2011 - Some Personal Thoughts

Originally published at Siam Voices on December 31, 2011 2011 is history and looking back on Thailand this past year, it has been yet another eventful year that brought some answers, but many more questions to the wide-spread problems that continues to plague the country in many aspects. However, 2011 brought many chances and changes, shed light on issues and topics left in the dark before, voices echoed by many and opinions uttered by a few, whether you agree with them or not.

This is a (definitely incomplete) list of these stories that happened in 2011...

Lèse majesté sees December surge

Let's start off with the most recent topic that has unfortunately brought Thailand into the world headlines for all the wrong reasons again and that is none other than the problematic issue of lèse majesté that is gripping freedom of speech. The whole month of December was filled with stories about high-profile cases and countless victims of this draconian law, the discussion to amend it and the (irrational) defenders of this law and the institution that is meant to be protected by it.

The recent surge of lèse majesté began in late November with the dubious sentence against Ampon "Uncle SMS" Tangnoppakul, despite doubtful evidence. The 62-year old grandfather is now being jailed for 20 years, five years for each alleged SMS sent. On December 8 the Thai-born US citizen was  sentenced to two and a half years prison for posting translated parts of a banned biography on the King. On December 15 'Da Torpedo', despite winning an appeal resulting in a restart of her trial, was punished to 15 years prison for alleged remarks made in 2008. These are just a few cases that happened in November and December compared to the countless other (partly ongoing or pending) cases over the past 12 months.

But the surge was also accompanied with growing and publicly displayed concern by the European Union, the United Nations and the United States Embassy in Bangkok over the increasing blatant usage of the lèse majesté law, only with the latter to be flooded with irrational, angry hate speeches and also the venue for a protest by royalists in mid-December (and also in a nearly instant iconic display of royal foolishness, the protesters are wearing Guy Fawkes masks, most likely inspired by the #Occupy-movement, but totally oblivious to its historical roots). It was not the first time this year that this issue got attention from the international community, as seen in October.

The government of prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra was elected into office last July (see below), and while she would have liked to see some change on the application of the law, not to the law itself though, the new ICT minister has vowed to exploit this to the fullest. He was only to be topped by deputy prime minister Chalerm Yubamrung a few months later, who went into full combat mode and declared war on lèse majesté web content with a THB400m ($12,6m) strong war chest, right after a meeting with the military's top brasses. The hopes of many supporters of the Pheu Thai Party, especially the red shirts, are at latest by now fully gone, as this government already has a tainted record on this issue.

But there was also an important protest by opponents of lèse majesté - the "Fearlessness Walk" shows that this issue can no longer be ignored and the consequences of its enforcement are doing exactly the opposite of what it is supposed to do. It is drawing attention to the ambiguous nature of Article 112 of the criminal code (as well as the Computer Crimes Act), it is drawing attention to the signs of changing times and those who refuse to see them, and ultimately it will draw more opposition - we will (unfortunately) hear more about this issue in 2012!

(Non-)Culture: Baring the unbearable and monopolizing "Thai"-ness

While we're on the subject on being subjected to the anachronistic ideas of a few, there were several stories in 2011 in the realms of culture that were disconcerting, to say the least. It wasn't so much the incidents themselves rather the reactions by those self-proclaimed cultural heralds of everything "Thai"-ness - a phrase I've been using too often in each of those stories: three girls dancing topless on Songkran, the then-culture minister calls for a crackdown on them as if they have attacked everything "Thai"-ness stands for. A few months later the same culture minister suddenly notices that infidels foreigners are getting Buddhist tattoos and calls for a ban (and back paddles after some considerable uproar). Shortly after his ministry senselessly attempts to crack down on a senseless internet meme because it's "inappropriate" and "not constructive". Later this year a rather curious guide for parents was published on their website. And finally a singer's rather raunchy video gets a ton of hits online and a sanctimonious scolding on national TV.

