Is Thailand about to move its capital?

Proposal to relocate from Bangkok comes weeks after Indonesia announced similar plan

BANGKOK-THAILAND - JANUARY 25: Cars move slowly during rush hour traffic January 25, 2006 in Bangkok, Thailand. According to reports Bangkok estimates that it loses 6 percent of its economic
Slow moving traffic in Bangkok
(Image credit: 2007 Getty Images)

Thailand’s leader has hinted that the country’s capital may be moved away from Bangkok in response to mounting challenges in the overcrowded city.

The suggestion comes weeks after the announcement that Indonesia’s capital is to be relocated from Jakarta, on the island of Java, to the province of East Kalimantan on Borneo. Like Bangkok, Jakarta has struggled in the face of overpopulation, traffic congestion, pollution and rising sea levels.

According to a 2018 study on the world’s worst traffic, Bangkok was ranked eighth for road congestion levels, one place behind Jakarta, says The Guardian.

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Speaking at the Connecting Thailand with the World Conference earlier this month, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, a retired army general, outlined 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.”

Have other countries relocated their capitals?

Thailand and Indonesia are not the first Southeast Asian nations to consider moving their capitals.

In 2005, the then-military regime in Myanmar relocated its capital from Yangon to Naypyitaw. The new city, 200 miles north of Yangon, cost $4bn (£3.2bn) to construct and is four times the size of London but has failed to attract settlers, with a population around nine times smaller than that of the English capital, says The Independent.

Other countries in different parts of the world have also made the move. In 1960, Brazil relocated its capital from Rio de Janeiro to Brasilia, which was built from scratch.

Nigeria moved its capital from Lagos to Abuja in 1991, because the latter was seen as a more neutral area for the country’s many ethnic and religious groups.

And Egypt is currently constructing a new administrative capital away from Cairo, on a stretch of desert between the Nile River and the Suez Canal, reports NBC News.

Khaled el-Husseiny Soliman, the international coordination manager with the Administrative Capital for Urban Development, said: “The Egyptian state needed this kind of project a long time ago. We can talk about Cairo as a capital that is full of traffic jams, very crowded. The infrastructure cannot absorb more people.”

So is the Thai move likely to go ahead?

Previous Thai governments also floated the idea of relocating from Bangkok. The Thaksin Shinawatra administration, which ruled between 2001 and 2006, researched the viability of a move to Nakhon Nayok, a province about 60 miles northeast of Bangkok, the Bangkok Post reports.

Other proposed new bases have included Chachoengsao, a province 50 miles east of the capital. “But those plans failed to materialise, leaving many with doubts about how such an idea could morph from fiction to reality,” says the newspaper.

Responding to the latest relocation proposals, the secretary-general of Thailand’s National Economic and Social Development Council (NESDC), Thosaporn Sirisamphand, said: “Capital relocation is a big issue and needs serious cooperation from various agencies.”

Playing down the reports, he added: “I think General Prayut just threw an idea out to the public on how to tackle traffic congestion in Bangkok.”

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