Confusion reigns over Thai junta’s latest booze ban
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Confusion reigns over Thai junta’s latest booze ban

On the face of it, the Thai junta’s attempts to limit the sale of alcohol around schools and universities is laudable. The reality, however, could see hundreds of bars and restaurants being put out of business in the coming weeks if authorities refuse to backtrack on new laws introduced last week.

Under the new, vaguely worded rules, no alcohol can be sold within 300 meters of “educational establishments”, an all-encompassing term that includes schools, vocational colleges, and universities. Some reports suggested that the ban area could be as much as 500 meters from schools, while the Phuket Gazette reported at the weekend that the ban will only apply to universities and colleges.

The new law was enacted under the military government’s special powers under Section 44 of the interim charter, which gives the junta near-absolute power.

(READ MORE: Gang wars: Tackling Thailand’s vocational college violence)

Many critics say this is unworkable, and difficult to police. If enforced to the letter of the law, the ban could see the closure of dozens of bars in popular Bangkok tourist spots like Khao San Road and Sukhumvit, not to mention the major red light districts in Bangkok, Pattaya and Phuket.

Exempted from the ban are approved hotels and “entertainment outlets in allocated zones”.

As with many of the junta’s ‘crackdowns’, confusion reigns on just how and where it will be implemented.

Khaosod English reported that two bars in northern Bangkok were shut down at the weekend:

Acting under the new order, police officers raided two bars close to Rangsit University in Pathum Thani province shortly after midnight on 25 July and shut both places down.

“Both bars are situated close to an educational establishment and student dormitories, which is considered an offense under the NCPO’s order about selling alcohol near educational establishments,” said Pol.Lt.Gen. Prawut Thawornsiri, deputy chief of the Thai police, using the formal name of the junta, the National Council for Peace and Order.

For now, bars and even restaurants around Thailand are taking a ‘wait and see’ approach, to see how the strictly the new ban is enforced.

“I used to think that my business is like a cat with nine lives because I’ve endured many struggles, such as the political protests and the severe floods. Maybe this time I have to give up,” one venue owner told the Bangkok Post, which also reported that business owners are already requesting that the junta review the ban.

The new ban adds to existing laws that seek to prevent student access to alcohol. It was already illegal to sell alcohol between 2pm and 5pm before last week’s new booze ban, and many shops in the vicinity of schools did not sell alcoholic beverages. The junta now appears to want to extend this to nightspots, bars and restaurants.

(READ MORE: 8 weeks later: Education reform in Thailand under the junta)