See a pattern here? The selective outcry borders on ridiculousness and fuels Thailand’s National Knee-Jerk Outrage Machine (“กลไกสร้างปฏิกิริยาอย่างไร้ความยั้งคิดแห่งประเทศไทย”, trademark pending), claims to uphold the only valid definition of "Thai"-ness, that isn't even fully spelled out yet, while they have not noticed that the world beyond their minds has moved on and come up with new and different definitions of what else Thailand could be. The problem is that these cultural heralds, by political office or class, claim monopoly on this. Everyone below their wage level is not entitled to even think about it. And if something doesn't fit their point of view, as guest contributor Kaewmala put it brilliantly, "Only taboo when it's inconvenient!"

The 2011 General Elections

Will he or will he not? In the end, Abhisit Vejjajiva did dissolve parliament and paved the way for early elections in May and also set off quite a short campaign season, which not only saw a few strange election posters and illustrious characters running for office, but it also saw the emergence of Yingluck Shinawatra as the lucky draw for PM candidate of the opposition Pheu Thai Party. After much skyping to Dubai discussion within the party, the sister of Thaksin was chosen to run and it turned out to be the best pick.

The Democrat Party were banking heavily on negative campaigning (a precursor to the upcoming, inevitable Thaksin-phobia in 2012), which reached its climax in the last days with their rally at Rajaprasong, the same venue where the red shirts protested a year ago. In this event, then-deputy prime minister Suthep Thuangsuban claimed to give the "full truth" on what really happened during the violent crackdown of May 19, 2010. What followed were hours of fear-mongering in case of a Pheu Thai win and an incident that almost caused a major misunderstanding:

The big screens flanking the stage on the left and the right are bearing a gruesome view. Footage of at times badly injured people from last year’s rally are being shown when suddenly at the sight of blood people started cheering – as it turns out, not for the brutally killed victims of the anti-governments protests of 2010, but for a woman with an Abhisit cut-out mask waving to the crowd behind her.

"Thailand’s Democrat Party rally: Reclaiming (the truth about) Rajaprasong", Siam Voices, June 24, 2011

The last days of the campaign were spent outside of Bangkok, for example Pheu Thai in Nakhon Ratchasima before the big day. On Sunday, July 3, election day of course meant a full-day-marathon for a journalist. Not only did it mean covering as many polling stations around town as humanly possible, not only to crunch the numbers of exit polls (which turned out to be total BS!), but also of course running the live-blog at Siam Voices. In the end, it went very quickly: Abhisit conceded, Yingluck smiled and at a lunch meeting later there was already a new five-party coalition.

The worst floods in decades: a deluge of irrationality


This is the current death toll of the what has been described as the "worst floods in decades". Floods are an annual occurrence in Thailand during the rainy season. When the water was sweeping through Chiang Mai already back in late September, this natural disaster was somehow going to be different. But it took some considerable time, despite the unprecedented damage it has created in Ayutthaya to the ancient temples and the vital industrial parks, until the capital was drowned in fear of what was to come.

It was curious to observe that those who were least likely to be affected (read: central Bangkok) were losing their nerves the most. Back in November I attempted to explore one possible reason:

One of the real reasons why the people of the city react the way they did though is this: After a military coup, countless violent political protests and sieges of airports, government buildings and public roads, this city has a sense of anxiety not unlike New York after the 9/11 terrorist attacks: a sense of being constantly under siege by something or somebody that separates Bangkok from the rest of the country even more. An incident at Klong Sam Wa Sluice Gate (we reported) is a perfect example of the conflict between inside and outside Bangkok in miniature form.

"The Thai floods and the geographics of perception – Part 2: Certain fear of uncertainty", Siam Voices, November 23, 2011

On an anecdotal note I remember people around me hoarding bottled water, moving their belongings upstairs and barricading their houses waist-high - while I can understand these precautions, I was astonished to say the least when I started to read social media updates that accuse the government so much so to the point of deliberately drowning the people of Bangkok and other outlandish conspiracy theories, including the now ubiquitous "blame it on foreign media"-card.

There's no doubt that this natural disaster has not only shown the worst in people, but also it's helpful and charitable side (not only towards humans exclusively). During my work reporting from the floods for foreign news crews (hence there weren't many posts on Siam Voices), I admired the apparent resilience and defiance I saw from many victims of the floods - some of which are now struggling with rebuilding their lost existence. And a lot of clean-up will be needed to be done, both literally as well as politically, in order to prevent such a disaster from happening again!

