She has been on flood-control watch every day and has remained calm under nasty criticism
Let us hold our noses and dive under the surface of the floods in Thailand. The unsavoury sight that unfolds disproves British poet William Empson’s line that “10 fathoms down, the sea is always calm.”
In fact, it is a roiling mass of vicious currents that may well sweep away a few reputations before the landscape dries out.
Certainly, none of Thailand’s political or military leaders, including Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra’s governing team, will escape rebuke for their handling of the flood crisis.
But that will hardly come as a surprise. Annual flooding in most countries in this region is invariably handled in a way that causes governments to be lambasted by their citizenry.
It happened recently in mythically efficient Singapore, when the central business district was flooded to waist height and officials sheepishly blamed the situation on leaves clogging the the city’s drains.
Hanoi, Jakarta, Kuala Lumpur, Manila and Siem Reap often suffer the same fate – as did rural Thailand last year under the former regime led by Abhisit Vejjaiva’s Democrat Party.
So let’s not pretend that the performance of Yingluck’s team is any worse than that of the leadership elsewhere in the region.
Indeed, even developed countries come in for flak in this regard, as was demonstrated by Australia’s lax response to this year’s Queensland floods and America’s shameful reaction to the dreadful damage wrought by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
In her recent memoir, My Extraordinary, Ordinary Family and Me, former US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice recounts going to New York to shop and see a Broadway show when Katrina struck.
Only belatedly, when she watched television pictures of the havoc in New Orleans, did she realise how thoughtless and silly it had been to take a holiday at that time.
As Rice wrote in the memoir: “I sat there kicking myself for having been so tone-deaf. What had I been thinking?”
What indeed? But in a shocking parallel, former Thai prime minister Abhisit flew to the Maldives for a family holiday just when run-off water from the north of Thailand and high tides were forecast to meet and inundate Bangkok.
There are no words to describe how stupefyingly dumb Abhisit’s move was – although his party’s initial reticence to confirm it indicated they knew what a blunder it was.
The nominally intelligent Abhisit proved once again that as a politician he can be totally “tone-deaf”.
Bangkok supplies the bulk of his Democrat Party’s support, yet he gave the impression of deserting the capital during its hour of need.
Unless Yingluck’s government commits collective suicide, it looks increasingly unlikely that Abhisit will have any chance of becoming prime minister again – or even of retaining the leadership of his party.
Indeed, the knives are already out for him.
Even Abhisit’s former Oxford classmate, Korn Chat-ikavanij, Thailand’s former finance minister, who was also born and educated in the UK, is vying for the job.
And there are several other contenders for the prime ministership, including Bangkok’s governor, Sukhumbhand Paribatra, whose distaste for Yingluck is matched only by his antipathy towards Abhisit.
Sukhumbhand, who faces re-election next year, already has his sights on replacing Abhisit as leader of the Democrat Paty.
Attempting to exploit the floods for political gain, he bizarrely claimed that Yingluck’s government was irrelevant and that when it came to protecting the capital, he was in charge.
Said Sukhumbhand: “People in Bangkok should listen only to me. I will take responsibility for them because they elected me.”
Well, they elected Yingluck, too. And because she outranks Sukhumbhand, his power play confused the public and may backfire on him and work to the Prime Minister’s advantage.
Of course, it is far too early to rate Yingluck’s performance as prime minister, but she has been on flood control watch every day and she has remained calm under nasty and – often misogynistic – criticism.
In contrast, Abhisit’s early call for a state of emergency to be declared so the army could direct affairs appeared like a 10-fathoms-down call for a military coup.
Yingluck rightly, and firmly, rejected it. She may be a novice, but she’s a smart novice and she’s got balls.