Is increasingly volatile Ukraine “Exhibit A proxy”?

Members of Ukraine’s Territorial Defense Forces, volunteer military units of the Armed Forces, train in a city park in Kyiv, Ukraine, Saturday, Jan. 22, 2022. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)

January 24, 2022: That a Texas-sized country wedged between Russia and Europe is now at the centre of a potential military tug of war between two most powerful global camps is eerily familiar.

World history shows that big, spiralling wars could easily break out because of such a situation, as “interferences”, mostly disguised as a form of “assistance”, were countered by more “interferences” which were disguised in the same manner. Winners branded losers as troublemakers, as if that mattered more than lives lost and cities destroyed.

Truth is the powers-that-be always want to maintain, or re-establish, or assert influences in places that may desire to rule themselves but are vulnerable to interferences. “Rights to self rule” and “pockets of resistance” are words that are heard a lot in the beginning but all of a sudden things can explode into full-scale fight for hegemony.

Ukraine was part of the Soviet Union until 1991. Since the “independence”, Ukraine’s history has primarily involved struggles between pro-Europe and pro-Russia people, with interferences believed to have come from both left and right.

As foreign troops of both global superpower camps circle Ukraine and talks of “aid” or “support” or “sanctions” intensify, the rest of the world can only hold its breath.

January 23, 2022: It cannot be said that the second biggest opposition party’s Bangkok gubernatorial runner is better-known than his key competitors, which is sending two clashing signals.

Either the Move Forward Party is virtually abandoning this race, and officially fielding Viroj Lakkana-adisorn, a party member not much more outstanding than the others under its umbrella, just for the sake of fielding, or it is plotting the most ambitious popularity test of all.

In politics, a party knows it is “very popular” when the names of its election candidates don’t matter as much as its own name in their electoral banners. The saying that popular parties can field “power poles” and still win rings true in many places in Thailand.

In general elections, Bangkok is no exception. But gubernatorial races have proven to be a bit different, with candidates’ personal backgrounds and characters playing a big part in voters’ decisions, like when Bhichit Rattakul and late Samak Sundaravej won. That being said, national politics did influence other results, and this is probably what motivates Move Forward which has been making contentious moves liked by many but also disliked by a lot.

January 22, 2022: Aside from the general election, there is perhaps nothing compared to the Bangkok gubernatorial poll in terms of measuring how politically popular a person or a group is.

Move Forward, the second biggest opposition party which is highly controversial and yet considerably popular, has been frequently testing its own fame in lesser elections but a crucial step will probably come tomorrow (Sunday) when the camp unveils its city governor candidate.

Past tests of popularity that were conducted in local elections nationwide did not yield satisfactory results, but all will be forgotten if Move Forward does well in the Bangkok race.

Standing between Move Forward and the Bangkok success are hot favourite Chadchart Sittipunt and maybe the Pheu Thai Party, which maintains a sizeable fanbase in the capital and whose “frenemy relationship” with its supposed “ally” has never been really tested.

Viroj Lakkana-adisorn, Move Forward’s spokesman and party-list MP, has not denied that he is being the chosen candidate, saying only that “Let everything proceed according to the timeframe.”

January 21, 2022: The sooner top scientists and healthcare experts agree on Omicron, the better.

Is the Prayut government facing a two-pronged attack of political and public health crises? Is COVID-19 a backdrop of Thammant Prompao or is it vice versa? Should Prayut Chan-o-cha now be worried less about the coronavirus and more about the mutiny leader?

Thammanat is certainly gone, but what remains fluid is how MPs of “small parties” in the government bloc will do. Lobbying is said to be in full swing. This is a critical period.

You may say that pride always comes before a fall, but Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha did not look as sombre as he did on Thursday. He even sang along a song that came out of his smartphone. The song was “Don’t give up” by past singer Sunisa Sukbunsang and a clip of his singing was released by the government. The embattled man chaired a meeting on the COVID-19 situation and told reporters “Today’s press release is full of positive news.”

