Tuesday, November 28, 2017

License plate graphic for Yala province

Yesterday, the background graphic for the license plates in Yala have been announced in the Royal Gazette. This is apparently the first-ever such graphic for Yala since the first such graphics were announced in 2004, at least I never saw any announcement for this province so far. The only other province which has never been assigned such a colorful background is Mae Hong Son, I can only guess that in these two provinces there was not much interest in the bidding for special license codes, as these colorful backgrounds are only available for these special codes as an additional status symbol.

The graphic shows both the hills at the border to Malaysia and the coastal landscape at the Gulf of Thailand. The two bird-cages to the left refer to the local tradition of songbird contests, the man with a blowpipe to the Negrito tribes who were originally living in the borderland to Malaysia. To the right is a postal box from the southernmost town Betong (เบตง). As it has this reference to Betong, I suspect that the graphical license plate is also used for Betong - the only district in Thailand which has its separate license plate and does not use the provincial license plate.

Though still incomplete, a lot of the graphics of the other provinces can be found in my album of the license plate backgrounds, and I also have compiled a spreadsheet showing which provinces have received a license plate in which year - as I guess most reader won't be able to read the full XML data for these announcements.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Tambon Councils

One administrative unit I very much neglected so far are the Tambon Councils (สภาตำบล), both because they were just a council consisting only of ex-officio or appointed members with a very limited power, but also because the only Royal Gazette announcements I found on them so far were the conversions into the subdistrict administrative organizations in the 1990s - the last Tambon Council ceased to exist in 2004.

Just recently a newly created page on a municipality in the Thai Wikipedia also included a reference to the initial creation of the local government unit as a Tambon Council, and by that I could now finally add the Royal Gazette announcements establishing these units.
  • Revolutionary Act 326 issued December 13 1973 gave the legal definition of the Tambon Councils, and if I understand the text right also abolished all the previously existing subdistrict administrative organizations. Not sure yet whether these were also directly converted into Tambon Councils then.
  • Creation of Tambon Councils 1973 [Gazette], containing a list of about 2000 councils created
  • Creation of Tambon Councils 1974 [Gazette], containing a list of 931 councils created
  • Creation of Tambon Councils 1975 [Gazette], creating the councils for all remaining subdistricts which are not completely within other local government units. Apparently all the subdistricts created after 1975 then got their council together automatically when they were set up.
I started to work through those two announcements with lists, and only did the province Surat Thani so far, but already there were two strange things showing up. The Tambon Council for Thung subdistrict in Chaiya was listed in both the 1973 and 1974 announcement, and I haven't seen any correction announcement to either of the two. The history page at the website of the TAO Thung, though very long, doesn't mention the administrative history, so it offers no help on which date is the correct one. The second one is a strange case which I already stumbled upon when working through the list of Tambon Council upgrades to subdistrict administrative organizations. In 1995 the Tambon Council for Bang Kung was upgraded to a TAO, and now I also found that this council was created in 1974. The strange thing - the whole area of Bang Kung belongs to Surat Thani municipality, and already did in 1974, so there shouldn't be any second local government there. Also, the TAO is never mentioned anymore, neither listed in any of the current lists, nor was it ever officially abolished. Also Google searches for สภาตำบลบางกุ้ง or องค์การบริหารส่วนตำบลบางกุ้ง only give results for the same-named units in Trang and Suphanburi province, thus no indication what happened in Surat Thani- it looks like a mistake which was not noticed for many years then quietly deleted from any lists. The oldest list I found is from 2007 - mirrored by the Wayback Machine from the old DOPA website - already omits it.

Monday, November 13, 2017

WikidataCon - my résumé

The first WikidataCon was a very impressive conference which gave me quite a lot of new ideas on my small niche of topic in that vast database, but also on all the huge other possibilities and applications already done by other users in other fields. It was my first-ever Wikipedia-related conference, not counting the local meetups, so not just the topics presented impressed me, but also the spirit, the professional organization and the number of people devoted to this site.

My own small contribution was a 10 minute lightning talk on how I slowly fill the Thai administrative units into this database, which was recorded and thus anyone who wasn't at the conference can still watch it - my part starts at the 10 minute mark of the Lightning Talks 3. It was incredible how short 10 minute can be, sadly I ran into the time left for questions so couldn't get any feedback then - or was saved the humiliation of nobody asking anything :-)

There were two other talks on very similar topics - a French user who works on keeping the communal groups in France up-to-date in Wikidata and Wikipedia,  and one by a representative of the Indian company Mapbox on translating the subdivision names for multilingual maps. I couldn't attend the talks of the politics group as it overlapped with other talks, and still have to watch the recording of that, but those few things I saw already were also impressive, especially what can be done with a good visualization to make the dry data look sexy.

