New Thai political party for Muslims wants to forge closer links between Thailand and the Islamic world. Veteran politician and leader Pichet Sathirachawala, wants to see this beginning by mending damaged ties with Saudi Arabia and turning Narathiwat Airport into a hub for flights to that kingdom for religious pilgrimages.
An optimistic and dynamic leader of Thailand’s new Muslim party, the Thai People Justice Party has set out his vision for more interaction between Thailand and the Islamic world. This week, the party opened a branch office in Chiang Mai. Pichet Sathirachawala, its leader and a political veteran, said he particularly wanted to see an improved relationship between the country and Saudi Arabia after a jewel theft in 1989 or what has come to be known as the ‘Blue Diamond’ affair all but destroyed relations between the two countries. Mr Sathirachawala wants to see more Thai people and Muslims being able to travel to Saudi Arabia for the highly important hajj pilgrimage undertaken by Thai Muslims.
The leader of one of Thailand’s newest political parties, the Thai People Justice Party, which is seen as vehicle for Muslims in the country, has come out strongly in favor of Thailand making efforts to warmer proper relations with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The new party is hoping to win seats in this year’s election, a prospect heightened by the strengthened role of the party list system in the new election process.
Former veteran of the successful Thai Rak Thai party is a political heavyweight in Thailand
The leader of the new party, Pichet Sathirachawala, is a former political heavyweight in Thailand. He was previously associated with the Thai Rak Thai Party, which was Thailand’s governing party in the heyday of ex premier Thaksin Shinawatra. Indeed, Mr Sathirachawala was a founding member of that political movement, which swept to power in successive elections. The veteran politician is hoping to be a key player in Thailand’s political future which will see smaller parties having more influence provided they can manage to obtain seats in the new parliament.
Key ambition of new Muslim Thai People Justice Party is to improve ties with Saudi Arabia
One of the key ambitions of the Thai People Justice Party is to improve quite severely damaged relations with Saudi Arabia which has seen limitations placed on the number of Thai Muslims being able to travel to the that country for the highly symbolic and important hajj pilgrimage, which is very important to Thai Muslims. Mr Sathirachawala is also hoping that such a rapprochement will mean more Thai workers being able to work in the middle eastern kingdom, as before, where they were able to earn significantly higher salaries and send remittances home to Thailand. The party wants to go even further than that.
New political party leader wants to see Thailand engage more with the Islamic world
Mr Sathirachawala has put forward a vision which would see Thailand engaging more with the Islamic world. He is a former leader of the Islamic of Council of Thailand. ‘Muslims currently make up a third of the world’s population,’ he told the press this week and added: ‘I know what they want.’
New party opens branch office in Chiang Mai as the exuberant leader says he is quite capable of leading Thailand as Prime Minister
His remarks were made while he visited Chiang Mai, in the north of Thailand. The city and region is home to many Muslims, formerly of Chinese descent and Muslim immigrants. It was on the occasion of the opening of a branch office in the strategically important northern city for the Thai People Justice Party. He used the occasion also to remind his audience of his time as a Thai Rak Thai leader. He even suggested that he is personally capable of leading the next government but highlighted again the importance of the hajj and resumption of a healthy relationships with Saudi Arabia. He suggested that Narathiwat Airport, in the southern province, could be developed as a gateway for Thai Muslims to fly to the hajj and suggested that over 100,000 Thai people would like to fly to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia on an annual basis.
Murky and sinister Blue Diamond affair, going back to 1989, is still a blight on Thai Saudi ties
The obstacle in the way is the infamous Blue Diamond Affair. This has been described as one of the greatest diplomatic debacles in international affairs and has severely damaged Thailand’s relationship with Saudi Arabia. It began in 1989 when a trusted Thai staff member of a Saudi prince, a gardener, pulled off a bold and calculated theft of a range of diamonds, rubies, necklaces and valuable watches from his employer. The thief broke into the safe of his employer and smuggled the valuables out in a vacuum cleaner, contained in the bag of the machine. He later sent the haul by air flight courier in a series of packages home to Thailand.
