Eight years and billions of baht later, world’s largest Parliament opens in Thailand amid controversy   

Riot police gather outside Thailand’s Parliament compound ahead of an anti-government demonstration in Bangkok on February 19, 2021. (Photo by Lillian SUWANRUMPHA / AFP)

Bangkok is now home to the world’s largest parliament complex, after almost eight years and Bt22.9 billion was spent on its construction.

The complex, officially called “Sappaya Sapasathan,” covers a floor area of 424,000 square meters, knocking Romania’s 365,000sqm Palace of the Parliament off the top of the list of the world’s largest legislatures.

However, the Romanian Parliament took even longer to build, with construction starting in 1984 when the East European nation was under Communist rule and ending 13 years later in 1997.

Thailand’s new Parliament complex is also the world’s second-largest administrative building after the Pentagon, headquarters of the US Department of Defence, which has a colossal floor area of 620,000sqm.

Official opening May 1

Sappaya Sapasathan, which means “place of assembly for good deeds,” is scheduled to officially open its doors on May 1, according to the House of Representatives secretary-general Pornpit Petchcharoen. However, parliamentarians have been using the premises for meetings since August 2019 despite ongoing construction work.

This is Thailand’s third parliament complex since the advent of the constitutional monarchy in 1932. The Ananta Samakhom Throne Hall was home to the Kingdom’s first Parliament from 1933 until 1974. Then, lawmakers shifted to Parliament House next to Dusit Zoo. This was used until late 2018.

In July 2008, the Samak Sundaravej-led government began looking for larger premises. Of the three venues proposed, the government opted for a 120-rai plot on the bank of the Chao Phraya River. The chosen venue is in the Kiakkai neighbourhood of Bangkok’s historic Dusit district.

Neighbourhood transformed

Construction kicked off in June 2013, and the once-sleepy neighbourhood transformed into a buzzing community. A new bridge is being constructed nearby, while roads in the vicinity are being expanded. An MRT Purple Line extension serving Parliament is scheduled for completion in 2026, while a river pier is being built out from the complex.

The new Parliament can accommodate over 5,000 people and has parking space for more than 2,000 cars. The complex is almost three quarters the size of Thailand’s main airport, Suvarnabhumi, which covers a whopping 563,000sqm.

The building was initially scheduled for completion in 2015 at a cost of Bt14 billion. However, problems brought delays that mounted to more than five years while the cost ballooned to Bt22.9 billion.

Members of parliament attends the opening of Thailand’s parliament extraordinary session in Bangkok amid ongoing anti-government protests on October 26, 2020. (Photo by Jonathan KLEIN / AFP)

‘Disappointing design’

The complex is based on the winning design of a team led by National Artist Theerapol Niyom. Topped by a golden pagoda, it features the 800-seat Suriyan (Sun) Hall for the House of Representatives, the 300-seat Chantra (Moon) Hall, constructed with wood from 5,018 teak trees to represent the “DNA of Thailand”.

The design has been criticized for evoking religious authority instead of democracy and the will of the people.

“The new Parliament is the most disappointing piece of contemporary Thai architecture,” complained Assoc Prof Chatri Phakitnonthakan, a lecturer at Silpakorn University’s Faculty of Architecture.

The building appears to be more like a sacred temple, which undermines Parliament’s significance as the institution that represents citizens in a democracy, he added.

Golden pagoda

The complex also boasts 110 rooms for committee meetings, six 250-seat meeting rooms, and a 1,500-seat VIP reception hall, as well as the Museum of Democracy showcasing Thailand’s political history.

The central golden pagoda represents Sumeru or Mount Meru, a mythical mountain considered to be the center of the universe in Hindu and Buddhist beliefs.

The pagoda was designed by architects Pinyo Suwankiri and Phao Suwansaksri, both National Artists and experts in Thai heritage.

Below the steeple is the Hall of State Ceremonies reserved for the ceremonial opening of Parliament by HM the King after every general election.

The hall’s interior is decorated with murals painted by artists working under the Department of Fine Arts. The murals depict stories from Thailand’s four regions and also record contemporary events, including the pandemic.

By Thai PBS World’s Political Desk

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