Without knowing the composition of the bombs, the initial single pair of bombings in Hua Hin originally appeared to be a typical deep south-related bombing. These occasionally occur in parts of the country other than the deep south. Even Bangkok has not been immune.
However, the coordinated spate of bombings at this time (the Queen’s Birthday) recalls the 2006 new year’s eve bombings that were alleged to be the work of former army chief Chavolit Yongjiyut acting on Thaksin’s behalf to rattle the then junta.
Interestingly, most local interpretations of Saturday’s events have immediately assumed that these bombings are indeed related to the referendum and are designed to convey Thai-style dissatisfaction and discredit a junta that seemed triumphant after their restrictive charter won the recent referendum.
According to this interpretation, the bombing wave is designed to appear as if it could be part of the deep south insurgent movement while still being able to convey its real message to the government in Bangkok. This is the same alleged concept as the 2006 new year’s bombings.
The breadth and coordination would be intended to factor out the possibility that a disgruntled Red Shirt splinter group is responsible. Thai psychology already largely factors out quick, impetuous action by “lone wolf” radicals so it is assumed groups only act on orders from on high. Only those with the professionalism to operate outside of Thailand’s security net and who would dare to strike on a sensitive holiday in a coordinated fashion would be in a position to order these attacks.
According to this thinking, the message from the attacks would be the same as that sent to the former military government in 2006–that Thaksin still can exert force and command parts of the military despite the apparent absolute power of the junta.
Perhaps more importantly, it allegedly warns the political class that Thaksin is not a spent force and that he has the expectation that he will continue to direct the Pheu Thai Party. This is an especially urgent message as the new charter seemed to doom any Thaksin plans for a return to political power. This reality had already been leading to a political fracturing of the factions that make up the Pheu Thai as well as the Red Shirts.
The Thai world is always rife with conspiracy theories. As Thai bombings usually have no claims of responsibility, it leaves them open to many interpretations.
* The ruling junta has no reason to sabotage itself by staging the bombings in the aftermath of their compelling referendum victory. This victory took the wind out of the sails of narratives that there was growing opposition to the anti-democratic nature of the charter and military rule.
* If this violence originated from the southern separatist movement, it could also be related to the new reality for the government in Bangkok. As noted previously (Analysis: Thailand’s Half Democracy), this new charter marks a dawn in Thai politics in which the military holds the upper hand on any issue they care about.
The Thai military has always had a better track record than the police in tamping down southern violence–as well as using uncompromising brutality when doing so. Under the new charter, the insurgents in the deep south can no longer depend on advantages derived from divided policy in Bangkok where different governments switch responsibility for security in the south from the military to the police and to ad-hoc committees and then back again.
The Thai state is also keen never to use either “terrorism” or “separatist” when referring to Thai deep south (preferring “local sabotage” and “insurgent”—Thaksin went a step further, insisting the actors there were merely “bandits”). Since the bombings in the Thai deep south are hardly ever covered in the international media and thus assumed to not impact the larger image of the country, there is always the tendency to blame bombings of any origin on deep south insurgents. This assumes the events will be quickly forgotten by the media as most of the incidents related to the south are.
All of this means that, no matter the real reason for the bombings, they may be ascribed to insurgents of the deep south as the most palatable way to minimize them and move on.
* Also intriguing is the lingering fear that the attacks might be the result of the growing influence of foreign internationalist movements like al Qaeda or ISIS provoking and guiding the separatists. However, a number of factors make this unlikely.
Mainly that, despite the apparent religious affiliation of the region (with many young fighters even coming out of local religious schools), the deep south conflict is a cultural one rooted in a very local historic identity not essentially about religion. It is also funded and guided by powerful regional Thai and Malay figures for a web of interrelated mutual benefits and underworld connections. It has always been thought doubtful that they would let their war be hijacked from abroad and become a pawn in a wider geopolitical game.
* These current attacks come almost one year after the Erawan Shrine blast (which took place on August 15, 2015). However, it would be peculiar if an external terror group, like those who hit the Erawan Shrine in 2015, would stage bombings in this fashion–to make it appear as if the bombings are related to the Thai deep south insurgents while also alluding to domestic politics as described above. Also, the network needed to coordinate this series of incidents would seem too extensive for a purely foreign player to mount.
Purely foreign actors also aimed for mass casualties. The recent events are small-scale devices as well as arson, both pointing to either the separatists of the deep south or Thai-style political intimidation bombings.
Once details of the bomb materials used or possible foreign involvement is established, all this could change, but, at present, the first take within the Thai world is that these events are an anti-junta response to military’s triumphalism over the charter vote. This is a signal that the near-term political situation that seemed settled after the landslide charter vote is decidedly unsettled after all.
See also: Analysis: Thailand’s Half Democracy
2Bangkok.com Editor Ron Morris’ book, The Thai Book: A Field Guide to Thai Political Motivations, is available in the Kindle Store.