What else happened in 2011? (in no particular order)

- Then-prime minister Abhisit urging then-president of Egypt Honsi Mubarak to respect the will of the people - while being totally oblivious that he exactly did not do that a year ago because, well, "They ran into the bullets" themselves!

- Half a dozen Thais walking through the border region with Cambodia and surprised that they're being arrested, in an arbitrary way to dispute the border demarcations between the two countries. This ongoing conflict, largely fueled by the ever-shrinking PAD, sparked into a brief armed battle. Two of the strollers are still sitting in a Cambodian prison.

- The one-year-anniversary of the crackdown of May 19 and my personal thoughts on this.

- The somehow strangely toned-down five-year-anniversary of the 2006 coup.

- Army chef General Prayuth Chan-ocha going completely berserk at the press.

- The fact that Thailand got its first female prime minister and the (un)surprisingly muted reactions by Thailand's feminists.

- The saga of the impounded Thai plane on German ground, the curious case study on how Thai media reported it, the juristic mud-slinging, and how this mess was eventually solved. Which brings us to...

- The German government allowing Thaksin back into Germany, after heavy campaigning by a bunch of conservative German MPs. Still boggles my mind...!

- And while we're on topic, we are saying good-bye to a regular contributor of outrageous quotes - no one has been so focused to do a different job than written his business card than Thaksin-hunter and former foreign minister in disguise Kasit Piromya!

I'd like to thank my colleagues at Siam Voices for building a diverse and opinionated collective, our editor who keeps everything in check and YOU, the readers! THANK YOU for the support, feedback, criticism, links and retweets!

Here's to an eventful, exciting 2012 that brings us news, changes, developments to discuss for all the right reasons! Happy New Year!

Saksith Saiyasombut is a Thai blogger and journalist based in Hamburg, Germany again (*sigh*). He can be followed on Twitter @Saksith and now also on his public Facebook page here.

The Thai floods and the geographics of perception - Part 2: Certain fear of uncertainty

Originally published at Siam Voices on November 23, 2011 This is part two of a two-part series on the discrepancies on reporting the floods and the fear of Bangkokians. In part one yesterday, we explained the process of news-gathering and pointed out possible sources for errors and misjudgments. Today, we explore the possible reasons why people in the capital became suddenly fearful, as the water made its way to the metropolis.

Disaster fatigue or when good news is not good enough

Most of the news channels, both international and domestic, considerably bumped up their airtime when the floods were approaching Bangkok and had already inundated its outskirts. A week or two before that though, reports about floods around Ayutthaya province were not top of the agenda yet, despite the well-known ancient city, a World Heritage site, and many factories of multi-national corporations severely affected.

At that point in early October the official death toll had already surpassed 200 (while many more died in the same time frame were not counted yet, read why here), but some international reporters still had to fight for their stories to be given more prominence. One correspondent jokingly said, "the Ark has to be swimming through Bangkok with the Ghaddafi sons on it," before the network would be willing to bump the Thai floods any higher. On the other hand, any news is good news, real good news has be extraordinary good, downright miraculous.

When the water has eventually made its way to the parts of central Bangkok, such as the districts of Lad Prao in the North, Pinklao in the West and some overspill into the areas along the Chao Praya river, international coverage was already on the decline as seemingly every possible angle of this flood crisis was played out already. Ironically at the same time in late October, the floods hit the northeastern province of Khon Kaen, which were largely ignored in the media.

At this time, Thais had been pelted with wall-to-wall coverage by the Thai TV channels (including by the ever-active Sorayuth Suthasanajinda of Channel 3) for weeks already, which were giving out up-to-the-minute updates, but that flood of minuscule information bits swamped the viewers, who where not given the bigger picture of this disaster (with notable exceptions), leading to confusion and anxiety (see below).

It could also result in numbness, people simply not following the news anymore. This phenomenon is disaster fatigue and has been noted in the past several times already - much to the detriment of the victims:

Charities know this as "donor fatigue," but it might be more accurately described as disaster fatigue — the sense that these events are never-ending, uncontrollable and overwhelming. Experts say it is one reason Americans have contributed relatively little so far to victims of the [2008] Myanmar cyclone and China's earthquake. Ironically, the more bad news there is, the less likely people may be to give. (...)

