Academics warn against political agendas influencing environmentalism in Sasin case

ENVIRONMENTALISTS ARE being targeted by political attacks again with the public speculating about the political agenda behind their activism, while academics insist that environmental issues cannot be separated from politics and that activists should be careful about confusing political interests with their campaigns.

Shortly after the Irrigation Department suggested that Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha reconsider the Mae Wong Dam project, waves of verbal attacks the hit the prominent environmentalist Sasin Chalermlarp, most heavily from the "red shirt" side of the political spectrum.

Most of these attacks accused Sasin of staying quiet as the building of the dam in the forest is being reconsidered by the military regime, in contrast to his active role protesting against the dam during the previous Yingluck Shinawatra administration, which was supported by a majority of red-shirt voters.

The question has been raised whether Sasin used the Mae Wong Dam issue as a political tool to help to overthrow the Yingluck government - and whether his political alignment has inclined him to take a very soft stance against the controversial dam while the Prayut administration is in power.

Decharut Sukkumnoed, a professor at Kasetsart University Faculty of Economics, commented that he believed environmental issues are inherently political because environmental management is a public policy concern that affects many parties.

id criticism of Sasin in this was case amounted to unfair political attacks because people who condemned him inferred his political preferences from his environmental campaign, but in reality the campaign against the dam could be conducted in various ways depending on the situation.

"This is the typical Thai political viewpoint; some people still debate political issues by discrediting [others], instead of discussing the information and ideas," he said.

Academic Jaroen Compeerapap of Silpakorn University's Faculty of Arts commented that due to political fragmentation and environmental groups' campaigns to change public policy, environmental activism had become more aligned with politics, which he said could undermine the spirit of good economic stewardship for the public benefit.

"The environmental pressure groups are fighting with its spirit, but many of them are involved in the national politics. I am concerned that if they ally themselves to the political factions, they will eventually lose their spirit," Jaroen said.

However, he highlighted that freedom of expression is very important for the environmental movement because if a society does not allow people to express their ideas freely, environmental issues will be never be raised.

Decharut also had a similar view, stating that democracy allows public participation and review of the national agenda, which is crucial to protect society from environmentally harmful development. "Democratic government does not always have environmentally friendly policy and autocratic government does not always have environmentally damaging policy. However, democracy allows the examination, participation and freedom [of expression] in the nation's policy, so it is the best form of administration for the environmental movement and the people," Decharut said.

The line between environmental movements and politics may be very vague - and the two often overlap, support or conflict with each other - but as Jaroen concluded, environmental groups must be united and avoid activities that are guided by political interests.

Source URL: The Nation