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Are the floods in northern Thailand a lifeline for Thaksin’s drowning career?

Updated On: May 26, 2006

Thailand is going through a really rough time.

The end to the political crisis seems nowhere in sight while the courts try to disentangle the mess, the Elections Commission is digging in its heels, and the political opposition does not offer a viable alternative to Thaksin’s Thai Rak Thai party. Moreover, the economy is sliding with hesitant investors, rising oil prices and lower consumer spending. Even the US has halted further Free Trade Agreement talks till a new elected government comes into office. With the recent violence in the deep South, the severe flooding in the Northern provinces could not come at a worst time.

However, could this natural calamity help to resuscitate Thaksin’s ailing political career? Just as he was highly commended for his prompt and decisive action in the wake of the tsunami end of 2004, Thaksin’s return to duty to relieve the flooding in the north could boost public confidence in his ability to lead the nation.

As it stands, about 100,000 people are believed to have been affected by the floods which have claimed fifty-odd lives and caused hundreds of households to be dislocated. The cost of the damage is estimated to be 100 million baht. PM Thaksin and other ministers have visited Uttaradit and Sukhothai provinces, while the King and Queen have already ordered the armed forces to hasten search and rescue missions and provide necessities. Thaksin has promised to build shelters for the victims and review the setting in place of early warning systems to avoid a repeat of such human suffering.

Meanwhile, about 1,000 troops have arrived with heavy machinery, including trucks, boats and helicopters to rescue those trapped in the mudslides. Water plants and donation tents have also been set up. It is said that there is a likely food shortage, while electricity and telecommunications are down. Tambon Mae Poon Administrative Organisation's chairman Sakorn Ouncharoen said, “We are trying to find enough rice for the people affected.” Flood victims like Kam Kamsen have pleaded for prompt help saying that people might “starve to death or commit suicide out of stress”, the Nation reported. Psychiatrists have also been called in to counsel and treat those suffering mental anguish over their losses.

Potjanee Thanavaranit, director-general of the Insurance Department, has said the bureau has “offered emergency support to victims in four Northern provinces and urged farmers to consider buying insurance coverage for their products”. The Nation reported her as saying “most farmers hit by this disaster did not buy insurance coverage for their agricultural produce because they thought they could rely on the government for support”.

The Nation has also criticized government incompetence in contributing to this avoidable tragedy. It was found that the critical flood areas had been classified “natural disaster zones” such measures were in place so that local officials would alert and evacuate the people when danger levels rose. It was the failure to do so that wreaked so much havoc this time around. It added that the present emergency assistance must be bolstered by more comprehensive mid-long term measures. This could take the form of resettlement to higher-lying ground.

All these expectations upon the government add to Thaksin’s responsibilities. However, he has proven to win over supporters with his decisive handling of physical catastrophes. It remains to be seen if he will use this opportunity to his advantage to ease himself back into the Thai political system to possibly receive a strong mandate in the future election.

Sources:                                                                                                                  

King urges fast flood relief (Bangkok Post, 25 May 2006)

Floods' financial cost yet to be tallied (The Nation, 25 May 2006)

Grim search for bodies (The Nation, 25 May 2006)

Thaksin's return threatens a new cataclysm (The Nation, 25 May 2006)

A preventable disaster repeated (The Nation, 25 May 2006)

Floods, mudslides greet Thai PM's return (Today, 25 May 2006)

Interior Ministry orders wide alert as helicopters drop food to flood victims (Thai News Agency, 24 May 2006)

US won't negotiate with caretaker govt. (Bangkok Post, 24 May 2006)                               

Return of the thick-skinned one (The Nation, 24 May 2006)