Seven or more Cabinet members to be grilled

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January 22, 2021: The opposition is expected to make a final decision in the next two days on who will be targeted for censure, although time is running out on the bloc’s initial plan to submit a no-confidence motion before the end of the month.

Disagreement over censure targets plagued the opposition’s previous no-confidence campaign, but signs of better cooperation have prevailed currently, thanks partly to the COVID-19 resurgence which would make it look really strange if the Public Health Ministry was not included in the censure motion.

Opposition chief whip Suthin Klangsaeng has suggested the no-confidence attack would focus on preventable economic problems, “illegal” and “inhuman” ways of state treatment of anti-establishment protesters as well as corruption. He insisted that accusations would be backed up by solid evidence.

Up to 13 Pheu Thai MPs, fewer than the last time, would be speaking at the censure, he said, adding that seven or more Cabinet members will be targeted. A final decision should be made at a meeting of opposition parties in the next two days.

January 21, 2021: The Move Forward Party has repeated Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit’s controversial comments regarding the government’s coronavirus vaccine policy during a House of Representatives session today, the first of what promises to be a series of parliamentary debates on how vaccination should be handled.

The transfer of power in the United States was also mentioned as a sideshow, with Move Forward MP Rangsiman Rome saying that while Joe Biden had sworn to protect the Constitution, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha did not do so and that is why Prayut did not have Thai people’s best interests at heart when it comes to COVID-19. Rangsiman did not mention stark differences in numbers of infections and fatalities, however.

Today’s House session allowed MPs to put forward general queries.

Rangsiman demanded that the government publicise all details regarding the pandemic and medication policy. The government side replied that everything had been done transparently including the search for vaccines and their distributors.

January 20, 2021: From last December up until now, the volumes of rumours regarding COVID-19 have increased 10 folds, the government has said.

Some “fake” information is old, like holding breath for 10 seconds can allow you to check for yourself whether you are infected, but some rumours are new and related to the current surge in Thailand. Inter-provincial travel bans, provincial lockdowns here and there and high-profile infections or infections that can spark panic are hit subjects of current rumours.

There are three types of rumour-mongers _ those wanting to create situations that can undermine authorities’ work or seeking to benefit from panic, those who are just having fun in the wrong way, and those who are simply mentally ill.

Social media users are urged to double-check news and see whether reliable media are reporting it and think carefully before sharing the information. Fake news originators are warned that the current technology could easily trace how a rumour came about, and criminal action can be taken if suspects are believed to have malicious intent.

“Between June and November last year, we had to deal with about two or three rumours a month,” said Putchapong Nodthaisong, deputy permanent secretary of the Digital Economy and Society Ministry. “It’s now 10 times that.”

January 19, 2021: Government and opposition politicians attacking each other means little most of the time, but Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul taking a dig at a key opposition figure, Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, is significant when future re-alliance is concerned.

Although he is not an MP, Thanathorn remains influential for the Move Forward Party, instrumental in the opposition camp which, from the very beginning, has been needing Anutin’s Bhumjaithai Party’s U-turn to tip the numeral near-balance in the House of Representatives in its favour.

But Thanathorn has criticised the government’s coronavirus vaccine policy as favouring a certain company in a suspicious way, and that has displeased Anutin greatly. The minister has responded by slamming Thanathorn’s utmost political ideology, using words like “ingratitude toward” a respected institution “credited with laying groundworks for health service in rough territories, encouraging health workers in those areas and giving help and equipment to people not easily accessible through normal government channels”.

Thanathorn, Anutin, said, “seems to know a lot about many things except for one thing which he should know about the most.”

If that does not rule out a switch of political allegiance, little else can.

January 18, 2021: One of the most-watched political figures is Jatuporn Prompan, after he has fallen out with Thaksin Shinawatra, and the activist is walking a tightrope in his recent public comments.

Jatuporn has still criticised the powers-that-be during his regular video blogs, but ones can be forgiven for thinking that he is a bit vague lately and did not sound as belligerent against the state as before.

“Confused” can be added to vague and less belligerent. Take his latest comment for example. He called for “unity” to destroy the “wall of injustice” which he said has prevailed in the economic sphere. Once a no-nonsense critic of political dictatorship, he now said economic dictatorship was equally scary. That he avoided direct attacks on key establishments targeted by current protesters, reportedly backed by Thaksin, was apparent.

