Fanning the flames of segregation

Fanning the flames of segregation

Never before have we had a caretaker government so embattled, leaving the country so rudderless.

Amid the acrimony, some Thais are talking about dividing the country. This is a dangerous development in the crisis besetting the government, which must take care not to fan the flames of segregation.

The regionalism card must never be played in this political chess game, no matter what the odds.

The caretaker government is fast running out of time and options. The Feb 2 general election, hamstrung by an absence of candidates in 28 constituencies, will not likely be completed before the March 3 deadline for the lower House to convene its first session and pick a prime minister.

There’s also the second, equally crucial deadline a month later when the caretaker government’s life comes to a statutory end.

The first deadline is a precursor to the next but to beat it requires getting the Election Commission (EC) on board.

However, any cooperation from the poll watch agency looks to be a pipe dream.

Amid wrangling between the Pheu Thai Party and the EC over whether a royal decree must be issued to run polls in the 28 constituencies, caretaker Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra is languishing as leader as she wages a battle of her own with the National Anti-Corruption Commission.

She stands accused of allowing systemic corruption in the rice scheme. The charge, if proven, could result in her being impeached and sent to jail.

The prospect of incarceration is eroding her legitimacy as national leader.

As the cash-starved rice policy has unleashed a "demon" — the anger of poor farmers who haven’t been paid for their pledged rice — that the government can’t control, Ms Yingluck has made a mistake which could cost her support in that sector.

In a recent speech, Ms Yingluck described at length the merit of the scheme and the EC heard from her what it reckoned to be a promise of rice-pledging payments to farmers.

The agency believes this borders on a breach of election law, which prohibits a caretaker government from using a state broadcast to coax voters and gain electoral advantage.

If the EC finds against her on this complaint and others relating to her inspection trips to the provinces, Ms Yingluck could be the first premier in history to be red-carded even before the election runs its course.

Trouble is also brewing on another front as the Constitution Court deliberates the 2 trillion baht in borrowing earmarked for infrastructure revamp projects.

As the caretaker government staggers from one problem to another, state-run Channel 11 is doing its bit to deflect public criticism.

However, in putting up a good front for the government, it may have pushed the country into dangerous territory.

In one of its programmes, rice farmers in Pha Chi district of Ayutthaya were discussing problems in the scheme. They agreed, predictably, that the rice-pledging policy should continue, despite its problems.

Protest leader Suthep Thaugsbuan later showed the programme to the People’s Democratic Reform Committee protesters at the Pathumwan rally stage.

One farmer told the programme the protest should stop and that she wouldn’t mind partitioning the country and leaving the South a separate country.

The farmer might have intended it as a jibe against the many southern people who have joined the protest in Bangkok.

She might be upset by the reversal of political fortune that has befallen the government which was once admired so widely by farmers.

She might have wanted to verbalise her frustration but to carry her remark in a state-run broadcast, which allows for it to be repeated, will only exacerbate the "us and them" mentality. Give it time to fester and such sentiments could tear this country apart.

Regionalism instantly sends the blood boiling for many when they hear their home region disparaged by fellow Thais. It threatens national harmony and could plunge the government into a new crisis.

Channel 11 should have acted more responsibly and cut her inflammatory remarks from the programme.

It’s almost forgivable that the channel is such a blatant mouthpiece for the state. But there is no escaping the fact that it is governed by journalistic ethics and as a state-run channel is funded by taxpayers.

Channel 11 should know better than to fan the flames of such a sensitive subject.

Kamolwat Praprutitum is an Assistant News Editor, Bangkok Post.

Kamolwat Praprutitum

Bangkok Post assistant news editor

Kamolwat Praprutitum is an assistant news editor, Bangkok Post.

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