BANGKOK — A massive facility meant to host Thailand’s next parliament in five months appeared far from completion Thursday.
The future home of the legislature remains a jumble of scaffolding, unfinished walls and staircases, underscoring the fact the Sappaya-Sapasathan, as it is called, is far from complete despite government pledges the decade-long project would be done by June.
House Speaker Pornpetch Wichitcholchai suggested as much this morning, saying they are still searching for a venue where lawmakers elected in the next election can meet and formally inaugurate the parliament.
“Right now we are still looking for a place ahead [of the meeting],” Pornpetch, who heads the current interim parliament, told reporters.
LIVE: See the site where Thailand's new parliament is being built in Bangkok's Dusit district.
โพสต์โดย Khaosod English เมื่อ วันพุธที่ 9 มกราคม 2019
Rehousing the legislature became necessary since the former parliament building was reclaimed by the palace, which owns the land. Although the building was set to close forever by New Year’s Eve, lawmakers were granted an extension to hold special sessions there until the end of February.
Day-to-day meetings and other work is to take place at another building in Bangkok’s Bang Sue district.
The overall work was deemed 56 percent complete as of Dec. 14, the last time the parliament website was updated.
A Place of Harmony
The new site is about 4 kilometers due north of the former building at a riverside location near Dusit district’s Kiak Kai Intersection. During a visit today, the work was in full swing on many sections, with materials and tools scattered around. Scaffolding covers many of the walls. One staircase stank of urine. The river pier meant for government delegations is still just a cluster of barges.
The future seat of democracy is flanked by several military bases; the Kiak Kai neighborhood also houses tanks, anti-aircraft guns and infantry. Gunfire can be heard from a shooting range just opposite the new parliament. The defense industry department is located around the corner.
Construction of Sappaya Sapasathan – which means “A Place of Harmonious Assembly” – was first approved in 2008 during the administration of Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej. Officials argued that the 30-year-old parliament next to the Ananta Samakhom Throne Hall was getting too crowded.
Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn, who now reigns as king, placed the foundation stone at the site in 2010, but construction could only begin in 2012. The government at the time estimated that the project would take about 900 days to complete. The deadline was repeatedly pushed back, and a budget that started at 14 billion baht has ballooned to nearly 22 billion baht.
It’s a gigantic facility of about 400,000sqm – about one-fourth of which will be given over to green space.
It was designed by a firm called Arsom Silp, which based its plans on ancient Hindu cosmology. A 134-meter tower representing Mount Meru, which marks the center of the universe, is flanked by the Sun Chamber and Moon Chamber where MPs and Senators will meet, respectively.
Replacing the modernist edifice that opened in 1974 with a structure based on Buddhist cosmology was criticized for inviting religion into the secular space of governance. Architect Chatri Ladalalitasakul defended his work, saying he hopes it will remind politicians to act morally.
“Thai people have a lot of faith in Western democracy,” Chatri said at a panel in 2016. “However, no matter what political system you believe in – whether democracy, dictatorship or socialism – how far can it go if no one has morality?”
Asked whether he believes the symbolism will deter corruption, the architect said there’s no guarantee.
“But in the same way, many structures that represent democracy don’t make their countries into a better democracy,” Chatri said.
Allegations of fraud and mismanagement also beset the new parliament before it opened. In May 2018, transparency activists were outraged by revelations that costs for electronics alone stood at 3 billion baht, which included digital clocks running as much as 70,000 baht apiece.
A plan to cut down thousands of teak trees for its construction was only suspended in 2016 on the order of junta chairman Prayuth Chan-ocha after an outcry. A forestry official said in September said that farmed teak would be used instead.
Some critics also said favoritism was a factor in awarding the work to Sino-Thai Engineering & Construction PCL, which saw its contract renewed for a fourth time in March 2018 despite chronic delays.
Because there is no public transport to the new parliament, except buses and boats on the Chao Phraya River, the government plans to extend roads in Kiak Kai and build yet another bridge across the river. The plan is expected to cost another 6 billion baht.
In the event a general election is held, future lawmakers will need to make due until the building is ready for the public’s business.
Interim parliament chief Pornpetch said the legislators could convene in a TOT auditorium on Chaeng Wattana Road, a plan the next government would not be beholden to.
His deputy, Surachai Liangboonlertchai, also said that, post-election, lawmakers may have to meet in the auditorium if the new parliament is not ready. He said officials may have to borrow or rent necessary equipment for their first session.