“We must build a new hope,” he said. “It’s everyone’s homework to think how this wall of injustice that has become a fortress through economic monopolies can be overcome. If everyone is united, nothing will stand in the way.”

This is the man who in 2010 mentioned “sea of fire” and allegedly supported violence against symbolic structures of wealth during a stormy red-shirt, pro-Thaksin encampment protest in downtown Bangkok, which largely influenced his imprisonment. Three things are certain: His latest comment would not land him in jail, Thaksin would not be pleased by it, and many people must have been confused.

January 17, 2021: Experts monitoring political extremist activism in the United States have been alarmed by a rapidly growing number of social media users switching to platforms with lesser restrictions following online action against “hate speech”.

“Bans” on outgoing President Donald Trump and others over fears their posts could spark violence have been followed by a migration of many who had communicated through Facebook and Twitter to other platforms. Those platforms include Telegram, where white supremacists and extremists had existed, and whose moderators have been seeing a worrying increase in reports on calls to violence, something forbidden in its Terms of Service.

When posts do not call for violence, they express feelings of people “who think they have been wronged” by the political system and by Big Tech. An expert on extremism had been quoted as saying that “the plots of tomorrow are literally being hatched right now”. A similar comment was made by another political expert, who said that even if Trump was to come out and admit today that his election fraud claims were all lies intended to help him hang on to power, that would not stop America from spiralling into deep, dangerous and possibly violent divisions.

Talks have begun on whether it was a really good idea to drive potentially-troublesome social media users from popular platforms, as the measure could “blind” the authorities relying on “indicators” or “fingerprints” left on the likes of Twitter and Facebook.

January 16, 2021: US prosecutors have backed down on initial claims that protesters storming the Capital Hill earlier this month had intended to capture and kill some lawmakers, a move that came amid growing fears that the country is facing the kind of third-world, long-term political divide that would not end on Joe Biden’s inauguration day.

The prosecutors, in making the U-turn, reasoned that there was no strong or direct evidence. However, in a violent political incident in which four protesters died, after which some even became political martyrs, the claims indicating such heinous intent may not be a good idea if “reconciliation” is to be promoted. The protesters’ deaths have been played down by much of the American media but talks about them have been viral among a massive number of Trump’s supporters, both privately and online.

One of the killed protesters is Ashli Babbitt, 35, an Air Force veteran from Southern California. She was fatally shot by a Capitol Police officer as she clambered through a broken window. Her last moment caught on video shows Babbitt, a Trump flag knotted around her neck, being hoisted to the window amid mob shouting. Then a shot rings and she falls back, blood pouring from her mouth. The video has become a rallying cry online.

Meanwhile, tens of thousands of troops have been deployed in the capital for the inauguration next week as Americans look forward to it anxiously, fearful of more pro-Trump “rioting” or violence or “insurrection” as claimed by some.

It will be a few days of consternation, but several US politicians and analysts have said that even if the inauguration would pass peacefully, the divide that followed Trump’s election fraud claims and the Capitol Hill tragedy is becoming deep-rooted and American politics may never be the same.

January 15, 2021: Opinion polls have said it and even the pro-government camp is saying it, but whether or how Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha will address the government’s weakest spots is anybody’s guess.

Partisan social commentator Seri Wongmontha is the latest person to point out that Prayut’s most vulnerable weaknesses are corrupted immigration authorities and the proliferation of illegal gambling houses in Thailand. Both issues have been largely blamed for the resurgence of COVID-19 in the country which is creating a new wave of social and economic hardships.

“Nobody will listen if he says that the problems can’t be solved by even 100 prime ministers,” Seri said. “He must do it, with all the power he has, because success or failure will be his jugular vein, not anything else.”

Seri, a government supporter on various issues, was practically repeating what a few opinion polls have found _ that most Thais believe illegal immigration can’t exist without state officials’ hand in it and neither can illegal casinos, and that these are the two problems which would not go away through political rhetoric.

January 14, 2021: Comparisons have been made between Thaksin Shinawatra and Donald Trump to show that they have a lot of things in common, but there is one stark difference related to the two, on paper at least.

Trump was described by the media in his country and pro-US overseas news outlets as trying to incite a “coup”, whereas Thaksin was portrayed pretty much by the same media as a victim of a coup.

In effect, Trump was a “coup leader” whereas Thaksin was a “democratic leader ousted by a coup.”

The rest, according to Thaksin’s critic Jermsak Pinthong, is strikingly similar.

