Thailand’s battle against its worst floods in decades has spilled into the political arena, underscoring the deep divisions that linger more than a year after deadly civil unrest rocked the country.
Efforts to prepare the capital for looming floodwaters have been plagued by contradictory messages from Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra’s government and local authorities, both seeking to score political points, observers said.
The sense of disunity during the slow-motion catastrophe has doused hopes the crisis might bring rival political factions together following years of instability since royalist generals overthrew Yingluck’s brother in 2006.
“This is no longer just an issue of natural disaster. It has become a ferocious political game,” said Pavin Chachavalpongpun, a Thailand expert at the Institute for Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore. “This competition, even during the height of the crisis, unveils a reality in Thailand: This is a deeply fragmented society in which political ideologies have overshadowed public responsibility and the urgency for national survival.”
The crisis has proved a major test for the country’s new prime minister, who came to power just two months ago helped by the popularity of her brother — ousted former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra — among poor Thais in rural areas.
Now it is the very people who voted for Yingluck’s Puea Thai party who are suffering the most during the monsoon crisis, which has killed more than 380 people so far and affected millions in the north and the east of the country.