BANGKOK (Reuters) - Floods have killed 27 people in Thailand, stoking tension in the politically divided country, with an opposition figure on Friday accusing the ruling junta of being slow to respond to the disaster.
Ten of Thailand’s 77 provinces have been inundated in the middle of the annual rainy season, causing damage estimated at $300 million, with the northeastern stronghold of the Shinawatra political family particularly hard-hit.
“Supporters in the northeast felt the response was slow, that they were left out and had the floods been in a pro-military zone it might have been faster,” said Thida Thawornseth, a senior member of the opposition “red shirt” movement.
The “red shirts”, or the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship, backed the governments of ousted former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra and his sister, former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra, whose opponents back the traditional establishment.
The governments led by the Shinawatras were booted out in coups in 2006 and 2014. The “red shirts” are loathed by the mostly Bangkok-based military-royalist elite who have accused the Shinawatra populist governments of corruption.
The junta, which took power after the 2014 coup, has kept a tight lid on dissent by detaining and arresting its critics, some of them “red shirt” supporters.
But analysts say the floods, coupled with a looming verdict in a criminal case that accuses Yingluck of mismanaging a rice-buying scheme, are fuelling underlying tension.
Government spokesman Sansern Kaewkamnerd denied that the floods and Yingluck’s trial had put political pressure on the government, however.
“It doesn’t pressure the government, but spurs the state to work harder to resolve people’s problems,” he told Reuters.
Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, head of the junta, visited the northeastern province of Sakon Nakhon this week to inspect the progress of efforts to drain away flood water.
In 2011, the worst floods in half a century killed more than 900 people and caused major industrial disruption. Yingluck came under fire for mismanaging them.
Supporters of Yingluck have vowed to descend en masse outside the Supreme Court in Bangkok when a verdict in the case is delivered on Aug. 25.
If found guilty, she faces up to 10 years in prison.
Rising social tension is a “major headwind” to economic reform in Southeast Asia’s second-biggest economy, Eurasia Group said in a note on Friday.
“Opponents of the junta, including the Pheu Thai party, have criticized the lack of warnings to residents and businesses, though the junta’s handling of the aftermath has been more effective,” it said, referring to the party once led by Thaksin, whose parties have won every election since 2001.
“Taken together, the floods and Yingluck’s trial will intensify “red shirt” resentment of the junta and exacerbate rural-urban and north-south tensions in the country.”
Additional reporting by Panarat Thepgumpanat; Editing by Clarence Fernandez