He said in an online post that Thaksin and Trump were wealthy businessmen who entered politics for curious reasons. Other similarities include: The two instigated political protests that caused great national divides; they have problems with taxation yet have made amazingly similar claims that they paid more taxes than other compatriots; they split the media down the middle; they were accused of interfering with the justice systems and using their influences to favour their own people; they let family members and close relatives meddle with administrative affairs and left nepotistic fingerprints all over the place; they flattered their political bases although democracy required them to treat all sides equally; they manipulated their political cases when things did not go their way politically; they loved to brag, one way or another, about their wealth; they disdained checks and balances; they took political losses too personally; they were accused of being responsible for property damage and loss of lives as a result of their political agendas; they want to remain in spotlights, for better or worse, regardless of their current statuses; and experts have been suspicious about their mental health.

January 13, 2021: The question about the effectiveness of a coronavirus vaccine developed by China’s Sinovac and ordered by Thailand is medical and technical at the moment, but it can turn increasingly political the closer its arrival is.

The question involves many somewhat confusing datas, and a blow has come for the Thai government. A Brazilian research group has said that, on some conditions, the vaccine has worked only about 50 % of the time.

The contentious conditions include the administering of the vaccine to people “with very mild” infections” without clinical assistance. The same researchers had found the vaccine to be 78 % effective otherwise.

Vaccines teach the body’s immune system to fight a virus. It generally takes many days or weeks for the body to create desired immunity after vaccination. This means a person might be infected with the coronavirus before or just after vaccination and still become sick. It seems that the Chinese vaccine has different effects on various types of infections or various stages of symptoms. In mild or severe cases, the vaccine has been said to be quite effective, which is good news. Bad news is it reportedly might have a problem with “very mild” infections.

In addition to Brazil and Thailand, the likes of Indonesia, Singapore and Turkey have ordered the same vaccine, though the orderers are not limiting their choices of purchase.

One thing is certain: All eyes will be on the Chinese vaccine from now on and Thai people will learn a lot about technical and medical aspects of vaccines in the next few days.

January 12, 2021: The government expects the numbers of daily COVID-19 infections will stay above 100 for up to three months but does not totally rule out the possibility of this year’s Songkran going back to what it was famous for.

Last year, water throwing was not allowed, making it the most quiet Songkran in recent memory. Holidays were even postponed although many people did not go to their workplaces due to lockdown measures. This year, according to the Public Health Ministry, the fun-filled activity could return if the scary surge stops in time.

“If the authorities controlling and implementing key measures perform their duties well and the Thai public lend their best cooperation, we hope Thais can enjoy Songkran (in April) once again,” said Deputy Public Health Minister Sathit Pitutecha on Monday. He, however, admitted that the daily infection numbers have remained high and will be above 100 every day for up to three months.

January 11, 2021: Two million doses of COVID-19 vaccines from China are poised for emergency approval and use by Thai authorities and the first jabs could be just a few weeks away, according to the Thai Public Health Ministry.

The first lot of about 200,000 doses is expected to arrive in February. About 800,000 doses should follow the month after. Then in April, one million doses should come in April. This is according to the Centre for COVID-19 Situation Administration.

Despite lesser international fanfare compared with vaccination linked to major western countries, COVID-19 medication from China seems to be making major steps among various countries.

The first lots to arrive in Thailand would be Sinovac vaccines, and they are to be given to health personnel and those living in areas with highest risks first. In the near future, Thailand expects to immunise 30 million people, according to the CCSA.

The Sinovac vaccine’s effectiveness is about 78 %, relatively lower than the 94 % and 95 % of the vaccines being rolled out, albeit rather slowly due to logistic and maintenance obstacles, in the West, the CCSA admitted. However, the agency said the Thai authorities have taken many things into account when vaccination is concerned, such as transportation, side effects and temperature factors.

January 10, 2021: As fresh land woes rattle the Juangroongruangkit family, one government MP, herself embroiled more or less with the same kind of problems, could not hide her delight.

Pareena Kraukpupt’s one-week-old Tiktok post is becoming viral. In it, she danced specifically to celebrate the Forest Department’s action against alleged encroachment of forest reserve land by Somporn Juangroongruangkit, the mother of political star Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit. The news about the department’s official attempt to reclaim a huge plot of land from Somporn came shortly before Pareena’s latest Tiktok stunt but it was overshadowed by the COVID-19 surge and New Year moods.

