Thailand paying high price for its unresolved crises: The Nation

A Thai soldier conducts a security patrol ahead of the one-year anniversary of a deadly bomb blast at the Erawan shrine in Bangkok on Aug 16, 2016.
A Thai soldier conducts a security patrol ahead of the one-year anniversary of a deadly bomb blast at the Erawan shrine in Bangkok on Aug 16, 2016. PHOTO: EPA

Thai tourism businesses are bracing for the economic fallout from the bomb attacks that killed four and injured dozens of people, including foreign visitors in the seaside resorts Hua Hin and Phuket, two of the country's major tourist destinations.

Eleven small bombs were detonated across seven southern provinces on Thursday (Aug 11) night and Friday morning in unprecedented attacks that appeared to have required serious planning and some degree of professionalism.

Authorities said the bombs were similar to explosives used against security officials in the Muslim-majority southernmost provinces, where more than 7,000 people have died from insurgency-related violence since January 2004.

While no one is ruling out the possibility that the insurgency in the far south may have spread to the upper south, there appears to be nothing concrete at the moment that points at any one particular party being responsible for this spate of attacks.

Like last year's attack on Koh Samui, another tourist attraction for local and foreign beach goers, army and government spokesmen were quick off the mark to say that the attacks were related to the far south.

It was revealed later that the vehicle used for the Samui bomb attack - in the parking lot of the Central Festival department store - was stolen from Yala, one of the three southernmost provinces most troubled by the insurgency. But the authorities stuck to the same old line, sounding like a broken record.

By ruling out this or that possibility, even the refusal to label this or previous attacks as terrorism, the government is placing its political and economic agenda over the truth. And that could be dangerous in the long run.

Even after the blast at Erawan Shrine in central Bangkok in August last year that killed 20 people and injured nearly 80, most of them foreign visitors, the government still would not use the word "terrorism" - for fear it would hurt tourism arrivals.

Again, with the attacks in recent days in Trang, Hua Hin, Phuket and Surat Thani, the government was quick to eliminate "terrorism" as the motive.

Shouldn't they have waited a little longer to make it seem more convincing, even if they already had an agenda in the back of their head?

But then again, we are not dealing with the country's most sophisticated people, at least when it comes to communication.

"We are confident this was work of a network with a mastermind," said deputy police commissioner Pol Gen. Ponsapat Pongcharoen.

He said the attack was an act of "local sabotage" but would not say what the motive was.

Nevertheless, these attacks are a great embarrassment for the ruling junta, who were in a festive mood after the Aug 7 referendum, in which 60 per cent of voters said they were in favour of the controversial draft charter.

They overlooked the fact that many millions of people voted against it or didn't bother to even cast a ballot.

It was really pathetic to treat the referendum as a sort of contest, if the idea is to reconcile Thais and move forward as a nation.

And while the junta is treating the referendum as a rubber stamp, or a seal of approval, there are other elements in the country who say, "We will not play by your rules."

And by resorting to political violence, as seen this past Thursday and Friday, the perpetrators are telling the powers that their rules no longer apply to them.

Perhaps, if leaders on both sides had taken the time and thought less about winning at all costs and paid more attention to certain aspects, such as fairness in dealings with people who oppose their views, Thailand might not have ended up the way it is today.

***

The Nation is a member of The Straits Times media partner Asia News Network, an alliance of 21 newspapers.