Office many powers that the military was already using in much of the region. Among other things, it gives empowers the government to tap phones, search and arrest without warrant and censor news in those areas.
Thailand's English-language papers were unanimous in their condemnation of the emergency rule. The Bangkok Post said in an editorial: "After each escalation or more gruesome murders by the insurgents, the Premier and the government have assured the nation that just a little more force will end the violence…After each such application of force, the faceless insurgents have pumped up their violence…
"That is why the government would be better off to ponder alternatives. There is no sign and little hope that yet another violent response to yet another insurgent escalation at Yala will curb the insurgency."
Mr Kavi Chongkittavorn, a senior editor at The Nation, pointing to the Premier's falling popularity, said the declaration of emergency rule "must be viewed as part of a broader agenda that involves (Mr Thaksin’s) political survival".
"The strategy now is to create a sense of perpetual crisis and calls for national unity… God forbid, from today onwards, a one-man rule is in control of country's destiny."
The Campaign for Popular Democracy and its allies called on the National Reconciliation Commission (NRC) to take action.
The NRC, headed by former premier Anand Panyarachun, had been appointed by Mr Thaksin to find ways to return peace to the deep South.
"Issuing such a law means Prime Minister Thaksin has rejected the NRC, taking the opportunity to consolidate his power," a spokesman for the organisation said.
Despite the condemnations, the emergency rule appeared to enjoy popular support among the public, according to a survey by Assumption University.
The survey found that 86.3 per cent of respondents in Yala, Pattani and Narathiwat supported the issuance of the decree, while 72.6 per cent of respondents inBangkok also supported it.
* South desperate for rule of law (Bangkok Post, July 18)
* PM’s emergency power: A Kiss of Death (The Nation, July 18)
* Majority support decree – survey (The Nation, July 18)
* State of emergency declared in southern Thailand (The Straits Times, July 18)