"It's too much pain, too much tragedy for someone to process, and so we tend to pull ourselves away from it and either close off from it out of psychological defense, or it overwhelms us," says Cynthia Edwards, a professor of psychology at Meredith College in Raleigh, N.C.

"‘Disaster fatigue’ blamed for drop in giving", Associated Press, May 15, 2008

Thai Angst: the fear of the unknown, uncertain and unseen

While reporters have to define the real area of Bangkok to their foreign desk editors and producers, the residents of Bangkok were not too concerned about the floods that were ravaging in the North for weeks and months already. That was at the latest until the water has arrived in the outskirts of the capital and people began panicking, most visibly by stockpiling drinking water bottles, which led to a shortage in the shops.

But why were Bangkokians, especially those who were least likely going to get hit, so afraid and anxious?

One aspect was the poor information policy of the authorities. Both the government's Flood Relief Operation Center (FROC) and the Bangkok Metropolitan Authority (BMA) were at conflict most of the time, giving out contradicting information or just simply not working together, which frustrated those affected. Both were also guilty of giving a premature evacuation order (Ploprasob Surassawadee's for FROC and Bangkok governor Sukhumband Paribatra) at least once, causing unnecessary panic.

One of the real reasons why the people of the city react the way they did though is this: After a military coup, countless violent political protests and sieges of aiports, government buildings and public roads, this city has a sense of anxiety not unlike New York after the 9/11 terrorist attacks: a sense of being constantly under siege by something or somebody that separates Bangkok from the rest of the country even more. An incident at Klong Sam Wa Sluice Gate (we reported) is a perfect example of the conflict between inside and outside Bangkok in miniature form.

People are fearful of what they do not know and the uncertainty about when and how bad the floods will hit Bangkok, a slow-moving disaster weeks in the making, was stretching the patience to the fullest. Not knowing if you have to leave the house, not knowing if the water, that has fully inundated the next district, could come to your place, not knowing how long you would have to relocate is something that takes its toll on the mental state, not only to those who were already affected:

Earlier this month, the Thai public health minister announced that the government had dispatched psychiatrists to treat flood victims. He reported that 114,388 people were diagnosed with mental health problems because of the flooding, of which 6,091 patients were highly depressed and 1,137 were at risk of committing suicide.

"Smiles Hide Fears as Clinton Visits Flood Victims", by Thomas Fuller, New York Times, Novemeber 17, 2011

Like in any extraordinary situation or event, the role of social media shows both its beneficial but also detrimental side, as Jon Russell of The Next Web Asia analyzes:

"The Internet as a whole has been important during the flood with many news sites recording record traffic and blogs telling individual accounts of escaping from rising water," he said.

But commentators said that, while warnings of dangers lurking in the water or calls to donate blood served a purpose, the incessant flow of unedited, unchecked information risked adding to confusion and further rattling nerves.

"Social media can be as misleading as they are helpful and that has been true at times during the Thai floods," said Russell. "While it is useful to be able to look up locations and get updates from reporters and civilians on the scene, there is no validation of information and misleading statements can be passed around as fact very easily."

"Social media use soars in flood-hit Thailand", by Michelle Fitzpatrick, Agence France Presse, November 5, 2011


Now that the worst seems to be over and the tide are slowly, but steady receding in many parts of the country, a sense of normalcy returns to Bangkok. However, the suffering for many in the affected areas continue, there's still conflict along the barriers and the death toll is now over 600. Headlines saying that inner Bangkok has dodged a bullet were inaccurate at best and were neglecting the suffering that is still happening the areas outside of the capital. Nevertheless, some were still insisting selective opinion even when the streets of the districts of Lad Phrao in the North and Pinklao just on the West side of the river (see picture above) - leading some to the ridiculous backtracking á la "it's still outer inner Bangkok"...!

The point is not if Bangkok has been saved, nor is it the special protection the capital was given. The point is that the real tragedy was a man-made natural disaster, a series of mismanagement, the political fights - all that at the costs of lives, business, whole existences lost by the water. The point is that there has been a sense of Bangkok vs the rest that was apparent in the political struggles of past years and now in the measures to protect the heart of Bangkok, while sacrificing those who happen to live on the 'wrong' side.