It was the latest major setback for Thanathorn, whose political selling point is his perceived efforts to create social “equality”. In a matter of weeks, his younger brother has been accused of attempting a bribe, he himself has been frowned upon over why a yacht that he co-owns was registered in an overseas tax haven, and now his mother has been officially alleged to do what many well-connected, wealthy people do _ grabbing prohibited forest land or plots earmarked for the poor.

Pareena has had troubles with prohibited land herself, but has been insistent about alleged offences of the Juangroongruangkit family. In an online post the other day, she seemed not satisfied with Ratchaburi provincial authorities, who she said sought to reclaim a lot less land than what Somporn has dubiously acquired.

Pareena is easily the most controversial female MP on the government side and has been consistently in the news, in public spats or engaged in potential lawsuits. She always defended her Tiktok dances, insisting that no law prevents politicians from doing so.

January 9, 2021: Every year, the government’s Children’s Day mottos emphasised the same things _ hard work, good discipline and unity. “Loyalty” has shown up once in a while, but the word will almost certainly become controversial this time around.

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha put “loyalty” in this year’s slogan and he backed it up in an interview, saying that the hallmarks of Thai children must include love and support for key national institutions. That his message came hot on the heels of an anti-establishment rebellion led by the country’s youngsters will not be overlooked.

A loose translation of Prayut’s Children’s Day slogan has it that Thailand’s “new-age children” will “join forces and hearts” to build the nation, with “moral conscience and loyalty.”

January 8, 2021: It may be a coincidence that America’s most divisive politics in recent memory is materialising at a time when the country is topping all the unenviable COVID-19 charts, and that an angry and violent mob attacked the US Capitol on the day the United States registered more daily virus deaths than ever before, nearly 3,900.

Observers say the Coronavirus seems to thrive on political problems obstructing extreme health measures and preventing constructive cooperation. Whether that is true or not when America is concerned, media comments have been made on how many fatalities could have been “preventable” had there been better coordination among the authorities, acceptance of tough policies and less confusion among the public as to what is good and what is bad.

In America, even mask wearing was turned into a major political issue. December by far was that country’s deadliest month yet. It was in the middle of an explosion of America’s political divide _ just after a cutthroat election race and before the still-uncertain inauguration of Joe Biden.

January 7, 2021: “Donald Trump is looking increasingly like some Roman emperors on their last days.” “Pro-Trump rioters are teaching Thailand’s three-finger mob how to do it.” These are among social media comments mocking the United States for its current situation, which officially draws global concern but privately makes many frown or even chuckle.

A CNN statement is not actually a joke, but it’s a polite version of what is being said largely on the social media around the globe. The “already-dubious model of democracy” status is “harder to defend now”, after pro-Trump rioting rocked the US Congress, commented the US-based news network.

A photoshopped picture on Twitter depicts Trump wrestled to the ground by police. One angry American called the protesters “terrorists”, which reminds Thais how anti-government demonstrators are often dubbed.

“Save America. Bring Trump back” one Twitter user said, possibly sarcastically.

Chaos seems to have ended or abated. But a woman has died in the infamous Capitol breach, along with three others, making it a real tragedy. World leaders have condemned an “attack on democracy”, details of which are still emerging, and even some Republicans are backing calls for immediate removal of Trump from office.

January 6, 2021: Senatorial election results in Georgia will not only affect Joe Biden significantly, but they will also embolden the already fearsome motives of Donald Trump who is digging in at the White House with claims his “landslide” victory has been stolen.

“If you lose, you lose,” Trump talked about himself while rallying Georgian voters two days ago. A fair loss would be acceptable, but the manner in which the presidential election was “stolen” from him was not, he said.

Whatever that means, the president-elect will not want to lose Georgia in the senatorial run-offs. The best-case situation is a Democrat win that will smoothen the new government’s key appointments and passages of major legislations. Anything shorter than that, it can be a big nightmare.

Potential problems regarding Cabinet appointments and government-supported bills will look minor if the Republicans win in Georgia and Trump uses that to back his election fraud claims. And with Trump, you’ll never know.

The votes are being counted as of now (Noon, Wednesday, Bangkok time), and it’s a nail-biter.

January 5, 2021: The Alibaba founder has disappeared surreptitiously from public life for at least two months now, in the mid of his serious conflicts with the Chinese authorities, and had better resurface before speculation in both the mainstream and social media grows wilder.

America’s CNN and England’s The Telegraph are among the well-known media that are discussing the “disappearing act”, and Twitter speculation is mounting, too.

