Michael Montesano has written a very interesting article for the Jarkarta Globe about some of the ideological dimensions of Thailand’s floods. Here are some extracts:
Thais unreconciled to the victory of Yingluck’s Red-Shirt-supported Pheu Thai Party in July’s polls have in recent weeks tried to turn her government’s current struggle to partisan political advantage. They have criticized the prime minister as favoring photo opportunities over effective measures to address the crisis. They have claimed that she remained more focused on enacting policies to enrich people and firms close to her government than on dealing with the mounting disaster facing the country. They have decried her government’s state of apparent confusion in the face of the vast sea of floodwaters that has now overrun its crisis center at the Don Mueang airport.
Such criticism, justified or not, is natural in a free-wheeling political culture like Thailand’s. But it has in this instance been accompanied, in cyberspace in particular , by another form of criticism: faulting Yingluck for, in essence, not having the wisdom and expertise of King Bhumibol in matters relating to water – or at least for not drawing sufficiently on that wisdom and expertise and therefore showing disrespect for the king.
Thais on the Yellow, anti-Thaksinite side of their country’s deep political divide have taken to the Internet to assure one another that the king has set up an alternate crisis center to meet the challenge posed by the flooding. To prove their case, they have even circulated on Facebook a photograph of the king meeting with a group of officials, with a large map spread out in front of them. It turns out, however, that the photograph comes from a TV news report from June on the king’s meeting with the leadership of the hospital in which he has stayed since 2009 to discuss road construction and drainage in the area around the hospital.
Smith Dharmasoraoja, a former director general of the Department of Meteorology, has spoken in recent days of the flooding crisis as a reflection of the country’s flawed approach to water management. There is a growing understanding in Thailand that such long-term factors as the degradation of watersheds and water catchment areas, urban sprawl and industrialization and an inflexible water bureaucracy with little idea of how best to manage its dams explain the current disaster far more than do heavy rains in recent months.
Concern that these factors will come to be associated with King Bhumibol’s own legacy of interest in and influence over the management of water resources is growing among observers of Thai affairs. Many worry that the ideological strife to which that association might lead could prove almost as destructive to the country as the floods themselves.