CNA

New Progressive Platform Promises New Alternative in Polarized Thai Politics

Originally aired on Channel NewsAsia on March 15, 2018

The 38-year billionaire Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit is entering politics with his new political party "Future Forward" (or "New Future" in Thai), offering a "new progressive alternative" amidst the ongoing political polarization of the past decade.

TRANSCRIPT

Even before its existence, there was some considerate buzz and hype about the new political platform of 38-year old billionaire Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit.

This platform has been revealed as the “New Future” Party, or “Future Forward” to use its English name. 

The party presents itself as a new, alternative and progressive political platform with a lot of new young blood. 

The 27 founding members are - for Thai standards - a diverse group of young entrepreneurs, social activists and progressive thinkers. 

Thanathorn himself, whose family runs a successful car parts business, was a social activist in his earlier life and his uncle Suriya was a cabinet member under prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

But he insists that his new political platform will be above the politics polarization that has plagued Thai politics the past decade. 

THANATHORN JUANROONGRUANGKIT; Co-Founder Forward Future Party:
"The Forward Future Party will not be an alternative, but a mainstream party. We will be the main voice that paves the way to fixing democracy in order move society forward. We will not be an alternative, but the main party to fix democracy. Every political party will be a competitor to us. We will fight against in every race, every district - for every vote from every sector of society."

The big question going forward for the “Future Forward” Party is how they will reach out and win over as many people as they can in as many places as they can, especially in those places the established parties have a strong foothold.

Because its one thing to gain a following online, it’s a whole another thing to translate that into votes.

Another hurdle that this and other political parties new and old are facing are the current restrictions by the military government that outlaws any form of campaigning so far - that’s also the reason why they can’t announce any policies at this moment. 

However it is very clear that the “New Future” sets itself up as a democratic party and will oppose any non-democratic interference, given the possibility of a prolonged military influence in some shape or form. 

However, we’re some time away from a democratic election which have been repeatedly delayed and are now slated for February 2019 - but that’s still not a certainty.

Saksith Saiyasombut, Channel NewsAsia, Bangkok

Preah Vihear: Cambodia and Thailand maintain peace to boost restoration efforts

Originally aired on Channel NewsAsia on March 12, 2018

The Preah Vihear Temple on the Thai-Cambodian border has been the subject of a long territorial dispute between the two countries, at times escalating into a short armed conflict. Then, five years ago, the International Courts of Justice has awarded the territorial sovereignty in and around the temple to Cambodia, ending an almost 50-year old dispute. We made the trek to the ancient temple to see how the situation today.

TRANSCRIPT

I'm standing on a cliff - more than 500 metres above sea level - looking down on the plains of Cambodia. The view is majestic.

Above me, at the cliff's highest point, sits the Prasat Preah Vihear. Ownership of this 11th century Hindu temple was for decades disputed by Thailand and Cambodia. In 2011, it led to deadly clashes at the border between both countries.

Civilians like Chan Chon were shocked at the unprecedented escalation.

CHAN CHON, Resident:
"I was very scared like every one else around here. They used all kinds of weaponry that we have never seen before - and we were never as scared as this before."

SAKSITH SAIYASOMBUT; Preah Vihear, Cambodia:
"41 people have lost their lives - both soldiers and civilians alike. In 2013, the International Courts of Justice in The Hague has confirmed an earlier verdict that not only the temple itself, but also the area surrounding it is indeed Cambodian. Ever since then, both Cambodia and Thailand are not only interested to maintain peace in the border region here but also to cooperate in the conservation efforts of this ancient Hindu temple here."

The damage from the violence can still be seen in a few places, but today the area is seeing more tourists than soldiers, about 130,000 visitors per year come here.

As a UNESCO World Heritage site, it is also part of a restoration program. Neighboring Thailand, once an adversary, is a vital partner here.

KIM SEDARA; President, National Authority for Preah Vihear:
"The role of Thailand is very important, actually, we are good neighbors right now. Thailand is one of the member states of the ICC Preah Vihear, as well, among the 9 countries, as a member. And Thailand helped in capacity building, in research and planning the conservation of a temple in Kok Ket, another site, in the future. This is the showing of a very positive and good showing of in terms of collaboration and helping each other."

The dispute over Preah Vihear was not the first in Southest Asia, and it's not the last.

Based on its principle of non-interference, ASEAN does not directly intervene in such conflicts but analysts say its existence provides the framework to help its member states find common ground.

THITINAN PONGSUDHIRAK, Director Institute of Security and International Studies, Chulalongkorn University:
"When these bilateral conflicts are mitigated and resolved, it’s more because of the countries in conflict than because of ASEAN. But without ASEAN, they would not have the context and framework to promote a bilateral solution. The resolution is bilateral, but ASEAN provides a regional landscape or environment, but not a direct mechanism of resolution."

