in

Thailand 2031: A Glimpse into the Future

Why 2031? The next decade is likely to become seen as a milestone era during which the world accelerated into a period of development and prosperity having successfully turned the page of one of the worst chapters in modern history after Covid-19 shook the global community to its core.

Driven by the unprecedented pace of technological change, the world has already changed dramatically since the early 2000s when currently emerging sectors which harness our nascent grasp of artificial intelligence — robotics, smart homes and factories, autonomous vehicles, and personal assistants — were still the stuff of science fiction movies and idle fantasy.

Now, as we enter the middle period of the 21st century, it seems almost inconceivable that these, and many more, technological advancements won’t soon become part of everyday life.

Despite, or maybe inspired by, the upheaval of the recent pandemic, many are predicting a sharp recovery accompanied by a reshaping of the geopolitical landscape.

And breakthroughs in science and medicine will only further reinforce the prevailing sense of change that will come to define this technological revolution. Transformation will be rapid and widespread, and the onus will be on every nation, Thailand included, to keep up or risk falling back in terms of development, as people’s lives and livelihoods become increasingly inseparable from this new dawn.

To mark its 75th anniversary, which falls on Sunday, the Bangkok Post has invited several visionary leaders to tell us how they imagine the Thailand of 2031 in all its potential guises, from the economic and political to the technological, environmental and social.

As the paper celebrates a past laden with its own unforgettable moments, we hope readers will enjoy this glimpse into the future as part of this special publication.


Prep key to harnessing transformative shift

Sustainability and technology will be driving forces during the next decade, but to reap the benefits adjustments need to be made 

By Somruedi Banchongduang

Looking ahead to the next decade, the world will be defined by two major trends: sustainability and technology, according to Sethaput Suthiwartnarueput, governor of the Bank of Thailand.

“The wave of changes is coming fast, and it’s up to us to prepare ourselves for it. We will either be submerged in it and get left behind, or ride the wave towards a better future” — Sethaput Suthiwartharueput, Governor, Bank of Thailand

The mounting evidence of climate change and people’s greater awareness through improved access to information has led to waves of environmental standards and regulations.

“Digital technology will be the other transformative force going forward. More efficient computers have allowed us to collect and make use of a quantity of data that was previously unimaginable,” he said.

Companies and governments around the world are finding ways to integrate technology into their products, not only to increase efficiency, but also to improve the experiences and lives of the public.

Given these trends, where will we stand 10 years from now?

The sustainability trend together with a decreasing workforce means Thailand will shift away from quantity towards quality, according to Mr Sethaput.

Mass tourism will give way to small groups of eco-conscious travellers, he said. National park regulations will be updated with sustainability in mind.

As demand for healthcare and wellness professionals increases, so will the demand for upskilling and recertifying service workers, said Mr Sethaput.

New types of services could emerge. Given the pervasiveness of remote work, vacation destinations could be transformed into dream workplaces for office workers, he said.

Along with the service sector, agriculture and manufacturing will experience a major shift as well. Consumers’ growing concerns about sustainability and health has led to green product categories that are able to command higher prices, said Mr Sethaput.

On the flipside, products that are deemed non-sustainable might be banned from some markets. A reliance on processing unique products, rather than producing commodities, will be key to delivering higher value-added exports, he said.

Digital technology will play an integral role in all of this, from mechanising manufacturing processes to enabling more efficient production and services through data.

Precision farming in controlled environments will reduce variability in crop yields for farmers, said Mr Sethaput. Automated government processes will enable small farmers to easily provide relevant sustainability certifications.

Those who fail to incorporate technology into their businesses will struggle to compete, while those who succeed will enjoy many more opportunities from that technology, he said.

Mr Sethaput said to prepare for the impending changes, three upgrades need to be applied immediately.

Capital: Thailand is severely underinvesting. Private investment growth has plummeted from more than 8% prior to the global financial crisis to only 1.6% pre-pandemic. Industry transformation cannot happen on a piecemeal basis, and clear government policies and support will be required.

People: The workforce will need a push, through policies supporting upskilling/reskilling to stay relevant for the industries of the next decade.

System: The system should facilitate the transformations, not hinder them. Regulations should take advantage of technological progress. More importantly, investment in infrastructure — both physical and digital — will allow people to build their future on a solid foundation.

Having recognised the financial sector’s role in this process, the central bank seeks to prepare the financial system for the next decade. Digital initiatives such as the central bank’s digital currency, licences for information-based lending, and the adoption of a new payment standard that would allow for easier processing of payment data will support the country’s digital transformation, he said.

On the sustainability front, the central bank’s Sustainable Finance Initiatives for Thailand initiates discussions on sustainable banking and the financial sector’s role in steering Thailand towards sustainable growth.

“Thais have deep roots in agriculture, cuisine, hospitality and creativity. We can never really change our roots, but we can change the way we do things. In fact, it is necessary we change the way we do things starting today. The wave of change is coming fast, and it’s up to us to prepare ourselves for it. We will either be submerged in it and get left behind, or ride the wave towards a better future,” said Mr Sethaput.