For the international journalists in the field reporting under very difficult (logistical and emotional) circumstances, it was a challenge to highlight the individual fates of the victims, but also trying to give an accurate bigger picture of the crisis - something that was sorely missing in the domestic media coverage.

While the first clean-ups are underway, one can only hope that this operation will not be a white-wash, that the causes will not be swept under a rug and the same useless mantra of "forgive and forget" will be preached.

Saksith Saiyasombut is a Thai blogger and journalist currently based in Bangkok, Thailand. He can be followed on Twitter @Saksith and now also on his public Facebook page here.

The Thai floods and the geographics of perception - Part 1: No water in the Bangkok you're thinking of!

Originally published at Siam Voices on November 22, 2011

Thailand is currently suffering the what has been often billed as the worst floods "in decades". And looking at the immense inundated areas, the not yet foreseeable damage and the human suffering with millions of people being affected by this force of nature, it surely is a sobering sight.

Even though the annual flood season started as early as August in the North of the country, most of the attention, by both foreigners and Thais, increased when the water came slowly creeping towards Bangkok in October. That was the moment when Bangkokians started to freak out, started to barricade their shops and homes with sandbags and concrete walls and started to stockpile drinking water.

Some blame the break-neck speed and the inaccurate and hyperbolic nature of social media, while some see the international media at fault for the blowing the disaster out of proportion at the wrong times and places, as Bangkok-based blogger Greg Jorgensen writes:

Western media has said "Biblical" floods will hit Bangkok; that the whole city was evacuating; and that the airport is closed. They neglected to mention that an airport was closed - Don Meuang, the old one serving only domestic flights, which were easily routed to the main Suvarnabhumi Airport.

"A Flood of Information in a Dry City", by Greg Jorgensen, Greg to Differ, October 28, 2011

And then there's this incident of over-dramatization as described by The Christian Science Monitor:

One recent morning a British television station’s local correspondent stood knee-deep in water speaking to the camera. A few yards away, several Thais stood, unmoving, on a small embankment of sandbags, gazing pensively at their feet. These locals, the foreign reporter explained, were faced with a daunting challenge: whether they should dare to cross to the other side of a small alley covered in water.

Off camera, boys and girls splashed about, laughing and smiling, in the flood, while other locals, wearing plastic flip-flops or rubber wading boots, went about their business. Once the foreign journalist had said his piece on camera, he turned to the Thais standing on the small sandbags and thanked them for their cooperation.

"Thailand floods: When journalists embellish visuals", Christian Science Monitor, November 8, 2011

There are many reasons to be critical towards the international coverage of the floods and there are also many reasons why many people in this city react the way they did, even if some of them had no reason to whatsoever.

In this two-part series, I attempt to explain which ones these are and how they could occur. While this does not excuse the gross errors by some in reporting this natural disaster, this might help at least show where these mistakes are made. In part one today, we look behind the process of news-gathering and where and why the real story can get lost between Thailand and the rest of the world. In part two tomorrow, we explore the roots of the fear among Bangkokians before and during the floods.

The chain-of-command of news or: When details fall through on the long way back

When the floods reached Bangkok's old airport Don Muang in the North of the city, also doubling as the government's flood relief center and an evacuation center, many news outlets ran headlines á la "Floods reach Bangkok airport, force evacuations" - most people not familiar with the city will of course think that the main airport Suvarnabhumi was under water, which caused a lot of confused tourists - to say the least.

But how could that sloppy work happen? Generally speaking, news organizations pull their information from a lot of sources which can be boiled down to these processes: the correspondents and local staff on location, who report back to foreign desk editors or producers at their respective headquarters, who then also gather more information from other sources, such as news agencies.

Depending on the size of the organizations, the chain-of-command's length between the correspondent and the published/aired product varies - in other terms: the more people not on location work on the story, the more details get lost in order to make it as mass-compatible, attention-grabbing as possible.

Today's headlines are dictated by SEO (search engine optimization), meaning that they have to be easily search-able and easily digestible - thus many editors back outside of Thailand resort to the simplified headline that "Bangkok Airport Flooded", instead to writing that an airport was hit. Some outlets, like the BBC, have quickly changed their headlines to specify which one it was, once it was clear what confusion it caused.

