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Friday, November 04, 2011
Drowning in prejudice
External threats usually unite a quarrelling country. That is the
rule of thumb, isn’t it? Joint efforts to help ease the suffering of
victims in times of natural disaster also usually trigger the best in
ourselves, doesn’t it?
I used to believe this was the case. I am not so sure any more. If a
threat to survival is a unifying force, then there is a chance that the
mega flood can help heal and wash away the deep and destabilising
political divisiveness. But as our country slides deeper and deeper
under water, I have to admit this is only wishful thinking.
Early on in the flood disaster when the lower north of Thailand was
inundated, the public outpouring of flood relief assistance attested to
the heart-warming humanity in a time of calamity. As the deluge moved
closer to Bangkok, annihilating several provinces along the way,
fingers started pointing in different directions.
The Royal Irrigation Department was damned for its dam water
mismanagement, and for keeping the water level close to the brim
despite the prospect of heavy rain that comes with the La Nina
The irrigation authorities, meanwhile, blamed flood control failure
on local communities who built self-protection dykes and destroyed
flood walls to the cost of other communities. They also complained
about the lack of water pumps to do their work.
As the deluge intensified, Bangkok got rebuffed for staying dry at
the expense of other provinces, amid louder calls for Bangkok to do its
duty to help flood victims through arbitrary taxation, not voluntary
As the captain of the ship, Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and
her team are facing fierce criticism and public confidence eroded by
inefficiency and untruths. Passing the buck and blaming the government
is quite normal, you may argue. Not quite.
I have no academic surveys to back my observations. But from talking
to friends and relatives, and by closely following discussions on the
social media networks, the criticism is sharply divided along the lines
of colour-coded politics.
Within the red camp, it is widely believed that the high level of
water in dams was a political ploy of the Abhisit government to trigger
a deluge and undermine the Yingluck administration. In this conspiracy
theory, the fingers began pointing much, much higher, which has only
served to enrage the yellow camp.
Meanwhile, the anti-Thaksin camp is inflamed by the domination of
the reds in the despatching of flood relief items donated by the public
— only to serve their red constituencies first and foremost. Some Puea
Thai members of Parliament faced the same complaint.
When the conflict over flood management between the Bangkok
administration and the Yingluck government became public, my friends
and relatives who belong to the red camp and cannot stand the sight of
the Bangkok Governor, blamed the Democrat-led Bangkok administration
for not pumping out the flood waters into the canals. They also refused
to watch Thai PBS TV due to its being too critical of the government.
My friends and relatives on the yellow side, meanwhile, deride every
word Yingluck utters and even call her names. They believe that the
irrigation officials cannot do their jobs because of intervention from
the politicians who want to keep their red zones dry.
Every time Yingluck is attacked, however, count on the prompt,
protective response from her supporters who readily echo her appeal for
unity, which is interpreted as abstaining from criticism.
The country’s worst inundation in this century has clearly failed to dampen our prejudice, including ethnic prejudice.
Stories abound about food and water being withdrawn from the flood
victims once it became known they were migrant workers. So are the
stories about police extortion of frightened migrant workers fleeing
the flood for not having identification papers ready and for leaving
their designated work zones.
Water is traditionally believed to have the sacred power of washing
away bad elements and ushering in a new, clean start. With the mega
flood failing to ease our political and ethnic prejudices, the
country’s chances for a clean start have already been washed away.