Banking on innovation

The NESDC believes high-tech industry will be the key engine driving economic growth over the next decade 

By Chatrudee Theparat

Thailand’s economic structure will differ greatly in 10 years as high technology and innovation are likely to become the key engines to drive the country’s economic growth instead of exports and tourism, says the state planning unit chief.

“Thailand needs to transform the manufacturing sector to higher value-added industries such as the bio-, circular and green economic model, which can increase the value of farm products” — Danucha Pichayanan, Secretary-general, National Economic and Social Development Council

Danucha Pichayanan, secretary-general of the National Economic and Social Development Council (NESDC), said the ongoing Covid-19 outbreak poses a key challenge for Thailand’s economic development, notably over the next five years, in addition to factors such as an ageing society and climate change.

“We expect from 2020-2022, the country’s poverty problem will worsen because of the Covid-19 outbreaks,” he said.

“The pandemic also triggered a big gap in income disparity because poor people are less able to cope with the crisis due to low education levels and lack of access to digital technology.”

The country should focus more on restructuring to upgrade Thai industries to high technology and innovations from conventional industries, which are no longer in a position to compete in the global market, said Mr Danucha.

He said the first goal is to transition the country from natural resource-based industries towards a knowledge-based or high value-added economy that is environmentally friendly.

A high value-added economy focuses on activities that generate a large margin between the final price of a good or service and the cost of the inputs used to produce it, thus creating higher profits for businesses and higher wages for workers.

“Thailand needs to transform the manufacturing sector to higher value-added industries such as the bio-, circular and green economic model, which can increase the value of farm products,” said Mr Danucha. “An electric vehicle ecosystem creates supporting industries including smart electrical parts and a smart grid, while we should also emphasise the medical industry, tourism, logistics and digital services.”

He said private investment will play a key role to help the economy recover from the pandemic over the next 5-7 years, while the government is expected to pursue the Southern Economic Corridor and Northeastern Economic Corridor developments, which are similar in form to the existing flagship Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC).

Those two special economic zones should be sped up over next the 1-2 years because the EEC scheme alone is unlikely to be sufficient to drive investment over the next 5-10 years, said Mr Danucha.

Another nationwide goal should be to create more opportunities and equality for Thais so the poor can better enjoy the benefits of prosperity, both in terms of income and wealth, he said.

The government needs to promote sustainable growth among small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and community businesses; develop well-being and smart cities; reduce the number of people living in poverty; and introduce more appropriate social protection measures, according to the NESDC.

To reduce the income gap, the state needs to ramp up income distribution, economic development and legislative reforms to give low-income groups access to more and better education, economic opportunities and justice, said Mr Danucha.

Production and consumption that affect the environment also need to be considered in order to shift to an environmentally friendly way of life and safety, he said.

The workforce needs to develop skills in high technology and innovation to drive the economy forward, said Mr Danucha.

The government should digitalise state services while upgrading government management to facilitate investors and public services, he said.

“We expect Thailand’s development over the next 10 years to be in line with the country’s 20-year national strategy [2018-37] and 13th National Economic and Social Development Plan [2023-27] that aims to transform Thailand in four areas: narrowing income disparity and reducing poverty through innovation; creating a knowledge-based economy and value-added development; human resources development; and digital government,” said Mr Danucha.


Leading the charge

A concern for the environment will help guide industry decisions for the next decade

By Yuthana Praiwan

Environmental concerns will increasingly take precedence in the energy business, playing a part in growth decisions that were previously dominated by profit motive.

In the energy and transport sectors, these concerns are leading to a shift towards clean energy as the country aims to make it the main source of electricity in the future, said Somphote Ahunai, chief executive of renewable energy developer Energy Absolute Plc (EA).

“Expansion of renewable energy capacity across the globe will eventually decrease costs due to economy of scale” — Somphote Ahunai, Chief executive, Energry Absolute Plc

He expects energy and transport businesses will be hit by a “great disruption” in the same way as other businesses encountered a digital disruption that changed consumer lifestyles and markets.

Failure to adapt to this global trend of renewable power generation may land Thailand in an unpleasant economic situation post-pandemic, said Mr Somphote.

He said technical terms such as carbon border adjustment mechanism will become more familiar among businesses as many countries, led by the EU, discuss a proposal to enforce the mechanism as a tool to urge exporters worldwide to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the industrial sector or face a new non-tariff barrier.

The EU is spearheading a carbon neutrality campaign to achieve a net-zero goal that requires countries to strike a balance between emissions and absorption of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

Stronger actions against climate change caused by global warming will prompt the electricity and auto industries to use more clean energy to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, said Mr Somphote.

CLEAN ENERGY DOMINANCE

New international trade rules and cheaper renewable energy will drive the business direction, he said.

Renewable energy is energy from sources that can be replenished. Solar and wind power release no carbon dioxide during the electricity-generating process, unlike fossil fuels such as coal.

Thailand needs to prepare electricity generation from cleaner sources of energy to meet growing demand, said Mr Somphote.

“Producers and exporters across industries will require clean energy to run their businesses,” he said.

“They will base their decision to set up factories on energy issues and look for Asean countries that can satisfy their needs. Thailand needs to be prepared to compete on this front.”

EA has projected future demand and made a large investment in renewable energy development projects. The company operates solar and wind farms, with power generation capacity of 664 megawatts.

