Originally published at Siam Voices on September 27, 2012 We look back at some news stories that made the headlines in Thailand this month.
Rich kids, fast cars, solid impunity: Social injustice on the roadside
At the beginning of this month, Central Juvenile and Family Court in Bangkok sentenced an 18-year-old girl to two years in jail for reckless driving, resulting in a crash with a van in which nine people were killed in December 2010. The sentence was suspended and the girl is banned from driving until the age of 25. What caught the attention of the public eye in this case is that not only was the driver 16 years old at the time of the accident (thus not legally old enough to drive a car), but also the daughter of a well-connected, high-society family, or "hi-so" in common Thai slang. That fact and that she survived almost unharmed made her the target of a relentless online witch hunt (we reported).
Just a few days later another lethal traffic accident involving an heir of a wealthy and influential businessman occurred in Bangkok when a police officer was hit by a sports car and dragged down the road for some distance. The drunk driver fled the scene and was later to be revealed as Vorayuth Yoovidhaya, the 27-year-old grandson of the recently deceased founder of Red Bull. However, since this is a wealthy and well-connected heir, the Thong Lor district police inspector initially attempted to cover up the hit-and-run case by detaining the family's caretaker as a scapegoat. This did not work and the inspector got suspended and Vorayuth will be brought to court. In the meantime, his family has reached a settlement with the siblings of the victim: a meager sum of 3m Baht ($97,000).
There have been countless incidents in the past were the offspring of the rich and powerful have gotten away after somebody else was killed (*cough*Chalerm's son*cough*) and these two incidents have yet again spurred some widespread outrage - but also, as usual with such widespread public outcries, quickly died down. Ironically, days later after Vorayuth's incident, a female pop singer was caught drunk driving at a police control, but - showing her total obliviousness to recent events - initially refused the breathalyzer test because - according to herself - she "is a celebrity and knows many senior police officials" and felt "not in an appropriate condition. And when I'm sober, I'll blow into it."
2012 Flood Watch: Waiting for the deluge?
After last year's flood crisis swept through Thailand and had most of central Bangkok spiraling into panic, many were wondering if such a large deluge can happen again this year. According to the numbers, this is unlikely to repeat, as there weren't heavy rainfalls that raised the water levels at the nation's dams like in 2011. Nevertheless the question that has been often raised is whether or not the country is ready for a big flood again and the if lessons were learnt from last year's failures. The problem that appeared this month though is that the heavy rainfalls that are falling directly over Bangkok are flooding the streets, prompting a deluge of pictures from sois under water on social media. The reason is the city's drainage system is struggling to cope with the downpours.
ASEAN Economic Community: Coming soon-ish
One of the big upcoming projects for Southeast Asia is the common ASEAN Economic Community (AEC). That is supposed to launch in 2015, but concerning Thailand there are some doubts whether or not the country is ready for the regional economic changes as many areas are still in dire need of improvement - education and English proficiency would be two right off the top of my head. It looks like that the other ASEAN countries have similar issues in the run-up to the AEC and thus the economic ministers have agreed to delay the launch from the first day of 2015 to the very last day of the year. However, ASEAN secretary-general Surin Pitsuwan has a rather interesting take on the issue:
"However, there was never an agreed, exact date as to when in 2015 we should all work towards -- should it be 1 January? Mid-year? Or year-end 2015? The AEM (asean economic ministers) agreed on 31 December 2015," he said in the statement.
"Surin: AEC still on track", Bangkok Post, September 12, 2012
Ah yes, so we also learn that the launch date of "2015" was apparently just meant as a general guideline and they expected to set this off somewhere in those 365 days...!
Reading: World Book Capital of a non-bookish country
A recent story in the Bangkok Post revealed this:
About 60% of Thai children never even get to see a book in the first three years of their lives, according to the former president of the Publishers and Booksellers Association of Thailand (PUBAT).
Citing a study conducted in 2008, Rissawol Aramcharoen said the parents of over five million young children never read any stories, or fairy tales, to their children when they are young.
These children had also never been involved in activities that could develop their intelligence, she told told a seminar to mark International Literacy Day on Sunday.
"60% of preschoolers never see a book", Bangkok Post, September 10, 2012
Regular readers of this blog will not be surprised by the numbers, since we have often reported on the dismal state of Thai education (see above) and that also correlates to a much cited study that says Thais on average read seven or eight lines per year - yes, you read that right: not eight to seven pages, let alone books, but lines! However, not much else is known about the source of this study. Regardless, it does not hide the fact that Thais are not very bookish. The reasons for a lack of reading culture are very clear as mentioned over at Bangkok Pundit.
Note: The release of the final report by the Truth for Reconciliation Commission of Thailand (TRCT) into the deaths during the anti-government red shirt protests of 2010 will be addressed in a future column.