Tue, Oct 01, 2019 - Page 6 News List

Thailand’s PM considers relocating capital

‘POSSIBILITY’:Retired general Prayuth Chan-ocha may follow in Indonesia’s footsteps after floating the idea of moving from Bangkok as a way to resolve overcrowding

The Guardian and AP, BANGKOK

People wear masks to protect themselves from the fine dust and heavy pollution in Bangkok yesterday.

Photo: EPA-EFE

Thailand could be the next nation in Southeast Asia to relocate its capital after Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha hinted such a move could be a “possibility” under his government.

Taking inspiration from neighboring Myanmar and similar plans being formulated in Indonesia, Prayuth suggested that relocating the capital could help Bangkok overcome its mounting urban challenges.

Like Jakarta, Bangkok is beset by overcrowding, pollution, rising sea levels and heavy traffic congestion.

During an address at the Connecting Thailand with the World Conference on Sept. 18, the retired army general floated two options for a potential move.

“The first is to find a city that’s neither too far nor too expensive to move to,” he said, “The second is to move to outer Bangkok to reduce crowding.”

Prayuth suggested that moving the government to the outskirts of Bangkok could help ease traffic flows and reduce the need to commute in and out of the city center.

Comprehensive research and studies into the social and economic impacts of such a move would be required, he said, but added that such a move could be a “possibility” under his government.

The suggestion comes weeks after Indonesian President Joko Widodo announced that the administrative capital would be moved from beleaguered Jakarta to East Kalimantan, or Indonesian Borneo.

It is not the first time the idea of moving Thailand’s administrative capital has been raised, with former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra also suggesting the administrative capital be moved to Nakhon Nayok, a province 100km from the capital.

Studies have also been conducted on shifting government offices to Chachoengsao, an agricultural hub to the east of Bangkok.

As with Jakarta, the idea of moving the capital has drawn mixed reviews, and doubts whether such a plan would materialize.

Thosaporn Sirisamphand, from Thailand’s National Economic and Social Development Council, told the Bangkok Post that the prime minister has yet to ask the agency to seriously study the possibility, and that his recent suggestion might have been an on-the-cuff remark.

“Capital relocation is a big issue and needs serious cooperation from various agencies,” he said. “I think General Prayuth just threw an idea out to the public on how to tackle traffic congestion in Bangkok.”

According to a study last year on the world’s worst traffic, Bangkok was ranked eighth, one place behind Jakarta, for its road congestion levels, with Mumbai first.

Experts have suggested the government should first conduct studies on ways to reduce traffic congestion in Bangkok, and focus on development in second-tier provinces.

In related news, Prayuth yesterday urged people in Bangkok to wear masks to filter out unhealthy air pollution as smog enveloped the capital.

The prime minister wrote on Facebook that the concentration of tiny dust particles had reached unsafe levels and said he ordered government agencies to expedite anti-pollution measures.

He also asked cooperation from the construction and manufacturing sectors.

Thai Pollution Control Department Director-General Pralong Damrongthai said that the visibly dirty air was not caused by the smoke originating from forest fires in Indonesia.

Pralong told Thai PBS television that the dust had been captured by still air and high humidity, which was then trapped near ground level by a temperature inversion, in which warm air sits atop cooler air.

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