Friday, January 23, 2009

Gerrymandering the districts of Bangkok

I was just checking the news feed of Tour Bangkok Legacies where it announced photos of Wat Mahabut in Suan Luang district of Bangkok. The temple is famous due to the Mae Nak shrine, based on a popular ghost legend often featured in movies.

So far nothing unusual for a website on touristic places. But then surprisingly it has a piece which fits into this blog as well - according to the article the temple became part of Suan Luang district in 1997 due to a boundary adjustment, even though its historical ties are with neighboring Phra Khanong. It then reads
There's been a twist to this proposal to revert Wat Mahabut to the Phra Khanong district. This matter was discussed in a city council committee meeting on 4 July 2007 during which some members disagreed with the proposal to revert to the original boundaries.

They argued that the Mae Nak legend was mere folklore and had nothing to do with the district's history. Furthermore they suspect that the move had more to do with a hidden political agenda, a ploy in gerrymandering, rather than a genuine attempt to restore a cultural legacy to Phra Khanong.

The proposal to revert to the pre-1997 district boundaries would transfer about 20,000 people back to Phra Khanong district, a former TRT (Thai Rak Thai Party, the former ruling party) stronghold.

The change might tip the balance in favor of the Democrat Party in the next General Elections, as it was a Democrat councilor who proposed this change.

Well, I tried to find the announcement in the Royal Gazette on the change in 1997. While there was a boundary adjustment of Bang Chak subdistrict, the only subdistrict of Phra Khanong (Gazette), in real this did not change the boundary in the relevant part. The attached map from the announcement of the creation of Suan Luang district in 1993 (Gazette) already shows it belonging to Suan Luang subdistrict; and unless there was a boundary correction before then it was the creation of the district Prawet in 1988 (Gazette) which took that area from Phra Khanong district, as 1988-1993 Suan Luang was part of Prawet district.

But the apparently wrong year is not my point, the interesting part is the politics behind the proposal to change the district boundaries. The accusation of gerrymandering to secure Phra Khanong to the Democratic Party, hidden behind historical and cultural arguments. I don't know which part of Suan Luang was suggested to be transferred, but it remains interesting to see whether the fact it now has a national government led by the Democrats will resurrect this proposal.

No comments: