Tuesday, November 29, 2011

ANALYSIS: PM resilient, but political landscape will change as banned politicians re-enter scene

Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra appears not to be in any great danger despite the public's perception that her government's Flood Relief Operations Command (Froc) has failed to handle the consequences of the flood crisis.
Chaeng Watthana canal 
People row boats along swamped Chaeng Watthana Soi 14 in Bang Khen district yesterday while a long wooden walkway is built as floodwaters remain high. TAWATCHAIKEMGUMNERD
Despite the censure debate on the government's alleged mismanagement of the floods on Sunday, observers say Ms Yingluck still enjoys the strong support of her voter base and her elder brother, ousted prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, and she should continue to stay in power.
Justice Minister Pracha Promnok, as head of the Froc, survived a vote of no-confidence yesterday after a censure debate on Sunday which focused on the Froc's alleged mishandling of the flood response and corruption related to the procurement of relief supplies for flood victims.
Altogether, 273 MPs from the Pheu Thai and government coalition parties voted in favour of the justice minister, while 188 MPs, mainly from the Democrat Party, the Bhumjaithai Party and a smattering of small parties cast a vote of no-confidence against him. Five MPs abstained from voting and 15 did not cast votes.
Prime Minister Yingluck has repeatedly said she is willing to work for the public good, but when the country was facing its worst flood disaster in decades, she handed the job of dealing with the crisis to Pol Col Pracha instead of taking charge of flood management efforts herself. This has led people to believe she was trying to skate around the problem.
Businesses and investigators feel that the government has allowed politics to interfere with the country's administration, which has hampered efforts to coordinate flood relief and, in fact, worsened the crisis.
During the censure debate, MPs from the government went so far as to claim that the floods were part of a plot by the previous Democrat Party-led government to rock the stability of the present government.
Even though flood-weary people have given a thumbs down to the Froc's crisis management, Ms Yingluck and the Pheu Thai-led government still have the strong backing of about 15 million voters who gave them a mandate to run the country during the July 3 election.
But, the flood crisis has affected the confidence of foreign investors who are threatening to relocate their production bases to other countries because they are concerned the country could be hit by the massive floods again next year as long as the government is unable live up to its flood management responsibilities.
Moreover, many insurance companies have signalled that they will review their flood underwriting and may increase insurance premiums.
This prompted the government to send former deputy prime minister Virabongsa Ramangura, chairman of the government-installed Strategic Committee for Reconstruction and Future Development, to travel to meet executives of leading insurance businesses in London in a bid to restore confidence in Thailand.
The issue of bringing Thaksin back to Thailand is regarded as another political risk that could land the government in hot water.
Analysts say that Thaksin, the de facto leader of Pheu Thai, wants to return to Thailand to reclaim his power rather than operate behind the scenes through his proxies as he is now doing.
Politics are also expected to heat up in the middle of next year when the five-year political ban against the 111 former Thai Rak Thai executives is lifted.
The ban on the executives will expire at the end of May and the seasoned politicians are set to return to the political landscape, likely intensifying the struggle for political power.
But, Ms Yingluck will be able to keep her seat in spite of strong forces against her, given that the Pheu Thai Party commands a majority in the House, and she has the support of Thaksin as well as more than 15 million voters.