EA also invested in energy storage system (ESS) technology by building a 6-billion-baht battery production facility in Chachoengsao with a capacity of 50 gigawatt-hours.

ESS is needed to store electricity produced by intermittent power sources such as solar and wind. Batteries are also crucial to run electric vehicles (EVs).   

Mr Somphote admitted the costs of renewable energy development remain high, but they should decrease in the future, allowing competition with fossil-based electricity generation.

Expansion of renewable energy capacity across the globe will eventually decrease costs due to economy of scale, he said. This will allow electricity businesses to depend less on fossil fuel-fired power generation.

MOBILITY REVOLUTION

Clean energy is expected to play a more important role in the transport sector given the emphasis in state planning, said Mr Somphote.

The theory is the fewer vehicles running on internal combustion engines, the lower the level of carbon dioxide in the air.

He compared the coming age of EVs with the birth of smartphones.

“When phones changed from analogue to digital systems and were equipped with chips, people’s lifestyles changed across the board,” said Mr Somphote.

The National EV Policy Committee announced in March a goal to have 50% of vehicles made locally be EVs by 2030, part of an ambitious government plan to make Thailand a regional EV production hub.

He admires the government for its efforts to promote the EV industry, but whether the goal will be achieved depends largely on EV infrastructure, including adding many more charging outlets at publicly available stations, said Mr Somphote.

EA is building an EV assembly plant in Chachoengsao, focusing on manufacturing mass transport vehicles such as buses and trucks.

Earlier this year, the company also launched a commercial electric boat service on the Chao Phraya River.

Knowing large EVs require a huge amount of electricity, EA also invented “Parallel Charge”, an ultra-fast charging system that takes only 15 minutes to recharge batteries by up to 80%.


Strong executive needed to forge progress

Ageing society, health crisis will pose spending challenges, says TDRI president 

By Mongkol Bangprapa

The private sector will continue to play a vital role in propelling growth and development in the next decade, but the country’s stumbling block remains the bureaucracy, says Somkiat Tangkitvanich, president of the Thailand Development Research Institute (TDRI).

“To stay ahead of the curve, the country needs a strong and smart government because all the key challenges facing the country are complex and cannot be addressed in just four years, or one administration’s tenure” — Somkiat Tangkitvanich, TDRI president

A “smart and strong” government is needed to help it rise to challenges and get where it wants to be, he says.

Peering into the future, Mr Somkiat highlights four major issues that will have significant implications in shaping the country’s landscape as he discusses key challenges and opportunities in the coming years.

Amid many critical transitions the country faces, Mr Somkiat says economic factors, technology disruption, geopolitics and global climate change are likely to pose the biggest challenges.

Among economic factors, the biggest one is demographic change. Thailand is becoming an ageing society and this will have impacts on two fronts: a shrinking labour force and a higher fiscal burden due to massive spending on elderly welfare.

Labour-intensive sectors will face a shrinking work force, and labour shortages will affect productivity and business growth, he said.

Demographic change will also increase the state’s fiscal burden as the government sets aside a larger budget to cover welfare for the older population.

Technology transforms livelihoods, but Thailand is poorly prepared to respond adequately to disruptive technology changes especially in the areas of information technology and deep tech, be it in energy, healthcare, biotech or quantum computing, he said.

Thailand is trailing far behind other countries due to inadequate skill development and insufficient research funding, he added. 

Spending on research and development has reached 1% of GDP in recent years, but it faces cutbacks due to the financial crunch brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic.

On the geopolitics front, trade tensions between the US and China have caused a shift in supply chains in the region, raising the awkward challenge of balancing the influence of these two giant economies.

Meanwhile, the impacts of natural disasters linked to climate change such as severe droughts and heavy floods in Thailand will be devastating as the country depends heavily on agriculture, tourism and the services sectors.

In the long run, unless underlying causes of climate change are mitigated, the threat of rising sea levels will put many coastal areas at risk.

‘’Whether Thailand can ensure growth and sustainability in the years to come depends critically on how the country addresses these key challenges,” the TDRI president told the Bangkok Post.

The country’s growth, which nosedived following the 1997 financial crisis, is forecast to be no more than 3% annually.

The economic devastation from the Covid-19 pandemic coupled with a higher fiscal burden associated with the ageing population is likely to make the debt-to-GDP ratio exceed the ceiling of 60%, he said.

Income inequality, which was in decline over the past two decades, is now reversing in the face of the public health crisis while environmental issues such as air pollution from PM2.5 ultra-fine dust still pose a threat to long-term prosperity, he said.

“Worse, the state of Thai bureaucracy is weak and problematic,” said Mr Somkiat. However, he said that by exploring and recognising the many opportunities that come with these challenges, Thailand should be able to move forward.

Despite uncertainties associated with the US-China tense trade relations, Thailand is not a party to the dispute and should be able to draw investments and pursue trade opportunities with both countries, he said, adding one of the country’s strengths is its geographic location.

Asean, especially the CLMV (Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam) market, is fast growing with CLMV a key export destination for Thailand. While the country’s own growth is sluggish, it can ride along with Asean’s growth.

And even though the country’s fiscal position is weakening due to rising public debts, there is still room to stimulate the economy. The country’s debt level is 60% of GDP , far lower than that of Japan and the US which have public debts of over 100%-250% of their GDP.

By making proper investments, the country can stimulate economic growth.

The government, he said, should invest to promote livelihoods and opportunities for children and lower road accident casualties and tackle dust and air pollution which take a heavy toll on human resources.

“Investing in people from early childhood is known to give the highest return in any country. Investing in cutting down road accidents will increase human capital in an ageing society, because about 20,000 people killed in accidents a year come from the work force.

“Policies to tackle PM2.5 fine dust pollution will reduce respiratory illnesses and related deaths. There are tens of thousands of deaths each year that we can prevent,” he said.

The government has spent large sums on megaprojects especially the rail network. It is now time to shift the focus to investing in small or medium infrastructure projects that can both improve quality of life and increase economic activities, he said.

Other areas in need of investment and policy support are education, automation to help tackle labour shortages, and research development and innovations. Climate change is a serious threat to the country and even though it cannot take a lead in the issue, Thailand should support the global efforts to reduce global warning by being more engaged in green innovation, he said.

With Thailand being a base of the automotive industry, it is an opportune time for a green transition to production of electric vehicles and battery facilities to store green energy, which can decarbonise the economy and avoid export restrictions.

‘’To stay ahead of the curve, the country needs a strong and smart government because all the key challenges facing the country are complex and cannot be addressed in just four years, or one administration’s tenure.”

It takes a strong and smart government to break down bureaucratic barriers to foster a more collaborative approach between state agencies. However, the 2017 constitution is not conducive to creating a strong executive that can build public trust, Mr Somkiat added.

He said the electoral system leads to the formation of coalition governments with multiple parties, which inadequately respond to rapid and unpredictable changes.

A clear lack of collaboration between government agencies was evident in the drama concerning an alternative vaccine purchase contract involving the Government Pharmaceutical Organisation (GPO) and the Office of Attorney General (OAG).

While the GPO, which drafted the document, said it had forwarded the document for review, the OAG said it never received the draft. 

“It is a cabinet minister who will break down barriers, and to do so the country needs a strong executive,” he said.


The imminent tech boom

Rather than be overwhelmed by it, Thailand is preparing to adopt a number of new trends over the next 10 years 

By Suchit Leesa-nguansuk, Komsan Tortermvasana and Somruedi Banchongduang

As the world gears up for technological advancement, Thailand is catching up with the trends.

An array of advanced technologies is expected to be fully adopted in a decade, including the Internet of Things (IoT), artificial intelligence (AI), blockchain, 5G-related technologies, robotic process automation (RPA), 3D printing and quantum computing.

Remote work and virtual banking are also projected to become mainstream by that time. 

Anchalee Sudechawongsakul, senior market analyst at research firm IDC Thailand, said the fourth industrial revolution, the growth of smart cities and urbanisation, the rise of e-commerce, connectedness, the future of work, an ageing society, climate change and the shift of global economic power will all contribute to a shift from the physical to the digital sphere in Thailand by 2031.

According to Ms Anchalee, IoT will be a major data source responsible for generating half of all data available in the future. IoT will have a wide range of use cases, from smart home concepts to engineering aspects.

5G is another key factor driving growth in data traffic and supporting IoT and AI, she said.

Thailand is expected to become a 3D printing hub in Asean because of rising usage among small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). Investment in 3D printing will flourish in the coming years with the healthcare industry expected to be one of the prime sectors to benefit, said Ms Anchalee. 

AI is going to become crucial for the country’s healthcare sector, powering diagnosis and treatments for patients, she said. It will also be relied upon in fintech and chatbots.

Blockchain will play an increasing role in cybersecurity tasks, said Ms Anchalee. It is also expected to be used in the country’s elections in the future.

Digital payment under Virtual Bank concept will become the mainstream in the future.

RPA is projected to be used to support security and handle tasks in the healthcare sector, such as surgery, she said. In fact, Thailand is expected to export RPA technology in the future, said Ms Anchalee.

Quantum computing should become widespread over the next 10 years as it has the capability to speed up processing and problem solving, she said.

Meanwhile, remote work has been gathering steam after the pandemic took hold in 2020.

Swedish telecom giant Ericsson said in its “Future of Enterprises” report that 60% of decision-makers are very satisfied with the ability to cut down on office space. The report surveyed 5,000 decision-makers and employees across 11 markets, including Thailand.

Some 43% of decision-makers strongly believe there will be no offices at all by 2030 as all employees work remotely.

According to the company’s global survey featured in its IndustryLab report that explores the dematerialised office and insights into the 2030 future workplace, half of respondents said they would want a full-sense virtual presence to be able to work from anywhere.

Ericsson also indicated the 5G consumer market could hit US$31 trillion by 2030 globally, backed by new use cases and applications linked to a super-fast internet network. 

In Asean, India and Oceania, communications service providers are expected to earn $297 billion in 5G-enabled consumer revenues by 2030, the firm said.

5G will enhance existing digital services and use cases like video streaming, sports streaming, mobile gaming and smart home services, said Ericsson.