If he was talking about COVID-19, he must be as unsure as anybody else. The whole world is getting very confused right now, riding an emotional roller coaster alternating between greatest apprehension and significant relief. Much has to do with apparently relaxing attitudes of governments whose countries have seen  daily infection numbers jumping by hundreds of thousands each, and the World Health Organisation’s no-nonsense warning that the coronavirus is probably scheming rather than conceding.

The contrast this week is palpable. Just as the United States’ top authority on the coronavirus, Anthony Fauci, has expressed strong hope that the world could be seeing a transition from a pandemic into an endemic, where a disease has a constant presence in a population but does not badly affect an alarmingly large number of people or disrupt society, WHO chief Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus insisted that such complacency is extremely dangerous.

France reported nearly half a million new daily cases on Tuesday. Other European nations are also experiencing record case numbers. As for America, half a million daily cases would be a cause for celebration today.

But Fauci was cautiously optimistic. Asked if Omicron’s rapid spread would help push the pandemic closer to the endemic phase, he said: “I would hope that that’s the case.” He also was obviously thankful that Omicron is not causing severe illnesses, meaning large numbers of Omicron infections are not as scary as Delta infections.

He did caution that newer, more dangerous variants might emerge, but his hope is highlighted by the American media and his concern buried in the same stories. The chill-out attitudes are spreading nearly as fast as Omicron, affecting the global media and general public alike.

That’s exactly a situation that greatly worries the WHO. “The narrative that Omicron is mild is misleading,” its chief said. “Make no mistake, Omicron is causing hospitalisations and deaths, and even the less severe cases are inundating health facilities.”

He warned global leaders that “with the incredible growth of Omicron globally, new variants are likely to emerge, which is why tracking and assessment remain critical”.

He and Fauci were speaking just hours apart. And so were Thai doctors, who have been divided into “Don’t worry” and “Be very afraid” camps.

Prayut surely must be hoping the “Don’t worry” camp is right.

January 20, 2022: Talks about House dissolution, “cobras” and odd man out in deeply divided Thai politics are flooding the country after controversial Thammanat Prompao and his faction have been “kicked out” of the ruling Palang Pracharath Party.

On the one hand, it looked like a disgraceful exit. On the other hand, being dismissed instead of voluntarily resigning helped all faction members keep their MP status. This means the faction’s bargaining power remains pretty much there, especially when future parliamentary voting is concerned.

Going rogue is not as crucial as something else, though. Eventually, Thammanat and his people need a permanent home to live in. Joining Pheu Thai won’t be easy, and it will be even more difficult if he’s eyeing Move Forward. In an ideologically polarised political atmosphere, he’s the odd man out.

As for Prayut, he will have to keep all remaining government MPs strictly in line, or important bills can be shot down, censure victory can no longer be guaranteed and parliamentary quorums will crumble for fun. He will not care what Thammanat will do in the long run, but will have to pay serious attention to what the latter is doing now.

Prayut’s best-case scenario (not necessarily best for Thai political evolution) has Thammanat’s new party show more allegiance to him (the prime minister) than the opposition bloc. His worst-case scenario (certainly bad for Thailand’s political evolution) has not just Thammanat’s faction, but also every single MP in the government, wield increasing bargaining power at every opportunity.

Or the prime minister can choose to dissolve the House. The pressure is likely to grow and soon he could find himself in a damn as you do and damn if you don’t situation. A House dissolution would disrupt the charter amendment push and that could give him back the advantage. Seemingly Prayut doesn’t like the idea, but a lot of other people don’t either.

January 19, 2022: A new political party emerging officially today has professed  itself as “neither left nor right”, but truth is that it is led by political figures frowned upon by one side of the national divide.

Unveiling itself today, the Sarng Anakot Thai Party is founded by Uttama Savanayana and Sontirat Sontijarawong, the two names that used to be closely associated with the Prayut government and are almost certain to be rejected by the opposition camp and its supporters.

This is in spite of the fact that the new party has vowed not to back Prayut Chan-o-cha as the next prime minister.

Thai politics has a funny capability of pushing anyone, any group, any food shop, any artist, any corporate or any big organisation into taking an “ideological” stand. For a political party to claim that it is above the conflicts, even its own members will not believe it.

