Getting his feet wet
ABOUT POLITICS: Recent crippling floods give governor Chadchart Sittipunt an early taste of how politics in the capital flows v Two new political parties deny being offshoots of the PPRP, but observers are not that convinced by their denials
published : 6 Aug 2022 at 04:00
newspaper section: News
The recent crippling flood that saw several main roads in Bangkok swamped overnight may have been the reason why governor Chadchart Sittipunt brooded over what is harder to solve -- the ever-recurring inundations or the divisive politics attached to them.
Hours of downpours resulted in the freak flooding which turned roads into canals on the evening of July 20. Taxis braving knee-deep water crawled along roads as floodwater seeped into the vehicles. A driver tried to calm the nerves of a customer whose feet were dipped in the water while sitting in the back seat.
Some commuters squatted on seats to escape waves of water created by passing vehicles, that were washing up against bus stops.
Also, a low-platform bus could not close its doors as water rushed inside, sweeping into the aisle.
These scenes were played out on social media which relayed the grievances of commuters held up in paralysed traffic.
Observers said that while stranded people were praying for the water to recede quickly, it was equally interesting to watch public reactions to the flooding that night.
Mr Chadchart described it as the worst flooding since taking the helm at City Hall in May. He rode pillion on a motorcycle and toured flooded spots, all the while going live on his social media channel.
The governor was heard saying he would not mind being berated by city residents and insisted he was bound by his duty to serve.
The floods also doubled as a battlefield where a war of words was reignited with the so-called "pro-democracy" bloc, whose members are largely supportive of Mr Chadchart, pitted against the "conservatives" who were accused of looking for even the slightest opportunity to put the governor down.
A question was put forth by members of the conservative camp as to whether certain online commentators or celebrities with the "pro-democracy" lot would have been as encouraging in the tone of their social media messages if the floods had occurred under the stewardship of the previous governor, Pol Gen Aswin Kwanmuang. He was appointed to lead City Hall by the now-defunct coup engineer, the National Council for Peace and Order.
A comparison was drawn between two similar flood situations which attracted starkly different social media reactions from an actor.
One heavy flood that happened one evening during Pol Gen Aswin's tenure as governor apparently met with the actor's frustration. However, his comments on the July 20 flood were steeped in empathy and understanding of the problem. He also appealed to residents to be mindful of where they leave their garbage to be collected as it could end up clogging drains and aggravating the floods.
TV show host Lakkana Panwichai, better known as Kham Phaka and supporter of the main opposition Pheu Thai Party, came out in Mr Chadchart's defence. Posting on her Facebook page, she said the floods stemmed from faulty city planning and that it was impossible to tackle the issue overnight.
The governor deserved credit for sacrificing his sleep to conduct a first-hand inspection and live-stream the flooded locations so people can get a clear idea of the problem, she said.
Mr Chadchart's critics, however, were less than kind in their assessment of his first encounter with city flooding.
Also writing on his Facebook account, vocal activist Srisuwan Janya dished out sarcasm against Mr Chadchart, saying the governor stood every chance of rising above any criticism of his handling of one of Bangkok's worst floods this year, given his "tremendous" ability.
The governor should ease up on his publicity stunt campaigns for a while and get down to the business of tackling the floods, said Mr Srisuwan who earlier accused Mr Chadchart of vote-buying by letting people collect his vinyl election campaign posters that could be converted into shopping bags or aprons and sold online.
Other critics agreed the floods could not wait for Mr Chadchart's live-streaming to subside. The issue will never be defeated without a firm hand and a clear plan.
The observers said the July 20 downpour may also have caused some people to feel resigned or disappointed that even the most popular Bangkok governor has kept quiet on a comprehensive plan to at least drain away the water more quickly.
The observers warned a few more ravaging floods could mark a turning point where the governor's popularity begins to ebb away.
Don't call us puppet parties
This week witnessed the birth of two political parties that some observers believe are possible vehicles to increase Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha's chances of remaining in power.