In the future, people walking down the street are unlikely to see physical banks as they will be replaced by virtual banks, found the report. This means all banking transactions will be completed on mobile devices or computers.

A virtual bank has no physical branches, with only a headquarters as it offers regular banking services online.

The Bank of Thailand is studying licences for digital banks, a tool meant to enhance financial inclusion and keep pace with consumer needs in the digital age.

Ronadol Numnonda, the deputy governor for financial institutions stability at the central bank, said the Thai financial sector is ready to enter the full digital banking service era thanks to a favourable financial ecosystem.


Political landscape ‘likely to fragment’ 

Younger people likely to insist on bigger say as coups get harder to pull off 

By Aekarach Sattaburuth

The next decade marks a transition towards the business of government being decided more by the younger generation, with military coups being harder to engineer and generational conflicts more pronounced.

That’s one glimpse of the future as revealed by Stithorn Thananithichote, director of the Office of Innovation for Democracy at King Prajadhipok’s Institute, a keen follower of Thai politics.    

In regard to the political landscape over the next 10 years, Mr Stithorn predicts deep-seated divisions in society and politics will remain at least five years from now.

The ruling Palang Pracharath Party (PPRP) is staying loyal to the “three Por” clique led by Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon and Interior Minister Anupong Paojinda. 

At the same time, opposition parties, made up mainly of large parties — Pheu Thai and Move Forward — vary in the way they operate in parliament, even as they are described as the mainstay of the “pro-democracy” camp.

Within that pairing, the Move Forward Party (MFP) has been dubbed as the progressive party.

A turning point will come after the senators lose their power to co-elect a prime minister along with MPs in 2023. That is when the progressive party will gain an upper hand in parliament as it draws on support from younger voters.

The base of older voters captured by the PPRP will dwindle while most first-time voters are likely to cast their ballots for the MFP and Pheu Thai. “But the majority of votes from younger voters will go to the pro-democracy bloc. They won’t switch sides,” he said. 

Many thought the PPRP would cling on to power until 2027 at the latest — assuming it wins the next general election shortly before the Senate runs out of power to co-select a prime minister in 2023, and the government it leads can serve out its full four-year term. 

By 2027, many younger people will be eligible to vote. There may be enough of them, along with existing MFP supporters, to propel the MFP to head a coalition government. The coast is also clear with senators “declawed” and no longer posing a threat in voting for the choice of prime minister put up by the PPRP.

No change in politics is foreseeable in the near future unless the military clique suffers a split and one side is strong enough to break ranks and support the opposition. But this is unlikely because the military is united; its conservative supporters and financers, who stand firmly behind it, are also at one.

“Any chance of a change to the status quo hinges on the outcome of a general election,” he said.

He also believed the line-up of movers and shakers will change by 2027.

“(By then) Lung Pom (Gen Prawit) won’t be pulling the strings,” he said.

Anyone who replaces him has large shoes to fill. “The military might be scouting for Gen Prawit’s successor for that role. However, it goes against the grain to keep pushing the military to rule the country,” he said.

Former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, founder of the Thai Rak Thai Party which morphed eventually into Pheu Thai, may also have a shot at returning as premier. He fled overseas shortly before being convicted by the Supreme Court for abusing his power as prime minister by allowing his former wife to clinch a prime land deal on the Ratchadaphisek Road at a discount. 

Thaksin has tried to reinvent his image as he frequently hosts talk sessions in the Clubhouse audio-based social networking app under the alias of Tony Woodsome. Critics said his talk shows were critical of the government and its policies. 

“A turning point will come after the senators lose their power to co-elect a prime minister along with MPs in 2023. That is when the progressive party will gain an upper hand in parliament as it draws on support from younger voters” — Stithorn Thananithichote, Director, Office of Innovation for Democracy, King Prajadhipok’s Institure

Mr Stithorn said “Tony” wants to be seen as pulling away from the old, colour-coded conflict between the red and yellow shirts. Thaksin still commands a sizeable following among the red shirts. 

But Thaksin cannot shrug off his association with the red shirts and so is still viewed as a fixture of the old conflict.

Mr Stithorn said that as the emerging conflict now pits older against younger people, Thaksin is not party to the strife and could present himself as someone who could broker peace.

Potential candidates for prime minister in the next decade boil down to choices in the pro-democracy wing.

Pheu Thai might nominate Chadchart Sittipunt, the transport minister during the Yingluck Shinawatra administration, because he can appeal to young voters although he must have the blessing of Thaksin.

There is also the MFP leader Pita Limcharoenrat who still has to prove he is up to the top job. But unlike Mr Chadchart, he can be his own boss. 

By contrast, the current government bloc does not come across as having a prime ministerial choice to speak of.

Any such candidate may be a military figure or a business person connected to the military. The choice will be difficult and the future does not look promising for the bloc.

A violent confrontation between the youth-led movement and authorities cannot be ruled out. Right now street protests may be few and far between because the Covid-19 pandemic has put the brakes on them.

“My fear is the next election will not be accepted by the (youth-led) protest group.

“The result could turn out similar to the previous election (in 2019) and the Senate will invariably get to co-pick a prime minister. That may well spark another round of mass protests,” Mr Stithorn said. 