One of the world’s best-known, new-age entrepreneurs hasn’t made a public appearance since late October, just before the Chinese authorities blocked an attempt to list an Alibaba financial affiliate, Ant Group, on a stock market. Controversies have centred around Alibaba’s alleged “monopolistic” behaviour and China’s alleged attempt to shrink his empire, created through a business philosophy that some may consider to be too “open” and capitalistic.

January 4, 2021: Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha has delivered some light-at-the-end-of-the-tunnel news, saying the first lot of COVID-19 vaccines could arrive in the country in a matter of weeks, but it would be a very limited number of doses to be used primarily for health personnel.

Vaccine arrivals can trigger vociferous tussles. Politics will almost certainly get in the way as well, as “new highs” in Thailand are causing widespread fears and panic, and the numbers of people and business groups needing vaccines will soon be enormous.

Prayut said Thailand had booked several million doses but has demand an urgent arrival of the first lot due to growing concerns for the human resources in the healthcare sector. The first lot will be around  2 million doses. Judging from Prayut’s words, most of them will be given to health personnel. While politics cannot challenge the policy to strengthen the healthcare sector, the government will likely get glimpses of what to come when more doses arrive.

Facing reporters today, Prayut looked and sounded characteristically testy. He said the government did not want to ban people from travelling across provinces, but admitted that without a clear-cut order, it was difficult to have effective self-isolation.

January 3, 2021: The election victory in Chiang Mai late last month is a cause for Pheu Thai celebration, but its prelude can have a long-lasting, nasty and potentially-explosive consequence for the biggest opposition party.

Everyone knows who is the de facto leader of the Pheu Thai Party, as party members always used Thaksin Shinawatra’s stands to judge or predict how party conflicts would end and what directions the party would take on key issues. That used to go on undisturbed until constitutional rules have been made clear-cut on political parties being prohibited from being influenced by “outsiders”. The extreme penalty if found guilty is party dissolution.

Which is why Thaksin’s successful plea for Chiang Mai to vote for the party’s candidate in last month’s Provincial Administrative Organisation election did not please every party member. Some Pheu Thai leaders have been seeking resignation from executive posts, apparently out of fear a dissolution would spell an end to their parliamentary status, especially in light of official complaints being lodged with election authorities.

Legal and constitutional debate goes like this: Thaksin “interfered” in Chiang Mai election with Facebook posts, cementing Pheu Thai’s need for his presence and influences especially when the going gets tough, critics say. No, the other side argues, Thaksin was not influencing the party. As far as Chiang Mai is concerned, he was just “supporting” a party he thought was good.

Even the term “support” will be controversial, given what political “convicts” can and cannot do. If Thaksin’s Facebook activities were deemed a “campaign” on behalf of the Chiang Mai candidate, the party can be in big, constitutional trouble. The next few days will be intense, regarding the Chiang Mai result and what happens next.

January 2, 2021: Super Poll usually divides political opinions, and it has done so again at the very beginning of the new year. However, it has apparently struck the right chord with the latest finding that most Thais wanted Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha to spare nobody as Thailand struggles with an alarming COVID-19 surge.

Another finding is bound to be controversial, showing a big majority of Thais sees him as the leader most fitted for the current crisis. It is this very same majority, though, that warned Prayut he must not carry only a flag, but also a big stick.

“Thais in unison want a leader who does not just wield power, but also really use it,” said Super Poll director Noppadon Kannika. “The prime minister must carry a flag on one hand and a whip on the other.”

That majority was 84.4 % of more than 1,100 people survey between December 29 and January 1.

Other vast majorities want the permanent secretary for interior, the permanent secretary for commerce, the permanent secretary for labour and the national police chief to shape up and be counted. More than 82 % of those surveyed identified the top officials as crucial in creating an atmosphere where important agencies work hard from top to bottom to fight the coronavirus.

January 1, 2021: The coronavirus has immediately picked up where it left off, as humans begin their New Year with new highs, in infection cases, fatalities and hospitalisations all over the world, along with subdued countdowns everywhere. It will be quite a showdown between man-made technology and COVID-19 over the next 12 months.

Overcoming the disease will be human beings’ highest priority in 2021 by a country mile. The trick is that priority must not be blurred by diplomatic or political sideshows that could deceive the world into thinking that they are the genuine priorities. The virus has proved time and again its ability to take advantage of that.

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