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Floods highlight again the worst of Thai politics

Bangkok has become not only the last front in the battle against surging flood waters, but also a big question mark for future mapping of Thailand’s policies. The debate on how far the Thai government should go to protect the capital has been largely politicized at present, which is sad, but somewhat understandable. When a crisis reaches its climax, self-interests naturally come to the fore. This debate, however, needs to be addressed with a totally open mind after the waters recede.

The crux of the issue will remain the same. The main question is how fair it is to spend a lot of the national budget to save Bangkok while “pushing the burden” on to others.

This is not a simple question. Bangkok is the center of government, business and commerce. If the provinces are Thailand’s backbone, Bangkok can call itself the brain. How can a balance be struck about the importance of both? How can we achieve such a balance without allowing politics to get in the way?

What has happened over the past few days proves how difficult it is to leave politics out of the Bangkok debate. At the national level, Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and her Pheu Thai Party have stood to lose high stakes. The ruling camp has been desperate in its rearguard battle against the floods, after failing to save several provinces from the lower North to the Central region. Its popularity has been plunging, with Yingluck’s leadership ability and administrative skills called into serious question.

If Yingluck loses the battle to save Bangkok, there will most likely be a crisis of confidence. That, especially in the Thai political context, cannot be allowed to happen.

In the meantime, the other group trying to save Bangkok is the opposition Democrat Party. Bangkok Governor MR Sukhumbhand Paribatra can help maintain the Democrats’ political dominance in the capital if the city is saved and he is perceived to be the man to whom the credit should go. And not only that, Sukhumbhand’s own political future is also on the line here.

How much the political dogfight between the government and opposition has contributed to the worsening of the flood crisis cannot yet be discerned with any accuracy. A lot of people, however, believe that the conflicts have affected key decisions on when and how water should be allowed to pass through the capital. The conflicts, which have been in plain sight at times, have also caused extreme stress to people already facing anxiety over the possibility of being hit by flooding.

As long as the political divide continues, the “privilege” of Bangkok will remain a very thorny issue. What has happened during this flood crisis has amplified the need to cut down on that privilege, not by taking it away from Bangkokians, but by raising standards in the other provinces. To achieve that, we need to end divisive politics in which some politicians are portrayed as caring more about rural people than others. This divisive political battle, undeniably, has led to a rush to “please” rural voters, but we will never get a long-lasting solution out of it.

“Contempt” towards Thailand’s poor is something cooked up for political purpose. The danger is, if we hear about something for long enough, we may start to believe it. The greater danger is, when enough people believe it, mutual hatred will become prevalent in society.

The social equity gap between Bangkok and rural areas does certainly exist, but promoting hatred can never narrow it. Angry mobs threatening to bring down Bangkok’s flood barriers are solid proof that this is an issue that can’t be addressed by emotions.

Only when both sides truly recognise each other and seek to co-exist peacefully can efforts really begin to decentralise power and wealth. Future policies concerning Bangkok and rural areas must be based on real understanding of their connections and gaps, not on politics by those citing ideologies that even they don’t really hold dear.

(Editorial, The Nation (Thailand))

(Asia News Network)
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