Time to listen in South
The new-look government under Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha has travelled to the deep South for a mobile cabinet meeting which is scheduled to take place today in Songkhla, the first time in recent memory that the entire cabinet will be in the southernmost region.
The visit represents a very good opportunity to address the chronic problems plaguing that troubled part of the country. The violence in the deep South has abated to its lowest level since separatist attacks flared up in 2004. However, there is little doubt that people in the region are weary of the ongoing low-level strife, and the vast majority want to get on with their lives. That is, however, a long way from saying the Muslim majority there have warm feelings toward the central government.
The list of grievances among residents of the far South is a long one. Past governments, and the current administration, have dealt with some. But no government so far has confronted all of the issues honestly, particularly the need for limited but real autonomy for the region. It would take real and determined leadership at the top to make that possible, and while the military regime has the power, if needs to develop the motivation to see this through.
Each of the regions of Thailand is unique in many ways. It is this uniqueness that past governments have either ignored or, in the past, suppressed. The belief that all decisions must be handed down by the central government in Bangkok is as out of date as the idea that all roads must lead to the capital. But the military regime should have both the heart and common sense to recognise that every region needs its own space and means to grow and contribute to the country.
On the development front, there are pressing issues awaiting the prime minister and his cabinet, including plunging rubber prices, chronic floods, small-scale fisherfolk affected by state laws, and the power development plan for the southern region.
A coal-fired power project, which is designated to be built in a pristine area of Songkhla's Thepha district, tops the power development issues. For the past several months, there have been complaints by those who stand to be affected by the proposed power plant that the state has ignored their concerns over the potential impact of the contentious project on both their livelihoods and the environment. They are frustrated about the environmental and health impact assessment (EHIA) process and dubious public hearings which appear to have had issues regarding transparency.
Despite all of their questions, the Songkhla project has received the stamp of approval from the top state environmental agency and that has only intensified local people's frustrations.
This comes on top of the plant simply lacking legitimacy after the people of Krabi fiercely rejected a similar coal-fired project. The fact of the matter is that Thailand has an excess power reserve margin as a result of poor planning and there is no need for coal.
The cabinet meeting in the South today should give local residents a chance to petition those in power. Residents' attempts to meet the prime minister reflect a lack of trust in local authorities. Yet, the reaction from state agencies, ranging from propaganda tactics and intimidation by military elements and a clash and crackdown on peaceful protesters yesterday afternoon has only made matters worse.
It is not too late for the government to listen to the voices of local people, especially those who may be badly affected by the coal-fired electricity project. Instead of using violence, the Prayut government must be reasonable, and stop relying only on information from state agencies.
Bangkok Post editorial column
These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.
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