Since its formal incorporation into the Thai nation state in the early 20th century, the Malay-Muslim majority region of southernmost Thailand has chafed under the rule of a culturally and linguistically alien Thai state. Beginning at the turn of the 21st century, Thailand’s program of administrative decentralization may have offered a salve to this condition by empowering locally elected representatives to address the needs and solve the problems of the people. This article argues, however, that decentralized government in Thailand suffers from a number of shortcomings that limit the efficacy of “bringing the state closer to the people.” Among these shortcomings is a tendency to produce dominant chief executives (“mayors”) capable of directing the flow of power and resources through informal networks that readily bypass formal representative institutions and participatory mechanisms. In the context of ethnically diverse villages and administrative subdistricts (Tambon), the ability to participate in such informal networks can be conditioned by ethnic or religious identity. This can result in the politicization of ethnic identity following dynamics that are independent of those typically highlighted in relation to the Malay-Muslim majority south and the Thai polity in general.
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Olthof, Doug, "Playing on Relations": Practices of Local-Level Citizenship and Inter-Ethnic Estrangement in a Southern Thai Village, Simons Papers in Security and Development, No. 49/2015, School for International Studies, Simon Fraser University, Vancouver, December, 2015.
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