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Sunday, 3 January 2010

The Plight of the Southern Thai’s Malay Ethnic for self autonomy

By: Ahmad Syah Ejaz Bin Hj. Ismail

Most of the time when we discuss the issues of the Malay ethnic, we would comprise ourselves only to two main nation states which are Indonesia and Malaysia without having the slightest idea that there are still a blind spot of the Malay ethnic that needs a particular attention on their plight to self governance and human rights. This blind spot are the Southern Thai’s Malay ethnic.

The Southern Thailand region or once The Kingdom of Ligor (currently centred in Nakhon Si Thammarat) was once a great super power that spans almost the entire south of the Malaysian peninsular. Most of the Northern Malay states such as Kelantan, Kedah, Terengganu, Perlis and even an area of Pahang honoured the protection of Ligor by sending them ‘ufti’ or protection dues in the form of ‘Bunga Emas’ (Gold Flowers). As such, the northern states of Malaysia were once the vassal’s states of the Ligor Kingdom and enjoy a certain degrees of trade relations between them.

During Phibunsongkhram era (1939-1944), the Southern Thailand regions were segregated into four main provinces which are Satun, Songkhla, Pattani, and Narathiwat. The forced assimilation programs under the Field Marshall Phibun had led to the tension arising until today between the Thai Buddhist and the Muslim Malays even though most of the Southern Thai Malays had ditched out their Muslim name, traditions and their way of life including their Malay language for the Thais assimilation programs. But it was a classic prove that assimilations would not work in the areas of plural societies.

During the colonial era, the borderline between Thailand and Malaya were very vague. The Malay Sultans were not very much familiar with the concept of the nation’s states until the arrival of the British Colonial. In the 1909, the Thai government had signed the treaty with the British government recognizing each nation’s states by a clear demarcation line in the Southern Thailand region. In 1909, the ambiguous status of the southern Thailand region was made definitive by the signing of the Anglo-Siamese agreement. In this agreement, the Thai government agreed to cede Kelantan, Terengganu, Kedah and Perlis to the British government and in return, the British government will recognized the ownership of Thailand on the Southern region (Satun, Pattani, Songkhla and Narathiwat).

The price of the whole area in the Anglo-Siamese treaty was that the British will loan the Thai government to funds the construction of a railway line linking Bangkok more closely to its Southern Province.

The Anglo-Siamese Treaty of 1909 was signed without contemplating these main factors:

i) The main ethnic group in the Southern Thailand Region are the Malay Muslim and have an affinity for a larger patrons for a Muslim Sultans;

ii) The area were once under the governance of a Pattani Sultanate; and

iii) The close relations between Southern Thailand regions are more interwoven with the Northern Malay states may it be religions, family ties, Royal Malay adherence (Kedah, Kelantan and Perlis) and the Malay ethnic sensitivities and this hundred years of relations can lead to tensions between the antagonistic nature of Therravada Buddhism and Malay Muslims which can be seen from 1948 to 2010.

The three main factors that I underline above have lead to numerous ethnic clashes between the Thailand government personals such as police and army (mainly comprises of Therravada Buddhism) and the Muslim Malay Ethnic community seeking for self autonomy since 1948.

To be continue...


Michael J. Montesano and Patrick Jory, editors, Thai South and Malay North – Ethnic Interaction on a Plural Peninsular, NUS Press Singapore, 2009.

Faces of Tun Teddy

Faces of Tun Teddy