Thailand's PM Gains Support After Handling Tsunami Devastation


The tsunami that caused death and destruction in southern Thailand last month also pushed aside political debate in the run-up to the February 6 national elections. Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra's forceful handling of the disaster has boosted his party's chances at the ballot box.

When the tsunami slammed into the beaches of southern Thailand in late December, Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra was quick to travel to the island of Phuket to direct the relief operation. He pressed security and rescue officials to speed up efforts to locate the thousands of people who had died or disappeared.

Thai television viewers, gripped by the tragedy's dramatic events, saw their prime minister, a wealthy business tycoon before turning to politics, exercising his management style.

Bob Broadfoot, managing director of the Political and Economic Risk Consultancy in Hong Kong, and says Mr. Thaksin's efforts appear to have been effective. "He's done a fairly good job of mobilizing the relief - assigning specific assignments to ministers so they are able to focus on functions without tripping over each other's toes," said Mr. Broadfoot.

The result, many analysts say, is that Mr. Thaksin may have significantly boosted his Thai Rak Thai party's prospects in the country's February 6 election. The prime minister came to power four years ago.

Analysts say the prime minister and his party had been losing support before the disaster struck. But Somjai Phagaphasvivat, who teaches political science at Thammasat University, says the sight of Mr. Thaksin taking charge changed public perceptions.

"All of a sudden with the tsunami event, the popularity of the Thai Rak Thai and also of the premier has been on the rise again," he said. "Premier Thaksin capitalized on the situation, turning what we call the disaster into the opportunity by showing decisiveness."

Mr. Broadfoot says the prime minister's performance also changed his image among political analysts around the region. "For a long time now we've been so critical of his playing a CEO-style leadership," he added. "But when it came to dealing with this crisis, that was the kind of leadership Thailand needed."

Mr. Thaksin had been facing criticism for his handling of Muslim separatist violence in the southern provinces and the bird flu outbreak last year, and also for what many in the middle class consider his autocratic style of leadership.

There are concerns that the disaster has cut off political debate. Newspapers and television programs that would normally have been filled with election commentary are instead reporting on the tragedy.

Even though Thai Rak Thai's popularity had weakened before the disaster, it still was the favorite to win the election. Mr. Broadfoot says the prime minister's enhanced image means that victory is now all but assured. "He's going to get that vote on the basis of what's happened - on the basis of how he's rallied the country for the disaster," he said. "He's going to score a really big victory in this election - I don't think there's any doubt there."

The business newspaper Krungthep Thurakit has forecast that Thai Rak Thai will capture 314 seats in the 500-member parliament.
This forum has been closed.
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Making a Minti
October 07, 2015 4:17 AM
While apples, corn, and cranberries top the list of fall produce in the US, it’s also the time to harvest gum, candy, and toothpaste—or at least the oil that makes them minty fresh. Erika Celeste reports from South Bend, Indiana on the mint harvest.

Video Making a Mint

While apples, corn, and cranberries top the list of fall produce in the US, it’s also the time to harvest gum, candy, and toothpaste—or at least the oil that makes them minty fresh. Erika Celeste reports from South Bend, Indiana on the mint harvest.

Video Activists Decry Lagos Slum Demolition

Acting on a court order, authorities in Nigeria demolished a slum last month in the commercial capital, Lagos. But human rights activists say the order was illegal, and the community was razed to make way for a government housing project. Chris Stein has more from Lagos.

Video Self-Driving Cars Getting Closer

We are at the dawn of the robotic car age and should start getting used to seeing self-driving cars, at least on highways. Car and truck manufacturers are now running a tight race to see who will be the first to hit the street, while some taxicab companies are already planning to upgrade their fleets. VOA’s George Putic has more.

Video TPP Agreed, But Faces Stiff Opposition

President Barack Obama promoted the Trans-Pacific Partnership on Tuesday, one day after 12 Pacific Rim nations reached the free trade deal in Atlanta. The controversial pact that would involve about 40 percent of global trade still needs approval by lawmakers in respective countries. Zlatica Hoke reports Obama is facing strong opposition to the deal, including from members of his own party.

Video Clinton Seeks to Boost Image Before Upcoming Debate

The five announced Democratic party presidential contenders meet in their first debate next Tuesday in Las Vegas, Nevada. Former secretary of state Hillary Clinton continues to lead the Democratic field, but she is getting a stronger-than-expected challenge from Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. VOA National correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.

Video Ukranian Artist Portrays Putin in an Unusual Way

As Russian President Vladimir Putin was addressing the United Nations in New York last month, he was also being featured in an art exhibition in Washington. It’s not a flattering exhibit. It’s done by a Ukrainian artist in a unique medium. And its creator says it’s not only a work of art - it’s a political statement. VOA’s Tetiana Kharchenko has more.

Video South Carolina Reels Under Worst-ever Flooding

South Carolina is reeling from the worst flooding in recorded history that forced residents from their homes and left thousands without drinking water and electricity. Parts of the state, including the capital, Columbia, received about 60 centimeters of rain in just a couple of days. Authorities warn that the end of rain does not mean the end of danger, as it will take days for the water to recede. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europe

European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video Nano-tech Filter Cleans Dirty Water

Access to clean water is a problem for hundreds of millions of people around the world. Now, a scientist and chemical engineer in Tanzania (in East Africa) is working to change that by creating an innovative water filter that makes dirty water safe. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.

Video Demand Rising for Organic Produce in Cambodia

In Cambodia, where rice has long been the main cash crop, farmers are being encouraged to turn to vegetables to satisfy the growing demand for locally produced organic farm products. Daniel de Carteret has more from Phnom Penh.

Video Botanists Grow Furniture, with Pruning Shears

For something a bit out of the ordinary to furnish your home, why not consider wooden chairs, crafted by nature, with a little help from some British botanists with an eye for design. VOA’s Jessica Berman reports.

VOA Blogs