The battle of ideas, floods and king

1 11 2011

Denis Gray at AP has a story that illustrates the propagandized nature of royalist claims of the king’s attention to water: “an element that has challenged, virtually obsessed, him most of his life…”.

Gray’s article seems intent on providing a counter-argument to that provided by others, of which the recent article by Michael Montesano is one. The intent is to yet again claim that the king can do no wrong.

PPT reads the article as an attempt by the palace to answer the critics and to get the palace view back on top, with no sullying of reputation as questions are raised about the king’s ideas on water.

Gray, a long time admirer of the king who regularly wrote the palace’s propaganda into “news,” does it again when he claims that this flood is

something King Bhumibol Adulyadej has tried harder than perhaps anyone to prevent. He has sounded alarm bells — not always heeded — against over-development and come up with ideas that have mitigated the damage from the immense annual surges and retreats of monsoon-spawned water.

The deaths and damage of this flood “illustrate both the price paid for ignoring his warnings, as well as the limits of man’s ability to control nature’s sometimes overwhelming force.” The last bit seems significant in a fair analysis as unnamed “analysts” state that “in tackling such complex problems, no single individual can substitute for well-coordinated and planned action by expert authorities — something critics say Thailand sorely lacks.”

Like the aged king, Gray seems to yearn for a passed era:

Even now, as the Thai capital and its environs fight the onrush, the world’s longest reigning monarch is offering advice on how best to channel the unprecedented buildup of water from northern highlands into the sea. But unlike times past, the constitutional but powerful monarch is unable to undertake inspections or cajole, sometimes reprimand, ineffective bureaucrats into action.

With a bit of pop history that claims Thai kings have seen “controlling of water as a royal task,” he goes on to present the palace’s view of the king’s projects that he says began in 1963 in Hua Hin. He claims that “royally initiated projects number more than 4,300, with 40 percent related to water resources.” PPT is pleased that he said “royally-initiated” as most have been long been funded by the taxpayer, whether they work or not.

The case of the water project the king called his “monkey cheeks” strategy gets attention:

The water that yearly rushes down from the north is diverted into “cheeks” on the approaches to Bangkok, then flushed into the sea or used for irrigation. This involved construction of reservoirs as well as dikes, canals and water gates. Along with an improved drainage system in the city, it’s credited with mitigating floods in the 1990s and the past decade.

David Blake, a water expert at the University of East Anglia, who has studied the issue in Thailand, is cited on this: “… the plan implied that communities around Bangkok would be sacrificed to save the heart of the capital — something that is now occurring.”

But Gray’s claim is that any failure is due to bureaucrats and politicians who did not heed the king’s advice and filled in potential “cheeks.” No blame can be suggested for a project that has flooded fields north of the capital for several years.

Grey’s article then proceeds to summarize the palace propaganda, extolling the king, his ideas and even his promotion of dam-building – the dams that stored and then released so much flooding water this year – and the magical seeding of clouds to create rain. But he does keep quoting Blake who says: “Not all of his ideas worked…”. But again, the blame for failed schemes is not with the king:

Bhumibol himself said he was just proposing “feasible ideas. Implementation must remain with those in charge. If they are misinterpreted or mishandled, they are doomed.”

That’s the palace’s view. It can’t really be openly contested in Thailand. However, the point of the article seems to be to have the international community and the foreign community in Bangkok get back on track as true believers, knowing that everything the king does is miraculously right and good, only to be twisted and mishandled by nasty politicians and bad bureaucrats.


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