By The Nation
It seems like old wine in a new bottle, but the recently launched Prachachat Party maintains it is free from the clutches of Thaksin Shinawatra. Its key members, however, maintain close personal and political ties to the former premier.
Prachachat was formally unveiled in Pattani this past weekend, its executive board stacked with Muslims from the far South even though it insists it is a national party. Many of these individuals were members of the now-defunct Wadah political faction that claimed to represent the voice of Malay Muslims in the southern border provinces. The line-up includes embattled former Fifa executive Worawi Makudi and Nithiphoom Naowarat, a self-proclaimed expert in international relations who has consistently failed to win a seat in Parliament.
As expected, former House of Representative speaker Wan Muhammad Noor Matha was chosen as the party’s leader and Pol Colonel Thawee Sodsong, former chief of the Southern Border Provinces Administrative Centre, as its secretary-general. Thawee was the point man in peace talks with the Patani Malay separatist movement during the Yingluck Shinawatra government and continues to enjoy good relations with people in Thaksin’s camp. This probably explains why he was the first person axed by the military junta immediately after the 2014 coup.
Wan Noor vowed at the weekend that the new party would not be “region-based” but rather present a genuine alternative for voters across the country. “We chose this southern border province to introduce our party because we believe Thailand is not just Bangkok, but every province,” he said. Its main goal, though, was to bring about unity, reconciliation and peace in the strife-torn deep South, he added.
Wadah coalesced in the South more than two decades ago as a faction of the New Aspiration Party led by former premier Chavalit Yongchaiyudh. It was part of the NAP package inherited by Thaksin’s Thai Rak Thai Party in a merger and continued to present itself as the voice of the Malays of Patani.
But then came the Tak Bai massacre in October 2004, when 85 unarmed Patani Malay protesters died at the hands of security officials. Seven were shot dead and 78 suffocated to death after they were stacked one atop the other in the back of military transport trucks. Unwilling to offend Thaksin, Wadah kept silent about the incident, and since then, not a single Wadah member has been re-elected to Parliament. The episode shattered its support among Malay Muslims.
When southerners overwhelmingly rejected the junta’s constitution in the 2016 referendum, the Wadah politicians re-branded themselves as the Prachachat Party, hoping to benefit from anti-junta sentiment. But Prachachat has no one with the political courage to match that of Future Forward Party leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit and call for an end to military control over the far South. Sharing anti-government views will only carry Prachachat so far. It really must spell out what it stands for and what it aims to do if given a share of power.
Thawee said Prachachat would promote a “multicultural society”, but it would have been more helpful to hear its members speak out against the bigotry shown recently by 20 Buddhist teachers in Pattani. They walked off their jobs on the first day of school rather than conduct lessons for elementary students wearing Islamic headscarves. What does Prachachat have to say about that?