Thursday, October 20, 2011

Decree met with fierce resistance

ANALYSIS: Debate is heating up over whether the government should declare a state of emergency

A row has broken out over whether it is time for the government to declare a state of emergency to deal with the floods that have wreaked havoc on the country.

Last week, the cabinet debated whether it was necessary to impose emergency law to resolve the flood woes, but Defence Minister Yutthasak Sasiprapa disagreed with the proposal as he believed the ministry and the armed forces' existing flood response, flood relief and flood prevention measures were still workable.

The proposed declaration of emergency rule was met with fierce resistance from the Pheu Thai Party-led government and the red shirts, who fear the military would take advantage of the imposition of the decree to stage a coup, given that under a state of emergency troops would be fully deployed.

It must also not be forgotten the military and the government are still at loggerheads over the proposal to amend the Defence Administration Act designed to prevent political interference in the armed forces, particularly the annual military reshuffle.

An army source said the military top brass actually do not welcome the idea of declaring a state of emergency because they do not want to be singled out for criticism if they fail to resolve the flood problem or protect Bangkok.

"The military does not want to be a scapegoat," the source said.

The source said army chief Prayuth Chan-ocha said that invoking the emergency decree would not be enough to beat the overwhelming power of nature.

About 20,000 soldiers have already been sent to assist in flood relief in Bangkok and provinces in the Central Plains.

If a state of emergency is imposed, areas would be declared as security zones or made off-limits to traffic or travel. But in a flood situation, people are too scared and have to flee flooded areas. Enforcing a state of emergency under such dire circumstances is impracticable, the source said.

The source added that there had been accusations the military is not doing enough to help the government deal with the floods because the military wants to pressure the government into declaring a state of emergency.

But a military unit commander who assists in flood operations said the military is only a target of the blame game.

"Soldiers are just doing their best. We stand in floodwater working around the clock," the unnamed officer said.

If and when an emergency decree is enforced to cope with floods, a centre to resolve the emergency situation would be set up wih funding and a clearly defined chain of command.
For flood relief operations, it is necessary to mobilise as many military personnel as possible.

At present, many soldiers supporting flood relief come from key units which were involved in past coups and in the crackdowns on red shirt protesters. They are members of the 1st Army, the 1st Division of the King's Guard, the Burapha Phayak, or Tigers of the East, and the 2nd Infantry Division of the King's Guard.

The source said the declaration of an emergency decree would only panic the public and reflect badly on the government which would be seen as failing to measure up.

However, fears of a coup during the flood crisis are spurious. As the nation reels from the flood disaster, rolling out tanks on swamped streets would only prove suicidal for the military.
Bangkok Post
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