January 18, 2022: Spain is next in line to ban the world’s tennis Number One who is fast becoming a symbol of defiance against vaccination, at a time when superpower nations are frustrated with campaigns against inoculation whereas there is growing evidence that the coronavirus can penetrate vaccinated populations.

Novak Djokovic has been deported from Australia, but, to add to the world’s confusion, fans without hygiene masks are crowding sports stadiums in rich countries and there are reports everyday that the world may need a new, “super” vaccine because the current ones could become far less effective or even turn useless. Is vaccination a human rights matter, or is it a medical “must”? Should people be forced to receive vaccines even after being infected by the coronavirus before or when there remain substantial doubts about efficacy?

Djokovic traveled to Belgrade from Melbourne via Dubai after his deportation from Australia. He received a warm welcome with crowds chanting his name and waving supportive banners. The Serbian Olympic Committee said it was “very disappointed” over Australia’s “scandalous decision” to bar him from the Australian Open, a stand publicly backed by Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabic.

But sporadic morale-boosting scenes are clashing with what’s happening many places else. France’s vaccine pass law, approved by parliament on Sunday, will require people to have a vaccine certificate to enter public places such as restaurants, cafes, cinemas and sports arenas, among others. In short, all professional athletes coming to France will have to be vaccinated.

The French Open, another Grand Slam, previously allowed for unvaccinated players to compete as they operated in a bubble around the tournament.

Djokovic will also have to comply with Spain’s health rules to compete in the upcoming Madrid Open that kicks off in late April, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said on Monday.

January 17, 2022: Several details may be changing, with players being switched and all, but it will not be different in the national grand scheme of things after southerners went to polls at the weekend and as the setting up of a new political camp edges closer to a grand opening.

Thailand is still badly divided, the by-elections in Songkhla and Chumphon have shown. Results suggested the two southern provinces appeared to have pulled back much of admiration given to the Future Forward (now Move Forward) Party in the previous election in 2019.

Meanwhile, a new political party emerging on the horizon could be led by Uttama Savanayana and Sontirat Sontijarawong, the two names that one half of Thailand is almost certain to reject. The same can’t be said for the other half, however.

Much uncertainty remains regarding the new party, but, ultimately, it’s a product of the political divide and is unlikely to cross the line to the other side.

Things will be messy _ but “as usual” messy, not “jaw-dropping” messy.

January 16, 2022: Be drastic and decisive against vested interests around you regardless of how high their connections go or how close you are to them, and you will be fine.

That’s what the latest Super Poll survey has concluded regarding what needs to be done by Prayut Chan-o-cha. A total of 1,119 Thais all across the country were questioned between January 10-15 by the pollsters.

The main finding is that the majority is still supportive of the prime minister on one big condition, that he must show he is “brave enough” to discard bad influences around him, no matter how big or how close they are to him, in order to create genuinely new politics.

To break down the findings, 85% want him to get rid of vested interests around him, 82% want him to be the flag-bearer in revamping national management which must be far less dependent on bureaucracy, and 73% want him to end the unhealthy tradition of politics being dictated by connections among politicians rather than public interests.

About 70% see him as remaining the most suitable leader. About 84% think coalition parties must think a lot more about public interests and a lot less about personal benefits, show greater responsibility in their work and do away with horse-trading.

January 15, 2022: Ordinary people “play victims” while governments carry out “false flags”, which are most likely a lot more common and shocking than we think.

Russia is probably planning one, according to CNN, citing US “intelligence information”. This kind of allegation can kickstart mudslinging of epic proportions, considering the likelihood that most, if not all, governments have something to hide.

American intelligence, says the American news network, suspects that Moscow has prepositioned a group of operatives who would do something sinister in eastern Ukraine and frame the enemy. This “false flag” operation would help pave the way for a potential military invasion.

The term “false flag” originated hundreds of years ago to describe ships flying wrong flags to hide true intentions or identities. But, today, it has evolved to mean primarily countries organising attacks on themselves and making the attacks appear to be by enemy nations or terrorists, thus justifying harsh moves by the “victims” like military aggression that would not have been acceptable otherwise.