Sometimes it is a real struggle to explain the foreign desk editors the situation, when it doesn't match with certain expectations, which brings us to...

Location, location, location: where Bangkok begins and ends for the media

The biggest news story for many was the imminent threat of the capital being inundated and the romantic description "Venice of the East" getting a literal and ironic twist. Why? It is all a matter of geographical perception by both the media and the Bangkokians themselves. For the media it is of course quite a visually enticing motive: a metropolis under water, streets becoming rivers, once vivid life on the street coming to a screeching halt - you get the gist.

Countless international media organizations have some sort of outpost (from full-equipped correspondent bureaus to a local freelance journalist regularly writing for a newspaper) for the whole of Southeast Asia. This story happens right in front of their doorstep (even nearer were last year's Red Shirt Protests, which literally took place next to the building that houses the Bangkok bureaus of most international news channels) - TV crews and reporters didn't have to travel far to witness a natural disaster.

The at times high intensity and frequency also highlights a sad truth in the media business: in the times of increasing budget cuts and layoffs, more and more foreign news bureaus have to justify their existence - and this story is a good opportunity to show that something is happening (apart from the annual political turmoil or the ubiquitous, whacky off-beat reports). The news organizations have different standards for the productivity of their regional outposts, but generally Thailand is neither a country that constantly delivers good or bad news over the course of a year.

That is, if said organization actually has a Bangkok bureau. Ever since last year's nationalistic witch-hunt against CNN correspondent Dan Rivers, the US news network does not have a regular reporter in this town. This role is then filled by somebody from one of their other Asian bureaus - a process that is called 'parachute journalism'. If there this 'parachuted' reporter has no local colleagues (e.g. a producer) to help him/her out, the obvious downsides such as over-simplification and cliché reporting can occur.

On the other hand is the daily routine of working with the staff (editors and producers) back 'home' - and if one happens to get a bad one, who refuses to listen to the judgment of the correspondent on location, it can become a tiring process to explain what is really going on here. Much of the disagreements stems from the the necessity to explain how big Bangkok actually is. The greater Bangkok Metropolitan Area is over 7700 km², larger than Shanghai for example.

Many colleagues, who wish to remain unnamed, have told that there were a lot of instances where the foreign desk editors or producers were not interested to give the floods more coverage, unless "central Bangkok is flooded - not North, South, West or East!" or where the office abroad prematurely cried wolf, due to erroneous reports made by others (see above). It is a cynical truth that the novelty of central Bangkok with all its temples, shopping malls and high-rise buildings, possibly getting inundated is more news-'worthy' than to report on the provinces outside the capital suffering the same (if not worse) fate on a yearly over and over again.

Tomorrow in part two: When good news is not good enough and why were those most anxious, who were affected the least.

Saksith Saiyasombut is a Thai blogger and journalist currently based in Bangkok, Thailand. He can be followed on Twitter @Saksith and now also on his public Facebook page here.

Thai Floods: At Klong Sam Wa Sluice Gate, a microcosm of conflict


Originally published at Siam Voices on November 7, 2011

Things seem calm on the bridge overlooking the Klong (Canal) Sam Wa Sluice Gate on the Eastern border of Bangkok. Just a few dozens of onlookers observe the water streaming through the gate through the gaps left and right, while around police officers take their lunch break under large tents. On the day before (Monday, Oct 31) that however, things seemed less than calm:

In one incident, parts of which were broadcast on local television news, a large group of angry residents in the Min Buri section of eastern Bangkok staged a rally starting Sunday to force the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration to open a floodgate to drain water to the large Saen Saep canal nearby. Later, the residents marched to the floodgate and tried to destroy a concrete gate and sandbag wall around it with sledgehammers.

The residents complained that floodwaters are growing increasingly unhealthy, with rotten smells. But officials have said there’s a limit to how much water they can release because of the need to protect key economic assets in the area, including a market and the Bang Chan industrial estate nearby. Later, officials agreed to raise the gate some to drain off some water, and the residents backed down.

