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Yingluck’s baptism of fire

October 20, 2011

The natural disaster that has hit Thailand is presenting fresh challenges – and risks – to the new prime minister.


BANGKOK: In politics, sympathy never comes when you need it most. Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra’s brief emotional moment yesterday – displayed through reddened eyes and a stricken voice – could amplify criticism instead of easing it. All of a sudden, the fairytale and romance of the election campaign, which saw support grow wherever she went, has become a distant memory.

Normally-sympathetic local and foreign press have begun to question her political leadership, or her misfortune for not having it. An opinion poll has stated that a clear majority of people surveyed did not trust the government’s Flood Relief Operations Centre (FROC), compounding its credibility crisis. And yesterday, Sudarat Keyuraphan, the most charismatic woman in the Pheu Thai camp, re-emerged in public to give Thailand’s first female prime minister a stunning advice that what FROC had been doing could have been wrong.

Yingluck is obviously on the back foot. Pheu Thai’s high-ranking sources listed a few factors that are menacingly chipping away at her “Lady Knight on a White Horse” image. The biggest reason they cited, though, has to do with the fact that she had no real right-hand person to help her in this mega-crisis.

The failures of Interior Minister Yongyuth Wichaidit not only meant that key responsibility had to be shifted to “lesser powers” – first Science Minister Plodprasob Surassawadee and then Justice Minister Pracha Promnok – but also complicated the chain of command to flood-hit provinces and related agencies.

To add to that, none of the trio possesses the commanding presence to help her calm down the public. And, probably with the exception of Plodprasob, FROC’s top echelon boasted no expertise to deal with a flood crisis of this magnitude.

Reason number two why Yingluck could cave in to this disaster is the fact that this is a two-pronged battle. The Abhisit government also faced a serious flood crisis but Bangkok was not in danger at the time. Now, Yingluck has been pressured by MPs representing flood-hit provinces on one side, and the urgency besieging the capital on the other. Moreover, this is a two-way battle complicated by Thailand’s political divisions.

Bad blood

Reason number three is the continued failure of her government and the military to see eye to eye. The bad blood has politicised the pressing question of whether she could declare a state of emergency and give the armed forces greater power to help her fight this crisis.

The military has been helping, of course, but their role has been largely passive, which feeds the vicious circle of mistrust. Some red-shirt leaders have claimed the soldiers were not helping at full capacity in order to put Yingluck on the spot, an allegation that certainly has ruffled the feathers of the men in uniform.

The fourth reason concerns the awkward relations between her government and the Democrat-controlled Bangkok administration.

Press conferences have been done mostly separately and some contradicting information has been given out. There are unsettling signs of jurisdiction problems and even the simple issue of getting sandbags to outer Bangkok looked ready to be politicised.

Through all this national and personal crisis, Yingluck must be thinking of one man. Whether she’s desperate for his help or cursing him for putting her in this situation is a bit harder to tell.

– The Nation


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