The evolved meaning of “False flag” is associated with human beings’ darkest tendency. And the higher in the human pyramid, the more complicated plans are. Men on the street may steal or kill and frame others. Firemen might set fire to properties so they can be the first responders and play heroes. Politicians may bomb their own homes before an election to get public sympathy. Governments might kill their own citizens in order to justify wars.

January 14, 2022: That the Prayut administration will launch a new phase of its popular “Half-Half” programme is not as politically important as how the millions of users can be turned into a solidified fanbase.

In politics, people embrace policies or projects of those they “hate” all the time. Even the healthcare programmes of Thaksin Shinawatra, introduced when he was prime minister, were welcomed by voters who disdained his other practices. The post-coup administration led by Suchinda Kraprayoon raised compensation money for land reclaimed by the state for expressway construction, benefitting many people who proceeded to rebel against the military  anyway.

“Half-Half” is putting Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha in a strange yet familiar situation. One way to deal with it is to grant automatic extension of rights to old users, who number millions. This way, the old users will have to weigh between voting against him and the possibility that a new government, if it introduces a similar relief programme, may require new registrations across the board.

As of now, words are that old users of “Half-Half” would not have to scramble to re-register when the new phase begins in a few weeks’ time. This does not mean much as a general election is not near. The same can’t be said if election booths are opening nationwide.

January 13, 2022: The hottest political story in England right now has to do with the question whether Prime Minister Boris Johnson was drinking wine at a Downing Street “garden party” back in May 2020, mingling dangerously and unnecessarily with staff, when his government was telling the people to be serious about social distancing and limiting partying.

He has publicly apologised but insisted he wouldn’t resign. He suggested the bottle of wine seen in an explosive photo just published in The Guardian was part of a “work event”. In other words, he thought it was about work, so the wine and cheese and close proximity among those present did not bother him at the time.

Despite the curious apology, he has been under great pressure from political friends and foes alike. Some call him a “liability”. The opposition Labour Party seized on the controversy, calling the gathering further proof that Johnson and his staff did not take the restrictions they had imposed on others seriously.

Damage-control comments are something like this: “Downing Street uses that garden as a place of work,” Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab told Times Radio for an example. “That’s not against the regulations.”

Such remarks have backfired.

“During that period there were funerals of people where very few people could go and mourn those that had tragically died … that’s the contrast. He (Raab) and the prime minister really are laughing at us aren’t they,” said Labour lawmaker and spokesman Bill Esterson.

Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross called on Johnson to go, insisting the prime minister had to set an example.

“He is the prime minister, it is his government that put these rules in place, and he has to be held to account for his actions,” he said.

January 12, 2022: Truth, possibly the rarest thing in politics, will supposedly be abundant when Donald Trump’s specially-designed social media app becomes fully operational.

It remains to be seen exactly when “Truth Social” will come out with all guns blazing. Some say February, but other believe it could still be months.

The app, alternative to Twitter judging from leaked information and what is seen in Apple’s App Store, purports to combat censorship and the “self-righteous scolds and self-appointed arbiters” following a virtual blackout of his no-holds-barred social media activities. On the one hand, the mainstream social media platform owners appear “independent” enough to stand up against a man of his stature. On the other hand, has his “freedom of expression” been trampled on in the land of the free?

Two things are certain: First, Truth Social will try to address that question. But, second, at least half of America, close to being bitterly divided down the middle, will not believe the answer.

January 11, 2022: Thais only fight among themselves, and foreign retirees apparently should not mind that, as friendliness toward strangers and their low cost of living make Thailand the 11th most attractive retirement destination, according to a leading international survey.

The Retirement Index for 2022, announced by popular magazine and website International Living, has Panama as the top most popular destination, followed by Costa Rica and Mexico respectively, but Thailand achieved no small feat of being the most attractive country in Asia.

