For the past nine years H. Numan has been Gates of Vienna’s Bangkok correspondent, sending us occasional reports on events in the Land of Smiles. This latest account provides the political context for the major terrorist attacks that hit Thailand on Thursday and Friday.
A wave of terror hits the nation
by H Numan
Last Friday Thailand had a rude awakening: Thursday evening the beach resort town Hua Hin was hit by two explosions. Killing one and injuring twenty others. Another explosion hit Surat Thani. One person was injured, but no people got killed.
But it wasn’t over. During the morning in Phuket another two bombs exploded; before that a popular market in Trang burned to the ground, followed by an explosion. In all four people died and twenty were injured, some of them seriously. Many of them were tourists. The nation is reeling in shock.
First of all, there is something that you should know. 12 August is the queen’s birthday. She is just as revered as the king; both enjoy a semi-divine status. Her birthday is Thailand’s Mother’s Day, and the king’s birthday is, of course, Thailand’s Father’s Day. Both are national holidays. As this year it fell on a Friday, people got a long weekend off. That means it was busier than usual on Thursday evening. All targets were popular crowd spots and tourist attractions. Hua Hin is an important resort town, Phuket Island the same, but much bigger. Trang not so much, but the target there was a popular night market.
The police and the army are on high alert. The news today is that everything that can go on high alert is on high alert. Hua Hin is sealed off. The major road is blocked, and all other roads have roadblocks. All airports are under maximum security. In Phuket and Hua Hin department stores have either been ordered to close down for the weekend, or to open with lots of extra security guards on duty.
The prime minister addressed the nation on TV, after the celebration programs for the queen ended. He asked for patience so the investigators get the time to work it out, and called for unity. He also hinted he knows who is behind it. Possibly people who didn’t like the referendum we had last Sunday. The police announced they knew the attacks were coming, just not exactly when.
I respectfully disagree with both.
Thailand is ruled at the moment by a military junta. We have a prime minister, but he holds the rank of four-star general. The media use both terms: sometimes he is referred to as general Prayuth Cha-oncha; more often they call him the prime minister. The same for the government: sometimes it’s: ‘the junta has decided that …’ and sometimes it is: ‘the cabinet has decided that …’ Or the NCPO, The National Council for Peace and Order, that is the official title of the junta: ‘the NCPO has decided that …’
The government does want to restore democracy, but they also want to keep matters under firm control. They wrote a new constitution (the 26th, I believe) in which the prime minister is not elected and the army gets a bunch of free seats in the senate. There is also a ‘get out of jail free’ clause, article 44. It basically says if the prime minister is wrong, he is right anyway. In the weeks leading to this national referendum it became crystal clear that voting ‘no’ was not going to be appreciated.
The referendum went smoothly, no disturbances of any kind. The generals got what they wanted. The vote was about 65% in favor. Nobody actively campaigned against it. And yet, the prime minister seems to think nay-sayers might be behind the terrorist attacks. That makes no sense. Why wait a week? Why not during the ballot? Why damage a very important industry (tourism)? Why on the queen’s birthday?
The same goes for the announcement of the Royal Thai Police. If they knew the attacks were coming they would have closed down the country completely. With full martial law and a curfew, if necessary.
I think both made statements they knew full well were not the truth because the truth really can hurt. If they prime minister were to openly say the revolting Muslims in the south are behind it, the whole country might rise up in arms and pay them a visit. Better to refer to an unknown group that is vaguely defined. As for the police: they had a large number of buffoonish scandals during the last couple of weeks. They desperately need to show something positive.
The red shirts the prime minister not so subtly refers to are very strong in the north and northeast of the country, and very weak in the south and the west where the attacks happened. It makes absolutely no sense for them — supposing they are behind it — to initiate a big campaign where they have the least support.
International terrorism is ruled out. The attacks were not professional enough for that. That leaves, in my opinion, just one group: the revolting Muslims in the three southern border provinces. They are the only group that was firmly against the referendum. There was no more violence than usual there during the referendum, admittedly. But their power base is the deep south. Much deeper south than where the attacks happened. They rarely admit attacks or claim the responsibility for them. Nobody claimed any responsibility for these attacks. That fits the pattern. The attacks were carried out as they usually do it. Fits the pattern as well. What doesn’t fit the pattern is that they rarely if ever operate outside their area. This is, or could be, the first time.
Going through the news today I get the impression the government feels the way I do. Yes, Thailand is under a lockdown, but the south much more so than the rest. The southern command is under high alert orders that don’t apply to the rest of the country. The government assures the public they are looking everywhere, but I get the feeling they are more focused on the south.
It’s too soon to say who did it, but so far this is the best I can make of it.
— H. Numan