A coup will be harder to engineer in the future as the military will be regarded as a party to the conflict rather than a mediator which intervenes to solve a crisis, as was the case previously.

Looking at parties in the next 10 years, Mr Stithorn said if constitutional amendments being deliberated in parliament are passed, and the two-ballot system is reinstated, the next election will produce two large parties.

They may not match the size of those that emerged from the 1997 general election. However the next poll could still create two parties with between 130-150 MPs each, and 3-4 medium-sized parties with about 50 MPs each.

The current MP calculation method derived from a single-ballot election method has given birth to two large parties, the PPRP and the Pheu Thai, as well as several medium-sized parties and a number of tiny parties.  

Some small parties, the likes of the Thai Sang Thai Party led by former Pheu Thai chief strategist Khunying Sudarat Keyurapan and the Kla Party headed by former finance minister Korn Chatikavanij, might not fare well.

Some small minnows might opt to merge with larger parties after the poll.

He also insisted a whole new charter has a next-to-zero chance of materialising. The tug of war over the charter rewrite will continue at least in the next five years.

The latest amendment presented to parliament by the Re-Solution activist group, which would clear away legal remnants of the coup-maker National Council for Peace and Order, might not come to fruition because it involves many legal technicalities. 

The odds of the draft being approved might look up after a changing of the guard in the Senate, he said. 


More green spaces ‘key to fighting climate change’ 

Lower city temperatures could help abate climate disasters, experts say 

By Pratch Rujivanarom

Despite a collaborative project to improve the environment and the wellbeing of urban citizens in Bangkok, experts say effort is needed to improve Bangkok’s city plan and infrastructure, to prepare for looming climate disasters.

The Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA) works on the “Green Bangkok 2030” project to transform the capital into a greener and healthier city, knowing Bangkok is likely to pose the greatest future challenge from climate disasters.

Greenpeace predicts that most of Bangkok may be inundated by rising sea levels by 2030.

Wirat Manassanitwong, the BMA’s Environment Department director, said the BMA has been implementing the project on building a sustainable city and community as part of the country’s effort to achieve the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in 2030.

The project, launched last year, aims to increase the ratio of green space in Bangkok to meet the international standard of 10 square metres per capita by procuring plots of land to develop public parks and renovating unused spaces in the city into small green spaces.

“With more trees and larger green spaces in Bangkok, the environment will be improved, as these urban green spots will act as a lung to filter out pollution. The their shade will also keep the city cooler and reduce the impacts of global warming,” Mr Wirat said.

“More public parks will also benefit the people’s health and wellbeing, as there are more green spaces for the people to exercise or relax with nature.”

Three public parks were built last year, while it is expected that 12 new urban green spaces will be opened to the public by the end of 2022.

Prof Thanawat Jarupongsakul, chairman of the National Strategic Drafting Committee on Green Growth, said major cities worldwide are facing more devastating climate disasters. Bangkok is among the cities that will suffer the most from climate change, he said.

“Bangkok is on a low-lying coastal floodplain, so the city is highly vulnerable to floods and storms,” Prof Thanawat said.

“Unless there are major upgrades of the capital’s drainage system and city planning to avoid construction over waterways, the city is likely to face another severe flood like the one in 2011 within the next 10 years. Right now Bangkok’s drainage system cannot even cope with heavy downpours, causing flooding on the streets after only few hours of rain.”

As the global atmospheric temperature keeps rising, he also warned against the threat of intense tropical storms and rising sea levels, as the bare low-lying coast of the capital is prone to storm surges and can easily erode away under the waves.

He suggested we need to preserve mangrove forests and replant where forests have been cleared, to create a natural barrier against storms and rising seas.

The report by Greenpeace, released in June 2021, also said that in the worst case, in which nothing has been done to mitigate the climate crisis, up to 96% of Bangkok will be below sea level by 2030, causing a major flood threat to more than 10 million inhabitants. It would also put US$512.28 billion worth of GDP at risk.

Greenpeace said the government and business should phase out the use and financing of fossil fuels to stall global warming.

Yossapon Boonsom, an urban planning expert and director of Shma Company Limited, also emphasised the need for the BMA to empower citizens to create strong and resilient communities, so they are prepared for future challenges.

“Genuine public participation is crucial for urban development and city planning. It is important for the authorities to decentralise power and let citizens participate in the management and planning of their home city,” Mr Yossapon said.

Protection of a healthy environment and urban green spaces should also be a key part of city plan, because city plan enforcement in Thailand is still weak, allowing green spaces to be encroached upon by expanding urbanisation.

He also suggested that authorities provide incentives for the business sector to increase urban green spaces, and promote green business models.


Prayut govt sets new record in train investment

Combined track length of BKK projects equals that of major cities, says Rail Transport Dept

By Supoj Wancharoen

The Prayut Chan-o-cha administration has set a new record in investing in the country’s rail transport — the regular train, double-track train, high-speed train and electric train network in Bangkok and the surrounding provinces.

The development of the electric rail system in Bangkok and the surrounding provinces in particular has been included in the Mass Rapid Transit Master Plan in the Bangkok Metropolitan Region (M-Map), a 20-year plan for developing primary and secondary public transport networks (2010-2029).

