POLLS CARRY NO HOPE FOR THAI MUSLIMS

Thailand’s 13 million Muslims hold out little hope that the general elections would make a difference for their violence-hit south. “They all say they will encourage more Muslim participation in local administrations, give more educational opportunities to Muslims and push for local economic development,” Sunai Phasuk, a Thai consultant for Human Rights Watch, reportedly said…

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Thailand’s 13 million Muslims hold out little hope that the general elections would make a difference for their violence-hit south. “They all say they will encourage more Muslim participation in local administrations, give more educational opportunities to Muslims and push for local economic development,” Sunai Phasuk, a Thai consultant for Human Rights Watch, reportedly said on December 17, adding “but these pledges are nothing new.”
Thailand’s 40.8 million eligible voters will cast ballots on December 23, to elect a new parliament in the first elections since prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra was ousted in a September 2006 bloodless coup.
The southern provinces of Pattani, Yala and Narathiwat, an independent Muslim sultanate until annexed officially a century ago, have been ravaged by an armed conflict since 2004, leaving more than 2,700 people dead. Poverty and meagre economic development in the Muslim south are blamed as one of the factors fuelling the unrest. Muslims, numbering 13 of Thailand’s 65 million population, have long complained of being treated like second-class citizens with no fair share in jobs or education.

Hopes of restoring peace in the south were high following the ouster of Thaksin, whose iron-fist policies were blamed for fuelling the unrest. Soon after the coup, the army-backed government made a series of peace gestures, including an apology to Muslims for past government abuses. However, the violence has continued, becoming much deadlier. An average of 72 people have been killed each month since September 2006, sharply up from 53 deaths on average before.