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Phuket Governor Wichai Praisa-nob mingles with supporters

Phuket's Roads Conflict Heads to PM, Cabinet

Monday, August 10, 2009
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THAILAND'S Cabinet is likely to discuss the very important issue of Phuket roads when it meets on Tuesday, with more than 200 people turning out today to demonstrate their support for the island's ''Road Warrior,'' Governor Wichai Praisa-nob.

Work is now due to start on Wednesday on the short but contentious new 600-metre link between Saphan Hin public park and Sakdidet Road.

Starting on August 12 would make the 23 million baht roadway, which will take six months to complete, a Queen's Birthday project.

Talk has it that as the bulldozers move in, an order will go out for Governor Wichai's arrest.

But he plans on being in Bangkok on Wednesday and Thursday, for more talks with Prime Minister Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva and Deputy PM Suthep Tueksuban. He was in the capital last Thursday for similar talks.

The governor may be nearing the mandatory retirement age of 60, but he is swift on his feet.

Today he met and mingled with the crowd of more that 200 who turned out at the Sala Prachakorn community meeting area near Provincial Hall in Phuket City to offer their support.

''Will you bring me some rice when I am behind bars?'' he joked with one woman holding a supportive banner.

At Khun Wichai's shoulder was the island's Chief of Police, Major General Pekad Tantipong . . . not to arrest the governor, but because the demonstration in support of the road happened to coincide fortuitously with a regular meeting of the island's village chiefs.

The Saphan Hin-Sakdidet Road link and the longer, more significant proposed road between Patong and Chalong have not been given the blessing of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment and the Royal Thai Forest Department, protectors of Phuket's natural environment.

The Saphan Hin-Sakdidet Road link appears to penetrate a mangrove forest while the Patong-Chalong road clearly rises above the 80-metre limit that has so far ensured Phuket retains a glorious backdrop of green hills.

While the governor is on record as saying he thinks there's more than enough development in terms of resorts and housing estates on Phuket, he has also quickly achieved a reputation as a man who likes good infrastructure, especially roads.

And so, it appears, does the crowd who turned out today. Some of them had accompanied village chiefs, for the sake of convenience, from as far away as Mai Khao in the island's north, a long way from either of the proposed new routes.

One of the banners said ''Mr Environment Minister, you don't have problems with Phuket's traffic because you live in Bangkok, not Phuket.''

Another, directed at local officials, said ''Why don't you catch people who steal public land, build above 80 metres and block off out beaches? We need this road.''

A third sign said: ''If the governor goes to jail, we will all go to jail with him.''

However, as most people know, Phuket Provincial Prison is bursting at the seams, with 1200 inmates crowded into a facility built to hold 800.

If this week does not go perfectly, perhaps the governor would be wise to add a more comfortable new jail to his list of essential projects.

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