By coincidence, I just read one chapter in the book "The politics of (no) election in Thailand" in which the author presented an analysis of how many member of the Thai parliament have family relations with other current or former MPs. It must have been a very tedious work to compile the data for that paper, but if all the Thai MPs would be in Wikidata with their parliament terms and family relations set, all which would then be left to do is to write a relatively easy SPARQL call. I randomly added such data to Thai politicians before, but doing it systematically is beyond what I could do with my time and access to sources.

Another topic which I had worked on a bit, and even posted in this blog occasionally, are the officially registered monuments. By this conference I learned that the Thai monument list is about to be added into Wikidata, so to make it possible to get it there smoothly I have to add the remaining Tambon to Wikidata. Currently I am working through the already existing articles in the Thai Wikipedia, to make sure that there won't be any mix-up of e.g. same-named temples in totally different parts of the country. The great visualization by Monumental then makes it easy to e.g. see all the monuments around Surat Thani, especially showing how many still need a photographer to visit them.

Speaking of photographs - seeing all the visualizations using photos to illustrate the database items reminded me that I have to take the time to work through my big pile of unprocessed photos to upload and link them to the administrative units - have lots of district offices and local government offices in my collection - or monuments - when staying in Bangkok Noi area I walked around often and nearly covered all the monuments of that district.

The other big thing needed to get great visualizations for my data would require more mapping - if there were more boundary shapesets for the subdivisions, filling them with data would be relatively easy. But as far as I know on OpenStreetMap only the provinces have their (rough) boundaries included, and only very few smaller units in Bangkok and vicinity. The problem is of course getting both free and authoritative boundaries, only thing I know yet are the few Royal Gazette announcements which include maps, and those with the purely textual boundary definition.

And in short the tldr; summary: Where to register to attend the next WikidataCon in 2019? And: so many ideas, so few time.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Next local election before general election?

Election poster from the 2008
Surat Thani PAO election
The local election became officially suspended after the coup by the 85th and 86th NCPO announcement in July 2014, though actually the few elections scheduled for the days after the coup were also first postponed. This month the last big number of local governments have the terms of mayors and councillors end, there were only few elections after October 2013, so by now almost all local governments either have the election positions vacant or the terms of the previously elected office holders were extended indefinitely.

Already in summer this year, and now again, the government hinted that they consider to use the local elections as a precursor to the general elections, now after many delays tentatively scheduled for November 2018. Given that there's still long time till that election date, this will probably mean that all local governments would have to held their elections at the same time. In past, there were two years which had many elections - because most of the TAO were created in 1996 (2143 units) and 1997 (3637 units), and the other two years have much less. It's of course also possible that the government will start with a local election in Bangkok as the most notable local government and do the rural units in a second step - because the not-yet-filled Election Commission still has to prepare the constituencies for all of the municipalities which had any changes in the last 4 years, not counting those where an adjustment of the existing constituencies is necessary due to population changes.

As I try to fill all the mayors into my XML files, doing so for all of the 7853 local governments at once will be a big effort, doing the 2000-3000 units in the big election years already kept me busy some weeks.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Wang Nuea merge officially announced

The merger of Wang Nuea TAO with Wang Nuea municipality I mentioned three weeks ago was officially announced in the Royal Gazette last Friday. The order was signed on October 6, one month after it was discussed in the board to consider draft laws, and will become effective December 1st. Sadly, unlike other announcements on municipal area changes this time no map was included, as the new municipality still doesn't cover the whole subdistrict Wang Nuea.

A second announcement was also published last Friday, which was also in the same board meeting - the rename of the TAO Thung Fon (องค์การบริหารส่วนตำบลทุ่งฝน) , Udon Thani province, to Kut Kha (องค์การบริหารส่วนตำบลกุดค้า) [Gazette]. Though there seem to be no upgrade of the TAO to a municipality pending, the change was done to disambiguate the TAO from the neighboring Thung Fon subdistrict municipality (เทศบาลตำบลทุ่งฝน). This rename took effect on the day the order was signed by the Minister of Interior, i.e. October 18.