Thai opposition wants more for flood relief

VEE INTARAKRATUG - Associated Press
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A pet dog follows a Thai woman carrying a baby as she and others wades through floodwaters to receive food distributed by Thai soldiers at a flooded neighborhood in Bangkok, Thailand, Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2011. The flooding began in late July and the water has reached parts of Bangkok, where residents are frustrated by government confusion over how much worse the flooding will get. (AP Photo/Altaf Qadri)

BANGKOK (AP) — Thailand's former prime minister added to growing criticism of his successor over her administration's flood response, saying Wednesday that the government should postpone some promised populist measures to free up money for flood recovery.

Abhisit Vejjajiva, whose party lost to Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra's party in July, said the government should reconsider some of its programs, such as providing schoolchildren with tablet computers and giving tax breaks to first-time purchasers of homes and cars, and use the money instead for flood relief.

The campaign pledges helped Yingluck lead her Pheu Thai party to a landslide election victory, but some economists have said they are not fiscally sound.

Abhisit spoke at a Parliament session where Yingluck submitted a budget bill calling for 2.38 trillion baht ($77.2 billion) in spending, including an initial 120 billion baht ($3.9 billion) for flood recovery and rehabilitation. Abhisit did not say how much he thinks should be spent.

The flooding began in late July and has killed 529 people, mostly by drowning. The water has reached parts of Bangkok, where residents are frustrated by government confusion over how much worse the flooding will get.

The feeling of being under siege deepened as floodwaters began to spill onto Rama II Road, the main route south from Bangkok. If the water crosses the road, it is also likely to swamp so-far unflooded areas of southeastern Bangkok.

Evacuations have already been ordered in 12 of the capital's 50 districts and the water is lapping at subway stations in northern neighborhoods, threatening to shut them down. Production and distribution of consumer goods has been hurt, and supermarket shelves in the capital have become increasingly bare.

Floodwaters have finally started to recede in provinces north of Bangkok that have been inundated for more than a month, but the slow crawl of the water has led experts to warn that Bangkok's flood crisis is likely to drag on for another month.

The devastation caused by the floods in about a third of the country's provinces — affecting roughly 15 percent of Thailand's 68 million population — has put an abrupt end to Yingluck's political honeymoon.

The government's slow and confusing response to the flooding has come in for sharp criticism, with some editorials in the Thai press calling for the prime minister to step down once the emergency is over.

Much of the criticism comes from people who were previously opposed to Yingluck, who is widely seen as a stand-in for her brother, former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. Thai society is deeply divided over Thaksin, who was ousted by a military coup in 2006 after being accused of corruption and abuse of power, and is in exile avoiding a jail term for corruption.

On Tuesday, Yingluck was forced to cancel plans to attend this weekend's Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Hawaii, hosted by President Barack Obama. It would have given her an opportunity to gain diplomatic luster, but also could have opened her to criticism for ignoring flooding at home.

The prime minister on Tuesday also announced a recovery plan which includes the creation of a team to coordinate water policy. About a dozen separate agencies now deal with different aspects of water management, with little consultation and no clear lines of authority, hindering both planning and response to crises.

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Associated Press writers Grant Peck, Pailin Wedel and Todd Pitman contributed to this report.