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September 20, 2017

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Thai bureaucrats get order to exercise

BANGKOK -- We have seen it time and time again — powerful political or business figures in tracksuits, leading workout campaigns, be it jogging or aerobics, only for the activities to end up as an exercise in futility. Now, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha is embarking on a similar path and critics are, understandably, cynical. His "order" that Thai bureaucrats must exercise every Wednesday afternoon may be implemented, but will it really yield fruit?

Exercise requires determination and consistency or it will never work. Prayut's order will face obstacles — from bosses who are afraid that official work may not get done, junior bureaucrats who are convinced the campaign is just another showpiece that would make them work extra time, and whoever is responsible for supplying or taking care of equipment and venues who doubt the seriousness of those involved.

Prayut's initiative followed a disheartening global health report about Thai kids. Of the 38 countries assessed in a newly launched "Active Healthy Kids Report Card" Thai children got a D minus score while those in Zimbabwe scored a C+. Unhealthy activities like spending too much time with smartphones, computer tablets or TV was identified as the main cause of the poor score of the Thai youngsters, who were asked to go out and play "real" sports, not video games.

Reports coming out of Government House about its new resolve are not too encouraging. Prayut was quoted as saying that he would join the Wednesday exercise whenever he could find free time. "I'm not free" is the most formidable enemy of those who aim to exercise. While the prime minister should be lauded for taking up and acting on a very important issue, he has failed to send a strong message to the public.

In a political landscape marked by a great divide and lingering threats of potentially troublesome protests, the importance of exercise can get dwarfed by constitutional conflicts and worries about how a proclaimed "reform" can work. Yet there is no need to say what's more "real" — the notion that people will have "better" lives if senators come from direct appointment or election, or the assertion that people will have "better" lives if they stretch regularly.

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