- The Deep South:Changing Times?
The 2019 general election in Thailand's Deep South—comprising the three southern border provinces of Pattani, Yala and Narathiwat, where an armed insurgency has been raging since 2004—was primarily a contest between two newly-created parties: the Palang Pracharat Party, a pro-military political party, and the Prachachart Party, which positioned itself as a pro-democracy party. Prachachart was the biggest winner in the Deep South, winning six of the 11 constituency seats. While the Democrat Party won ten of the 11 seats in the 2011 general election, it only managed to hold on to one in 2019 through Anwar Salae, a former Democrat MP who defeated prominent former senator Worawit Baru of Prachachart by just 4.83 per cent in Pattani's Constituency 1.
The Future Forward Party, which made waves elsewhere in the country, fared less well in the Deep South. Though popular among university students in Pattani Constituency 1, Future Forward only came in fifth place, and failed to win any seats in the region. However, considering Future Forward's avowed rejection of money politics, their fourth or fifth placings in every constituency in the Deep South—with an average share of 6–7 per cent of the vote—was a significant achievement.1 One village chief in Yala Constituency 1 claimed that Future Forward took significant numbers of votes away from the Democrat Party.2
As shown in Table 1, Palang Pracharat won three seats: Yala Constituency 1, Narathiwat Constituency 1 and Narathiwat Constituency 2. The pro-military party could be considered to have [End Page 207]
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achieved a partial victory given the unpopularity of the armed forces among the Malay Muslim population in the insurgency-wracked Deep South. [End Page 208]
In fact, the three constituencies that Palang Pracharat won were previously Democrat Party strongholds (see Table 2). The result in Yala Constituency 1 was especially significant: it was won by Adilan Ali-is-hoh, a well-known lawyer from the Muslim Attorney Center Foundation which provides legal aid to villagers accused of insurgent-related activities by the security services. In 2011, Adilan had failed to win a seat under the Pheu Thai banner in Pattani Constituency 1. However, in 2019, he ran successfully for Palang Pracharat in Yala Constituency 1, albeit with a narrow margin of victory of only 1.4 per cent. It is unclear why Adilan ran as a candidate for a pro-military party given poor perceptions of the military in the Deep South. Many of Adilan's close friends and colleagues were disappointed by his decision, and some of them even suggested that his loyalty had been bought by Palang Prachachart. This seat was previously held by long-time Democrat MP Prasert Pongsuwansiri, who won with comfortable margins of 18.6 per cent and 48.69 per cent in 2005 and 2011, respectively. The Democrats could probably have won Yala Constituency 1 had it not been for Future Forward which lured away some Democrat supporters, as the combined tally of the Democrats (22.29 per cent), Future Forward (14.97 per cent) and the Action Coalition for Thailand (ACT) (3.39 per cent) amounted to 40.65 per cent of the votes in the constituency.
An important player in the Deep South is the Prachachart Party, which was formed in 2018 when key members of the Wadah group—such as former interior minister Wan Muhamad Noor Matha, Areepen Utarasint, Najmuddin Umar and Muk Sulaiman—teamed up with Police Colonel Tawee Sodsong, former chief of the Southern Border Provinces Administrative Centre (SBPAC). The Wadah group, which has dominated parliamentary elections in the Deep South since the mid-1980s, is a faction of Malay Muslim politicians who have found a home in a succession of different political parties. Wan Nor, the Prachachart Party leader, and Tawee Sodsong, the party's secretary-general, both have close ties to former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. Despite...