Party's over as austerity plan takes shine off Bangkok

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 05 November, 1997, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 05 November, 1997, 12:00am

One night in Bangkok could become more subdued than the song suggests if politicians get their way.

As recession bites, the Cabinet has suggested a string of public austerity measures to cut down on common excesses in Thailand and especially Bangkok, one of the region's most freewheeling capitals.

Department stores have been told to shut at 9 pm while television broadcasters and petrol stations have a midnight to 5 am curfew, all in an apparent bid to keep people at home and money in Thailand's troubled banks.

Even the city's vast neon billboard signs have been ordered to switch off the lights at midnight.

While enforcement measures and penalties remain vague, arguments are already developing among those involved, suggesting that full compliance be some way off yet.

Economists fear the measures could do more harm than good.

The popular chain of Robinson's department stores are already shutting their doors earlier in direct response to falling consumer demand - one of the first indicators of a full-blown recession.

Other businesses, however, are stalling, claiming that roads are still busy late at night in key areas such as Silom Road and Sukhumvit Road well past the proposed curfew.

The businesses claim valuable custom could be lost.

But late-night television stations said both advertisers and viewers were fading in the early hours so the austerity measures would make economic sense for them too.

Signs of recession in Thailand are creeping beyond the stockbroker belt to the ordinary Bangkok citizen as large employers plan lay-offs.

More than 700 Thai nightclubs - including several all-night venues - have recently closed their doors.

Unemployment is also expected to rise 500,000 to three million by mid-next year.