Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Doing the right thing

Sept 13, 2011
Source: Bangkok Post

With "issues" falling down on the government incessantly like the seasonal rain, it's become amply clear that Thailand's first female Prime Minister does not enjoy a honeymoon period.

But really, does she have to be forced into hurtling precariously towards an estrangement, and possible divorce, with her people so soon after such a quick, intense and specularly successful courtship?

Look at what's been piled up on Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra's plate. An attempt to reverse the court ruling on Thaksin Shinawatra? A renewal of the controversial War on Drugs? A rice-pledging programme that is questioned by virtually everyone except her ministers? Nothing chewable really. All indigestible stuff that will leave the PM with a serious case of heartburn.

The current state of affairs, which sees PM Yingluck being eclipsed almost entirely by her deputy Chalerm Yubamrung and a member of her party the red shirt leader Jatuporn Prompan, makes me wonder what has happened to the well-tuned, highly efficient machinery that catapulted the politically unknown Yingluck to premiership in less than two months?

They say it's easier to try to grab power than to maintain it. That's probably true, plus we have to admit the Pheu Thai Party, with former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra helping in the background, is evidently a master of the Thai election game. After so many wins, it does seem like the PT people have figured it all out down to such minuscule details as what colour of lipstick should its top candidate be wearing. This is not to say the party lacked either the hunger or the drive: they really wanted to win the last election. Now that they have got it _ the government has officially been at work for slightly over a month _ I ask myself what has become of the formidable Pheu Thai team of strategists and marketing communicators that made "Yingluck" a household name and her face the very image of hope, accessibility and a new beginning among the majority of people? With about one-third of the country being affected by floods _ the death toll from mudslides in Uttaradit rising, the two missing people not found yet and the forecast of heavy rain and possibly more floods to continue throughout the country in coming days _ Prime Minister Yingluck's place now is with the people.

We did see her put on knee-high boots and check in on the victims in Uttaradit on Sunday, but that is hardly enough. Both the prime minister and her cabinet members must be seen to be doing more to help people _ some of whom have lost their loved ones and probably all the belongings they ever had, due to the flood, mudslides or building collapses. Some of the ministers may not be directly involved with the flood problem but they could help distribute relief supplies at the very least.

It's crucial that the prime minister and her government is seen to be standing by her people, and staying with them through thick and thin, if not physically then in the heart. For the prime minister to choose to continue on a series of overseas trips and enjoy red-carpet receptions while a large number of people languish in hardship and misery does not sound like the right thing to do, even after the honeymoon has ended.

I realise the PM's tour of Asean countries is a compulsory task, that it is a tradition whose schedule had been fixed in advance. But Ms Yingluck still has a choice. She can surely reschedule, especially now that the situation at home looks more pressing and possibly more demanding of her attention than issues to be raised at those meetings overseas.

Next up for the PM's Asean visit agenda is a trip to Cambodia scheduled for Thursday. There is no arguing that bilateral relations between Bangkok and Phnom Penh are an important issue and one that needs to be thrashed out to avoid further clashes and border skirmishes that have claimed many lives these past few years. Still, there is the question of whether the trip is an urgent one that cannot be put off, especially in the face of widespread grief at home. Who knows, if Ms Yingluck chooses to stay in the country, to go out there and give help to people affected by the current bout of flooding in as many tambons and districts as she can, just like when she tirelessly campaigned for their votes, she could win another honeymoon.

Atiya Achakulwisut is Deputy Editor, Bangkok Post.

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