By Mirafat Samoh
For over 15 years, the three southern provinces of Yala, Narathiwas, and Pattani have been under the central government’s military rule. The people live under the norm of seeing tanks passing their home every day and being searched at military checkpoints every 200 meters.
There’s a political awakening in Bangkok and elsewhere, with students and ordinary people taking to the streets to protest against injustice and double-standard, to demand democracy for Thailand. However, in the south, the rule of tanks and the climate of fear have conditioned many people to close their eyes and bite their tongues. They are afraid to voice opinions and stand against injustices.
Universities are normally the hub for political activities. Nonetheless, while there are many campuses in the three southern provinces, only Prince of Songkla University is politically active.
We talk about political activism, or lack thereof, in the south with Dr. Wiwat Ritima, who teaches at the Management for Development College, Thaksin University.
Why is Prince of Songkla the only university that is politically active?
One reason is the educational curriculum. Prince of Songkla has a political science department. Therefore, they are the most politically aggressive compared to other universities.
Do you think rules of tanks and fear have anything to do with the lack of political activism down south?
I think this plays a role. The authority uses fear and the law to oppress the people. When people don’t know the law, they become fearful and unwittingly kowtow to the authority. Nonetheless, more people are becoming knowledgeable about the law and are using the law to fight for their rights. However, they are in the minority and are looked at as black sheep.
As protests spread across the country, do you think we will see student-led political demonstrations in the south?
It’s very difficult. Students are forced to live under the rule of fear and thought control. They are kept in the box by the school or the teachers. Those who are exposed to the political science curriculum and studied in Bangkok are more likely to have a political awakening.
Should university campuses be opened to political activities?
I believe so. A school is a stage to create, not to exterminate. To push society forward, rather than to pull it back. Be that as it may, there should be rules and reasons, a proper scope. To control thoughts and silent words is a crime, I would say. It is to paralyze the minds of students.
But many people would say that politics is not for the young.
It’s a shameful thought. Don’t forget; the young are the country’s future. Therefore, they have the right to direct their future. Those “poo-yai” who think otherwise are very selfish. This selfishness and the refusal to accept different thoughts are what lead to conflicts and divisions.
How has the emergency decree affected the three southern provinces?
Firstly, under these special circumstances, human rights suffer, which also affects people’s livelihood. Secondly, the decree increases the power of the authority.
The question then becomes, has there been an abuse of power? If the authority exercises power with justice and problems get solved, then the people would be fine.
But if the people suffer, then the authority must reexamine the emergency decree. If the people disagree with the emergency decree, then the authority should scale back on its power.
Each year, the government spends over a trillion baht of taxpayers’ money to maintain its rule over the south. Has the situation improved?
We have to look at the use of resources. Does it improve people’s livelihood? Is it what the people want? Does it solve problems? Every baht and satang comes from taxpayers’ money. The words “in the name of peace” have become a business that put millions of baht into the pockets of some people.
But still, the situation has not improved. So the question is, who benefits from the situation?