Amid escalating pollution in Thailand, green political candidates face an uphill battle to gain traction with voters ahead of the elections. Despite hazardous smog plaguing Bangkok and northern Chiang Mai, environmental issues have taken a backseat to populist welfare policies as political parties try to outdo each other. Green Party leader Phongsa Choonaem admitted that while the public’s understanding of environmental concerns is growing, the party is fielding only a handful of candidates for the 500-seat lower house.
Thailand’s election is experiencing a showdown between reformist movements such as the Pheu Thai and Move Forward parties, as well as establishment groups like the Palang Pracharath Party (PPRP) and current Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha’s new United Thai Nation Party. Although Pheu Thai and PPRP, along with the Democrat Party, have supported a version of the Clean Air Act proposed by the citizen think tank Clean Air Network (CAN), many election promises lack detail.
Weenarin Lulitanonda, from CAN, emphasised that delivering results through legislation is what will ultimately matter. She cautioned against framing the air pollution issue as a choice between the environment and economic growth, healthcare, and democracy. However, Danny Marks, assistant professor of environmental politics and policy at Dublin City University, explained that Thailand’s system of political patronage, involving wealthy clans leveraging links to further their business interests, hinders significant change. He noted that even prominent opposition parties like Pheu Thai have not prioritised air pollution or environmental issues, reports Channel News Asia.
This year, Chiang Mai has gained an undesirable international reputation for poor air quality, primarily caused by burning crop stubble. Rungsrit Kanjanavanit, a cardiologist in the city, stressed that policymakers must understand the science behind pollution and its importance. As people voice their concerns more loudly, he said, politicians are gradually beginning to listen.
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