Pirapan: Ready to run for PM
First was the launch of the Ruam Phaen Din Party headed by Gen Wit Devahastin na Ayudhya, former leader of the Setthakij Thai Party, now under the control of Capt Thamanat Prompow.
Gen Wit, who has close ties with Deputy Prime Minister and ruling Palang Pracharath Party (PPRP) leader Gen Prawit Wongsuwon, was forced to quit Setthakij Thai for the Palang Chart Thai Party following a rift with Capt Thamanat.
The conflict was said to have thwarted plans to use Setthakij Thai as a PPRP splinter party, so Palang Chart Thai was chosen for Gen Wit which was renamed Ruam Phaen Din on Monday when he was made its leader.
With no political bigwigs joining the party, Ruam Phaen Din met with little interest as observers had no doubts about the party's close ties with the PPRP.
Media attention, instead, centred on the launch of Ruam Thai Sang Chart on Wednesday. It burst onto the political stage in March last year amid reports that it was planned as a "spare party" for the PPRP in case of a snap election.
At that time concerns grew that if a referendum draft bill failed to clear parliament, the government, which sponsored the bill, would then have to accept responsibility.
In that case, the cabinet might have had to resign and the House dissolved, forcing a fresh election. Under such a scenario, the PPRP might have needed another party allied to it to contest the election to help boost its chances of winning many seats.
When the anticipated political trouble had passed, public interest in Ruam Thai Sang Chart faded until February this year when Seksakol Atthawong offered Ruam Thai Sang Chart as a back-up for Gen Prayut in case the PPRP chose to nominate someone else for premier at the next election.
Mr Seksakol also discussed the possibility of high-profile politicians, including former Democrat MPs Pirapan Salirathavibhaga and Akanat Prompan, joining the party.
Things turned out as expected; Mr Pirapan, an aide to Gen Prayut, was named the party leader while Mr Akanat became its secretary-general. Other key party figures included former Democrat deputy leader Witthaya Kaewparadai and former secretary-general of the Action Coalition for Thailand Party, Duangrit Benjathikul Chairungruang.
The emergence of Ruam Phaen Din and Ruam Thai Sang Chart comes amid the waning popularity of the PPRP and an about-turn by coalition parties to use 500, instead of 100, to calculate who gets list MPs in the next polls.
It is believed the use of 500 in the calculation method will help stop the main opposition Pheu Thai Party from securing a landslide win in the next election. The 100 figure derives from the total number of party-list MPs while 500 would include all of the constituency MPs as well.
Both parties are widely seen as a political vehicle to carry Gen Prayut through the next election, despite their leaders trying to distance themselves from the PPRP and the prime minister.
Speaking after being appointed party leader, Gen Wit said his party was formed to accommodate those who had left the PPRP with him and it was not a PPRP reserve party.
Mr Pirapan repeated the same message, insisting the party was not the PPRP's political offshoot and that he was ready to be a PM candidate in the next election.
Gen Prayut, meanwhile, continues to keep his cards close to his chest although he said that he would not turn his back on the ruling party that has supported him as prime minister.
"I still stay with the PPRP, don't I? The party supported me to become prime minister, didn't it? I'm thinking about applying to become a party member," he was quoted as saying when asked about the chance of joining Ruam Thai Sang Chart.
Political observers still find it hard to believe that Ruam Thai Sang Chart and Gen Prayut have no political connections considering the party was a gathering of people and groups known to support him.
Mr Pirapan, a former Democrat leadership candidate, resigned from the Democrat Party in late 2019 and days later he joined the PPRP and was named adviser to the premier.
Mr Akanat is a close associate of former Democrat secretary-general and street protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban who has consistently backed Gen Prayut.
Meanwhile, Mr Witthaya recently showed his appreciation for Gen Prayut, saying he had no objection to Ruam Thai Sang Chart supporting the premier who he believed, despite his weaknesses, has maintained a corruption-free track record.