Green Party leader Phongsa Choonaem (left) in an election campaign event in Bangkok. Green Party leader Phongsa Choonaem (left) in an election campaign event in Bangkok.  (AFP or licensors)

Thailand: Green issues sidelined in elections amid smog, pollution

Green movements gain little traction with Thai voters as the kingdom approaches its general election on 14 May.

By Zeus Legaspi

Environmental issues are taking a back seat ahead of Thailand’s upcoming elections, despite record-high heatwaves and worsening air pollution.

Green Party leader Phongsa Choonaem told AFP news agency that while people do acknowledge the problems, they have no faith that politicians can solve the issues.

Thailand’s Public Health Department reported in April that at the onset of 2023, a whopping 2.4 million people have sought treatment for pollution-related ailments.

These include respiratory problems, dermatitis, eye inflammation, and sore throat.

Only recently, Thailand has recorded its hottest day ever at 45.4°C as heat waves sweep through Southeast Asia.

These problems prompted the Clean Air Network (CAN), a think tank, to say that pollution in Thailand has become a “real public health crisis.”

Politics and green policy

In the past, political parties like the Move Forward Party, have proposed to reduce carbon emissions. Pheu Thai, a reformist party, has promised to stop stubble burning in a year. The party has also supported a version of the Clean Air Act that was initially drafted and proposed by CAN.

CAN’s Weenarin Lulitanonda welcomed the politicians’ involvement in the issues but remained cautious as political promises could be “loosey-goosey” in detail.

Meanwhile, an environmental politics expert pointed to Thailand’s system of political patronage as the culprit in hampering substantive green policy change in the kingdom.

“Those who benefit basically from everyone breathing the bad air, unfortunately, are those who are quite close to the government,” Danny Marks, an assistant professor of environmental politics and politics at Dublin City University, told AFP.

Thailand’s general election will see multiple parties vie for popular support including reformist parties, Pheu Thai and Move Forward, and establishment movements like Palang Pracharath Party (PPRP) and United Thai Nation Party. 

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10 May 2023, 13:00