"Frustrations Rising with Floodwaters in Thailand", Wall Street Journal, November 1, 2011

There was scuffling between local residents and the police (see footage here), the one side unleashing their anger of being left alone to the force of nature and the other protecting one of the last flood barriers preventing the high tides flushing into the canals of inner Bangkok.

"We understand the anger of the people," says Somkuan Puengsap, a police colonel overlooking a 100-man strong police force to protect the gate from further damage. "The problem is, we police officers have no rights to open the sluice gates by ourselves," Somkuan continued, "We are only there to acknowledge the problem and try to mediate between the two conflicting parties."

Somkuan admitted that he has never seen anything like this before, as flooding has never been a problem in this area. Other police officers who requested to be unnamed have expressed their frustration that they are at the receiving end of political games between the government of prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra and the Bangkok governor Sukhamband Paribatra. The latter's Bangkok Metropolitan Authority (BMA) has been overruled by the federal government, when...

The prime minister invoked the disaster prevention law on Oct 21 to take full control of all flood operations as runoff from the North started surging into Bangkok. "I have ordered a committee to negotiate with residents [living upstream] to narrow the gate so that less overflow will enter Bangkok," she said.

Ms Yingluck said the gate had to be narrowed to regulate water flow. "We are talking to residents and we believe they will cooperate," she said. On Monday she ordered the BMA to widen the sluice gate to one metre after angry protesters destroyed parts of it while police officers looked on.

"PM backs down on sluice gate", Bangkok Post, November 3, 2011

The same feeling is shared by one resident North in viewing distance of the gate. Sitting crossed-legged on a stone bench, Thamon Yangprasert appeared calm and relaxed, overseeing the canal, which has overspilled to the sides knee-high. But when asked about how this could all happen, he lashed out against the political opponents of the Pheu Thai Party-led government: "It all comes down to politics! The Democrat Party (which Sukhumband belongs to), they want to remove Yingluck as prime minister."

"They have been stalling that water everywhere, in Ayutthaya, Wang Noi, they have put up barriers, so it cannot get into Bangkok. They are playing a cruel joke, because all the people out in the provinces are all red shirts! Nobody has voted for them! And now they want to remove Yingluck," he continues, hinting at the (small) possibility of what has been coined a 'water coup', whereas the Yingluck administration gets blamed for the slow flood relief efforts, opening the chance for the military to take take over.

Residents on the South side of the gate are now sharing the pain with their neighbors. "I didn’t mind them demanding to open up the gates. But then they started to chop off parts of the gate and they are still not happy enough, they demanded even more. The water level now is not how it’s supposed to be – I can accept that, but when they said they want it to be completely opened up, that I cannot accept," says Pimon Jeanjuer, as his house and property is now flooded as well.

While Pimon can understand their frustrations, he criticizes them of being short-sighted as his son's job in an industrial park in Ban Chan, along the Klong San Saeb, is now threatened to be flooded as well. Locals have gathered to discuss the situation and also to counter demands by other residents to fully open the gate, as they have prepared a letter to the officials explaining their side. That would be the first time that they would have gotten in contact with an official - a sense of abandonment is felt on both sides of the fence, as both Thanom and Pimon say that nobody from the BMA or other local authorities have showed up before to explain the situation to the residents.

While the gate has been fixed now, some say that the inner city of Bangkok is now at risk as the Klong Sam Wa flows directly into the Klong San Saeb, a vital canal leading into inner heart of the city, including the Sukhumvit area. Dr Seree Supharatid, Director of the Disaster Warning Centre at Rangsit University, argues on Thai television that this Klong will "definitely be not able to hold the mass of water coming in from the North" and predicts overflow of "no higher than one meter".

The area surrounding Klong Sam Wa Sluice Gate is already flooded with badly smelling water. The contention in the community reflects a microcosm of conflict to save the center of the capital, while the outskirts bear the brunt of the deluge: the neighborhood South of the gate is angry at the local authorities for giving in to the protesters, while those opposite in the North feel that their area has sacrificed to protect the water from gushing into inner Bangkok. Either way, they cannot shake off their feeling that they have been victims of a political scuffle between the government and the BMA.

Saksith Saiyasombut is a Thai blogger and journalist currently based in Bangkok, Thailand. He can be followed on Twitter @Saksith and now also on his public Facebook page here.