As of July, 2021, the total length of all new electric rail projects in operation is 168 kilometres, while more routes totalling 382 km in combined length to come in the near future. So, altogether the country now expects a total length of up to 550 km from the electric rail transport development plan.

Pichet Kunadhamraks, deputy director-general of Department of Rail Transport, said the routes now in operation are three extensions of the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration’s (BMA) Green Line, two extensions of Mass Rapid Transit Authority of Thailand’s (MRTA) Blue Line, the MRTA’s Purple Line, the Airport Rail Link of the State Railway of Thailand, and the BMA’s Gold Line.

The other 382km long routes are divided into four groups, considering stages of their development, said Mr Pichet.

The first group comprises electric rail projects being constructed, totalling 153.56km in combined length.

They are Dark and Light Red Lines (due to begin a test run Aug 2, 2021), Orange Line (82.56% complete), Pink Line (72.81% complete, due to begin operations early next year), Yellow Line (84.19% complete, due to begin operations early next year), Pink Line’s extension (Sirat-Muang Thong Thani), Airport Rail Link’s extension (included into the high-speed train project linking Don Mueang, Suvarnabhumi and U-Tapao airports, due to begin operations in 2027).

The second group is electric rail projects totalling 37km in length. They await bidding for construction contracts.

These projects are the Purple Line’s 23.6km extension (Tao Poon-Ratburana) and Orange Line’s 13.4km extension (Thailand Cultural Centre-Bang Khun Non). 

The third group consists of electric rail projects now pending public private partnership investment (PPP) studies and analyses. Their combined length is 55.24km.

They are the Dark Red Line’s extension (Rangsit-Thammasat University’s Rangsit campus) of the MRTA, Dark Red Line’s extension (Bang Sue-Hua Lamphong) of the MRTA, Light Red Line’s extension (Taling Chan-Salaya) of the MRTA, Light Red Line’s extension (Taling Chan-Siriraj) of the MRTA, Light Red Line’s extension (Bang Sue-Makkasan-Hua Mak) of the MRTA.

The fourth and last group consists of extensions of electric rail projects planned from 2029, totalling 137.08km in length.

They are the Green Line’s extension (Samut Prakan-Bang Pu), Green Line’s extension (Khu Khot-Lam Luk Ka), Blue Line’s extension (Bang Khae-Phutthamonthon Sai 4), Dark Red Line’s extension (Hua Lamphong-Mahachai), Yellow Line’s extension (Ratchada Intersection-Lat Phrao-Ratchayothin Intersection), Gold Line’s extension (Klongsan-Prajadhipok, Brown Line (Khae Rai-Lam Sali), Grey Line (Watcharaphon-Tha Phra), and Light Blue Line (Din Daeng-Sathon).

Considering the planned development of these electric rail projects in Bangkok and the surrounding provinces, the capital will in the next five years have a combined length of 300km of electric rail routes in operation, as much as the world’s large cities, said Mr Pichet.

“Paris, for instance, has a total of 220km, while Seoul has 365km. This means we have reached almost the same level in terms of urban development and quality of life improvement,” he said.

Aside from these electric rail projects, the government also has a total of 17 double-track trail projects, totalling 2,932km in length and requiring 461 billion baht in funding, he said.

Of the 17 projects, seven projects are urgent, while another eight projects can be done in the medium term and the other two are long-term projects, he said.

As for the high-speed train, the government has up to eight such projects with a combined length of 2,506km, which altogether require 1.6 trillion baht in funds, said Mr Pichet.

So far the government has invested 403 billion baht in two high-speed train projects and another 720.1 billion baht in the electric rail projects in Bangkok and the surrounding provinces, he said.

“In total we’ve spent 1.5 trillion baht on all these , while our investment target is set at 3.5 trillion baht,” he said.

“This investment is worth it, given Thailand’s projected improvement in competitiveness, economy, trade, investment and quality of life of the people,” he said.


Making healthcare smarter

Smart data integration will enhance and improve the Kingdom’s system of medical management

By Yvonne Bohwongprasert

Over the next decade, Thailand’s healthcare should see a shift towards digitalisation resulting in increased efficiencies to help the country better serve an ageing population and fight future pandemics, said Dr Chaisit Kupwiwat, director of Vibhavadi Hospital.

Thailand has had success with its social security and universal healthcare programmes, as well as targeted healthcare insurance for the private sector, due largely to its dedicated healthcare workforce, according to Dr Chaisit.

The healthcare system has been built on investments in health delivery infrastructure at both the district and tambon levels and healthcare workforce training, which benefits citizens in both urban and rural areas, he noted.

Dr Chaisit said it was imperative that Thailand prepares its healthcare sector to serve a rapidly ageing population, focusing “on preventive care and the integration of digital technology”.

He said that by last December, the country had witnessed a dramatic increase in its elderly population, reaching over 11 million, or slightly more than 15% of the population.

This information should be a wake-up call for those who manage the healthcare system as the specific needs of an ageing population represent a significant challenge to healthcare personnel in any country, he said.