Thailand scores very well on “Cost of Living” and “Fitting In/Entertain” categories whereas “Opportunity”, “Benefits” and “Climate” are not as attractive as most countries above them in the Index. In spite of bureaucratic and political troubles, “Governance” is fairly high, actually higher than countries above them like Mexico, Malta and Ecuador. “Healthcare” gets a good score, too.

The Retirement Index is proclaimed as the most comprehensive and in-depth survey of its kind. “It’s the best way we know of to … help you pinpoint the best destination for you,” IL website said on announcing the newly-released Index.

“Our index is informed by hundreds of opinions and real-life experiences—information—compiled by our trusted sources in the best retirement destinations across the globe,” IL said.

“We have our people out there pounding the pavement in attractive overseas communities we know you should consider. They’re reporting back to us with insights, and information about what’s really going on.”

January 10, 2022: Don’t believe outsiders cynical, or doubtful, or worried about American democracy. Check out a highly-respected US opinion poll instead.

Americans by overwhelming margins see the nation’s democracy as in peril, a new USA TODAY/Suffolk University poll has found, although that “chilling consensus”, in the word of USA Today itself, is based on starkly conflicting assessments of the political violence at the US capitol a year ago.

Findings are politically partisan, of course, yet they reflect unsettled feelings of almost everyone concerned. While more than 8 in 10 Republicans, Democrats and independents say they are worried about the future of America’s democracy, they disagree on whether the Jan 6 pro-Trump mob represented an effort to undermine democracy or to fix it. Eighty-five percent of Democrats say the “rioters” were “criminals”, whereas two-thirds of Republicans say, “They went too far, but they had a point.”

About 54% are “very worried” about democracy’s future, and 32% are “somewhat worried”.  Only 8% are “not very worried” and 7% are not worried at all.

It was a poll of 1,000 registered voters, taken just before the New Year, through landline and cell phones. It is said to have a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.

The survey was conducted against a backdrop of worsening political divisions in America where political talks among ordinary citizens who are close otherwise have increasingly become something to avoid, or extremely heated quarrel might easily erupt.

What caused Jan 6 is what’s fuelling the long-contained divide. A majority of Republicans, 58%, say Joe Biden wasn’t legitimately elected to the White House, a number alarming enough for the two-party country whose election practices, ethics and principles are more or less a global model.

On parliamentary “investigation” into the Jan 6 incident, a 54% majority say they are “not very confident” or “not at all confident” about the final report. Just 10% are “very confident” about parliamentary findings and a third, 34%, are “somewhat” confident.

Could it happen again? By nearly 4-to-1, 71%-19%, Americans say the nation’s democracy is weaker than it was four years ago. The surveyed voters split almost evenly on whether a similar attack on the Capitol will take place: 48% say it’s not likely; 46% say it is.

January 9, 2022: Today’s Kazakhstan is not just a local political battleground, but also a place where Washington and Moscow are staging a mud-slinging contest.

Anti-government protests in Kazakhstan have grown sporadically violent, the most heated in the country’s history perhaps. America, as usual, comments. Russia’s reply is virtually “Look at yourself first and mind your own business.”

On Friday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken remarked that Kazakhstan would have a hard time getting rid of Russian military influences. On Saturday, Russia’s Foreign Ministry called that statement “typically offensive” and asked Washington to instead analyse its own track records in such countries as Vietnam and Iraq.

Here’s Blinken’s direct quote: “One lesson of recent history is that once Russians are in your house, it’s sometimes very difficult to get them to leave.”

To read between the lines of Russia’s response, Moscow must have said: “Are you kidding?”  Which is mild compared with the direct reply, though.

Here’s the real thing, as posted by Russia’s Foreign Ministry on its social media channel:  “If Antony Blinken loves history lessons so much, then he should take the following into account: when Americans are in your house, it can be difficult to stay alive and not be robbed or raped.”

Both sides might be talking half-truth when “peace-keeping” is concerned, but the rest of the world must be hoping it stays at rude diplomacy.

January 8, 2022: Maybe the fact that one of Thailand’s most prominent anti-government figures has been infected is less politically important than when, where and how he got the first shot of his vaccine.

While Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit is yet to address controversial details, his opponents have claimed the first shot was Astrazeneca, from one of those made-in-Thailand doses produced under a royal initiative that he used to talk questioningly about, and given in Samut Prakarn at a time of insufficient vaccine supply last July ahead of many others in greater need and at a curious, probably non-working hour.

The information was apparently derived from a document made available after Thanathorn disclosed a few days ago that he had been infected yet without worrisome symptoms.

It showed Thanathorn received his first shot on July 1, which was not “early” in the pandemic, so claims that he scrambled to seek vaccination may not hold. His choice of vaccine, if he could make it, also had to be made on what was in front of him at the time.

This leaves critics with the “hour” when he got the first dose at the Prasmutjadee Hospital and what happened before that. They say 7 pm as stated in the document was “unusual” as it was a time when most Thais didn’t get the essential service, especially non-registered vaccine seekers or “walk-in” patients. Something else coming into play includes his relatively young age, the fact that Samut Prakarn postponed vaccine appointments a few days later, his household registration and his overall health.

Thailand’s vaccination has spawned several political uproars, but most of them have focused on the Prayut government’s poor management and bad prioritisation. This latest controversy is greeting a new COVID-19 surge, which guarantees that more tumultuous politics related to it will definitely come.

January 7, 2022: Donald Trump is holding a dagger to the throat of American democracy, the United States president claims. Problem is, according to the same man, China is doing the same, and Russia too.

Joe Biden’s fiery speech marking the Capitol “riot” in which a few Americans died left no doubts who were the US government’s “enemies”, and while China and Russia are pretty much predictable, he does not quite know how many “enemies within” his administration is facing.

One high-ranking quote may give a glimpse of the scale of the Republican hostility. “I wish Republicans in the country would take back their party,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Thursday night, amid a flurry of anti-insurrection anniversary rhetoric that includes something like “That’s how democracy dies”.

CNN is highlighting Biden’s “unprecedented” attack on Trump, and some people’s conclusion that the former president should never go anywhere near the Oval Office again. But if these few days were meant for soul-searching and mere reflections, the main side effect could be further erosion of national harmony.

It’s a curious situation, since Biden does not limit his anniversary speech to domestic affairs. “From China to Russia and beyond … they are betting America will become more like them and less like us,” he said.

It’s all right to yell at your children, who played with fire, and at powerful neighbours, who are burning things somewhere. As long as you do it separately, that is.

It’s questionable whether yelling at all of them at the same time is smart.

January 6, 2022: Cancelling a nine-time Australian Open champion’s visa to enter Australia is an unmistakable sign of what is to come for people who refuse to get vaccinated without health reasons.

No matter what happens next for Novak Djokovic, things will never be the same for “anti-vaxxers”, who bored the blunt of the blame for the COVID-19 spread until Omicron came along and dented the theory that vaccination all but guaranteed immunity.

Djokovic, the men’s tennis world No 1 and surely the star magnet of the Australian Open until the controversy, did not publicly reveal his vaccination status. In a news conference after the visa cancellation, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said he did not have been advised that the player had a valid medical exemption.

“Entry with a visa requires double vaccination or a medical exemption,” Morrison said. “I’m advised that such an exemption was not in place, and, as a result, he is subject to the same rules as everyone else.”

It was a strong message, not just in Australia but for many other countries, too, especially those where anti-vaxxers abound and are staying put.

January 5, 2022: Even CNN and BBC are downplaying it, so the rest of the world does not know exactly how to feel when the number of daily COVID-16 infections in America broke through one million on Monday.

It was a new global record that made a mockery of the previous one actually. Worse news was the previous record of about 590,000 was set just last week, also in the United States, and that number itself was doubling from the prior week.

However, daily deaths in the United States have averaged just over 1,000. How much the world should fear should depend a lot on the death number as well, but it’s worth remembering that the daily figures of deaths were in the hundreds in America just a few months ago.

Thailand’s infection numbers seem to be climbing slowly back up, too, but death numbers have remained relatively low, declining from over a hundred on average just recently to 19 in the latest report today.

