The government of Thai Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej is struggling for political survival and has handed the military full responsibility for tackling the violent insurgency in the Muslim-dominated Deep South, which has claimed more than 3,000 lives in the past four years. The military has restructured its operations and has made headway in reducing the number of militant attacks, but temporary military advances, though welcome, do nothing to defuse the underlying grievances of the Malay Muslim minority. For that to happen, the otherwise preoccupied government needs to find the will and energy to undertake a serious policy initiative.
The political turmoil in Bangkok continues to distract attention from the violence in the South. Samak’s government is threatened on several fronts. Three parties in the coalition, including his own People Power Party (PPP), face dissolution on charges of electoral fraud. The government’s efforts to amend the constitution to avoid this threat led to mass demonstrations organised by the People’s Alliance for Democracy, whose campaigns in 2006 led to the coup that ousted Samak’s patron, Thaksin Shinawatra. Three of Samak’s ministers were forced to resign between May and July 2008, including Foreign Minister Noppadon Patama, who left office in the face of nationalist anger whipped up by anti-government forces over a border dispute with Cambodia.