From a jewel theft in Saudi Arabia to the murder of diplomats in Thailand, the affair is a black cloud, set off by a dishonest act
The Thai man managed to return home but was quickly arrested by Thai police and confessed to his crime. The police subsequently identified a jeweler who had fenced the items on the black market. However, the matter then turned very sinister when a sequence events occurred which cast doubts and distrust in all directions. The jeweler was kidnapped and family members of the man were found murdered in a car. Saudi diplomats, visiting Thailand to make enquiries, were also murdered. However, later reports contained in secret diplomatic cables, indicated that the killings were carried out by a terrorist group. A very unfortunate twist and complication in the already murky affair. There were even reports, from Saudi Arabia, that some of the recovered valuables, returned that kingdom, were fake.
Jewel thief joined a Buddhist monastery, his life and fate forever fouled by the incident
The Thai man who carried out the audacious theft, after serving time in prison, later joined a Thai Buddhist monastery claiming that the act had left his life ruined. He claimed to be cursed by his dishonest behavior and the breach of trust he had committed. The greatest diamond of all within the collection, the Blue Diamond, has never been recovered and is reported by several international auction houses to now have a value of anything between $20 and $50 million.
Murder of Saudi journalist casts doubt today over Saudi Arabia’s de facto leadership
An added problem to any attempt to restore trust and better relationship with Saudi Arabia is the continued international disquiet that has erupted since October 2018 concerning the murder of US and Saudi Arabian journalist, Jamal Khashoggi, a noted opponent of the Saudi regime and one who has also been linked to the powerful Muslim Brotherhood. There has been considerable international speculation that the murder was carried out on the instructions of Saudi Arabian Crown Prince, Mohammed Salman, who is reported to be the de facto ruler of the kingdom. The CIA in the United States and other intelligence services, have advised the US Congress that they believe that the Crown Prince was a party to the murder of the journalist, who was a controversial columnist for the Washington Post, the US newspaper.
Muslims in Thailand today make up an active 5% of the Thai population across Thailand
Muslims in Thailand make up about 5% of the population but they are very active in business and commercial affairs in regions outside the main four provinces in the South where they make up the overwhelming majority of the population. These four provinces are Yala, Satun, Narathiwat and Pattani. In that area, which is the seat of an ongoing insurrection or unrest, many Muslims are Thai Malays who speak a unique and distinct language, a version of Malay associated with the former 19th century Pattani kingdom which was conquered and annexed by Siam during that period when the Kingdom of Siam, later to become the Kingdom of Thailand expanded. In all Thailand’s southern provinces, Muslims make up over 30% of the population.
Long and rich tradition of Muslims coming to settle in Thailand and becoming part the story
Outside of the southern provinces there is a range and varied background to Thai Muslims. In the north of Thailand there have been Chinese Muslims for hundreds of years while in the 18th and 19th century, Cham muslims from Cambodia began to arrive in Bangkok and nearby provinces. There is an even more historic tradition of Persians living in the Ayutthaya area in the times of the old Kingdom of Siam up to 1767. Bangkok is home to many Muslims including both hereditary Thai Muslims and immigrants for all over the world. Muslims in Thailand are generally highly regarded for their good character, including a strong work ethic and love of family. The unrest in the Southern provinces is however one of the most urgent issues facing any prospective Thai government. In recent years, the unrest has also been accompanied by economic deprivation in the area and the spread of drugs among young Muslims.
Thailand’s Muslim community well integrated and significant with over 3,900 mosques
Thailand’s Muslim community are very integrated into the fabric of the country but also hold a unique and respected position in Thai society. They are active in banking and commercial affairs. Thailand is home to over 3,900 mosques and the leader of Islam in Thailand, the Shaykh al-Islām, is known in Thailand as the Chularatchamontri, a title first used by the King of Siam over 400 years ago, so attesting to the long history of Islam in Thailand, which has seen many Muslims come to country in pursuit of trade, commerce and employment, afterwards staying on and flourishing. The Chularatchamontri is still appointed by the Thai King on the advice of the Prime Minister and, like other aspects related to Islam in the country, is governed by the 1997 Islamic Organ Administration Act.