“In the foreseeable future, Thailand’s ageing population will lead to a shift in focus from acute care towards community or long-term care, promoting person-centred care, and developing more preventive healthcare measures for the elderly such as screening tests for chronic diseases, cancer screening, vaccinations, preventive actions such as healthy diet and exercise to prevent chronic diseases, counselling on alcohol consumption and smoking cessation to promote healthy lifestyles and longevity,” said Dr Chaisit.

“Healthcare services should ideally be more decentralised and flexible, with improved co-ordinating efforts for healthcare to move from provider-centric care to person-centric care where each person’s healthcare is customised and integrated with digital technology such as telehealth, e-delivery of services, care delivered in the home after discharge, the use of smartphone apps, smart monitoring devices and remote diagnosis leading to seamless, truly person-centred care.

Dr Chaisit Kupwiwat, director of Vibhavadi Hospital. (Photo Courtesy of Vibhavadi Hospital)

“Digitalisation should play a major role in Thailand’s healthcare in the next decade where the merging of medical data and technology plays a crucial role in improving the quality of life of an ageing society while minimising their dependence.”

Amid this transition, he cautions healthcare providers to be careful in not fully replacing employees with automation or artificial intelligence as the emotional essentials of caregiving rely very much on human touch.

Instead, he said: “Healthcare providers should prepare to hire employees who bring new capabilities in digital health solutions and customer experience. In addition, healthcare providers should offer a working environment suitable for employees to create innovative ideas in improving their patients’ journeys.”

Dr Chaisit said the future of healthcare in Thailand, given the challenges of an ageing society and other unforeseen health-related sicknesses, should seek to be more patient-driven, with less emphasis on treatment and care, and more on prevention, diagnostics and digital solutions, with individuals increasingly managing their health themselves using preventive measures and personalised care digitally integrated into patients’ daily lives.


Politicising LGBTI rights

Kittinun Daramadhaj of the Rainbow Sky Association of Thailand wants everyone on the same page for gender equality

By Thana Boonlert

Over two decades ago, LGBTI people were largely excluded from the public sphere. Over time, they have slowly become into a conservative society but the veneer of friendliness masks discrimination on all fronts. However, in less than a decade from now, they will enjoy more rights due to new laws dealing with same-sex marriage and gender recognition if civil society groups and community members can iron out their differences.

Kittinun Daramadhaj, president of the Rainbow Sky Association of Thailand, said differing points of view have hindered campaigns for LGBTI rights. For example, some welcome the government-sponsored civil partnership draft bill because despite limitations, it is viable and amendable, but others back the opposition party’s same-sex marriage draft bill. When it comes to gender recognition, some argue that transgenders must undergo surgery to seek a title change, while others subscribe to the belief of self-identification regardless of medical procedures and gender expression.

“I have perceived such obstacles for three to four years. It has obstructed the passage of the civil partnership bill. The government approved it last year but it has been sent back to the Justice Ministry for review,” he said.

“Meanwhile, the same-sex marriage draft law remains in the queue for parliamentary deliberation later this year or early next year, but the question is whether any laws sponsored by the opposition camp will be enacted. The government might give valid reasons but it comes down to political matters. Why should it let the opposition party score points with 7 million LGBTI people in the next election?” he added.

Kittinun believes the government should adopt a top-down approach by amending the current charter and the 20-year national strategy to ensure LGBTI rights. For example, it should include sexual orientation and gender identity in Section 27 on discrimination and Section 71 on gender-responsive budgeting because the charter contains only the term “sex”, which leads to an exclusive legal interpretation.

“It should put LGBTI issues on the national agenda and make it public policy. If changes are made, it will create statistics for LGBTI people and provide data on their access to rights. These figures will allow us to work on many other projects. Now, we are handling complaints on a case-by-case basis. When will it end?” he said.

The 2015 Gender Equality Act is the only law that protects LGBTI people from unfair gender discrimination, but it has been fraught with problems. After six years, it is now being overhauled. Kittinun is a member of the sub-committee for this bill. He said only victims are allowed to file complaints with the investigative committee, but some of them are afraid to challenge their employers and there are victimless cases as well such as job postings that reject LGBTI applicants and recruiters that check for homosexual behaviour. In addition, the bill is enforced with exceptions. For example, Section 17 of this bill excludes cases involving religion and security.

“The government should put LGBTI issues on the national agenda and make it public policy” — Kittinun Daramadhaj, President, Rainbow Sky Association of Thailand

“There are also instances where state teachers are denied the right to dress according to their gender identity. If they file complaints with the investigative committee, they won’t be considered discriminatory practices because Section 27 of the charter excludes cases involving regulations and ethics in soldiers, police officers and civil servants,” Kittinun said.

Kittinun will soon submit to parliament the draft law on the elimination of discrimination against nine vulnerable groups, including the disabled, those with HIV and LGBTI people. It will go the extra mile to cover those with intersectionality such as disabled transgenders.

“It will give another option on top of existing laws. It is very progressive,” he said.

He said the raft of new laws will be enacted in the next decade or less, but civil society groups and community members must settle their differences. Above all, he hopes he won’t see LBGTI news because it will mark a time when all humans are truly equal.

“Talk about us like people who enjoy playing, have accidents or are denied access to the public health system. If there are issues of discrimination, it should not be on the grounds of gender anymore,” he said.

Reference