Cambodian officials are promoting Preah Vihear as a tourist attraction;

Tucked away in one of the most remote places in the country, it stands as symbol of what peace and cooperation among ASEAN neighbours can achieve.

Saksith Saiyasombut, Channel NewsAsia, Preah Vihear Temple, Cambodia

Angkor Wat: Between Mass Tourism and Heritage Conservation

Originally aired on Channel NewsAsia on March 5, 2018

Angkor Wat is considered as one of the greatest cultural heritage sites in Southeast Asia, with millions of tourists visiting the ancient temple ruins each year. But how do officials balance mass tourism with conservation? And could this serve as a role model for other heritage sites in the region? We went there to find the answer.

TRANSCRIPT

A new day over Angkor Wat, one of the largest ancient temples in the world.

Built around 900 years ago, it has seen the rise and fall of the Khmer Empire and now stands as a symbol for modern day Cambodia.

But its popularity as a tourist destination means it's a marvel you won't be able to enjoy in quiet isolation. 

About 5 million people visit Angkor Wat and its surrounding grounds every year, and though it may seem over-crowded, park officials disagree.

They say in this area, measuring some 400 square kilometres, there’s still plenty of space to move around.

SOK SANGVAR; Deputy Director General, Authority for the Protection of the Site and Management of the Region of Angkor (APSARA):
"I think we’re very far from the ceiling, from the maximum. I think, once again, it’s really about how you move people around. We’re only 5 million [visitors] and so many space actually in [around] here, so many things you can visit. So we are still full of potential, still! Either you can spend time in the temples, or you can spend time with the villagers in the park."

Tourism plays a key role in Cambodia’s economy. It contributes 12 per cent to the country’s GDP,
and revenue from it amounts to some 4 billion US dollars. Angkor Wat alone pulled in more than a hundred-million in tourist dollars last year.

SAKSITH SAIYASOMBUT; ANGKOR WAT, CAMBODIA:
"It’s been 25 years since and its surrounding areas have been designated as an UNESCO World Heritage site. Now, managing the millions of tourists that are coming here is just one part of the job. The other are the conservation efforts, that is not only much sought after here in Cambodia but also beyond its borders in ASEAN."

LONG KOSAL; Spokesman, Authority for the Protection of the Site and Management of the Region of Angkor (APSARA):
"In ASEAN, we can say proudly that we are leading in stone conservation, as well as brick conservation - because why? Because our temples are made of stone and brick. And we have a lot of Asian friends coming over to request us to share our experience."

Fellow ASEAN members such as Indonesia and Thailand have worked together with Angkor Park officials to restore and maintain the ancient religious sites in their own countries. 

One such project is along the Thai-Cambodian border: After their dispute over territory was resolved in 2013, both countries are cooperating on the conservation of temples - such as Preah Vihear - on both sides of the border.

Requests for restoration help have also come from further afield - for example, Syria whose many historic sites have been damaged in the civil war.

As the sun sets another day over Angkor Wat, there’s no let-up in its popularity and importance to Cambodia.

Its people are working hard to ensure that its heritage will remain for future generations to admire - even if you have to share it with others.

Saksith Saiyasombut, Channel NewsAsia, Angkor Wat, Cambodia

Anti-Coal Power Plant Protest Called Off as Govt Scraps Plans

Originally aired on Channel NewsAsia on February 20, 2018

Local environmental activists form the South of Thailand have scored a victory as the Thai Ministry of Energy has signed agreement with them guaranteeing that the plans to build a coal power plant in Krabi have been officially shelved.

TRANSCRIPT

Local environmental activists form the South of Thailand have scored a victory as the Thai government has guaranteed that the plans to build a coal power plant have been officially shelved.

About 100 protesters have camped out in front of Bangkok’s United Nations building, even some of them going on hunger strike until the Thai military government would agree to their demands.

The proposal to build coal powered power plant in the southern provinces of Krabi on the andaman sea, which is a famous tourist spot famed for its beaches and underwater nature. Obviously a coal plant would have not only severely affected the region’s nature, but also the heath of the locals.

The government has previously insisted that additional power plants are necessary to keep up with rising energy demands in the south.

Now, there were plans by to march on government house earlier today but the situation has been ultimately defused as the Ministry of Energy and the protesters have come to an written agreement to ultimately scrap the plans for a coal power plant in the south.

It is a rare display of compromise by the Thai military government, which has outlawed public assemblies and protests ever since they took over powers in a coup. This protest coincides with other small but vocal protests against what could be yet another delay of democratic elections.

Among the protesters here, the mood is evidently jubilant and they are planning disperse and return to their homes in the south of Thailand knowing that the air and nature will be clean and free of a coal plant for the foreseeable future.

Saksith Saiyasombut, Channel NewsAsia, Bangkok