Doctors in the United States were quoted as saying that hospitalisations in many areas, though not taking place in panic mode like previously, were reaching a point “never seen before”, and that “we can’t keep vaccinating people every few months.”

The gigantic jump in the United States might have something to do with delayed reporting. Optimistic people are seeing huge increases in infections as a quick way toward herd immunity, and mild symptoms as the coronavirus’ signal it was losing strength and getting desperate. Pessimistic ones are fearing future and possibly more dangerous mutations that Omicron is paving the way for, and big strain on health services through sheer numbers of “mild” cases.

January 4, 2022: The biggest opposition party has insisted that Pallop Pinmanee, a retired army general with controversial backgrounds, is still with it, just after he claimed he had been removed as a party member through Thaksin Shinawatra’s order and apparently threatened to spill some beans.

Today’s morning was all about the question of what the “evil” thing that Thaksin allegedly “committed” while being prime minister was, after Pallop, with his high-level military, political, bureaucratic and intelligence connections, ambiguously claimed he knew something. He spoke tantalisingly about the “secret” as he insisted that he had been notified about losing his party membership.

But Pheu Thai, through its leader, has gone public hours later, saying Pallop was still a party member, and he might have misinterpreted not being invited to a party gathering in Khon Kaen late last year. That party meeting, Pheu Thai said, was held under COVID-19 restrictions and a few senior members were not invited.

Whereas Pallop had maintained that Pheu Thai’s new leader Cholnan Srikaew informed him of his “removal”, Cholnan later “denied it profusely”, in the words of a news website.

“The party regards him as an important member,” Cholnan said. “What happened must have been caused by misunderstanding of people he assigned to do things on his behalf.”

Pallop, a rare Pheu Thai member with strong military backgrounds, had served as Yingluck Shinawatra’s adviser when she was prime minister. This morning, a few media outlets quoted him as saying Thaksin was behind his “removal” and it was no use talking to the man in Dubai to clear the air.

The “removal” news stirred up the media, not least because Pallop implied that he knew a big, bad Thaksin secret, something that happened when the latter was prime minister. The  obviously-disgruntled Pallop suggested that interference with party affairs leading to his “removal” was enough to kick off attempts to dissolve the party.

“I have heard that some people tried to stop the media from playing this (my removal) up, as there could be consequences or (even) party dissolution,” he said. Asked what was the real reason behind his “removal”, he replied: “It’s difficult to say. It must have something to do with something in the past, some evil act that he committed while being prime minister. The “undisclosed thing” was related to his “responsibility” resulting in an order that he could not decline, Pallop said.

He also might have tried to whet appetite by sounding confusing. On the one hand, Pallop said he could not “avoid” the order. On the other hand, he said it would be easy to implement it, as he once led a “killing team” operating in Vietnam.

He said what he did not understand was why action against him was taken only recently.

He claimed that most, if not all, political parties still need military men or former military men to do “secret jobs”, and election time is no exception. “Soldiers and men in uniform are important because they are close to the people and they also can vote themselves,” he said. He added that Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha owed his life to him.

Pallop’s past is deeply linked with high-profile bureaucratic and military activities. Among them his involvement in state handling of the volatile situation in the deep South when Pheu Thai was holding political power.

January 3, 2022: Experts are trying to stem talks about the new coronavirus variant being actually “good news” for human beings no matter how fast it is spreading, saying there are many ways 2022 can be a different kind of nightmare.

First, Omicron can seriously hit the workforce, causing staff shortages all over the world, including in the health sector, though quarantine. US doctors are saying that their country is reaching a point where everyone knows a colleague who has been infected. This means increased work for fewer people. Attempts to shorten the length of quarantine reflect the need to maintain productivity more than the belief that fresh infections would generate milder symptoms, and shortened self isolation can be very risky, too.

Secondly, Omicron appears to affect upper airway more than the lower airway, initial studies show. This explains an alarming jump in child hospitalisations because previous variants affect lower airway which is more important to adults than children, who rely on the upper airway.

Thirdly, “mild” as it is, Omicron is capable of creating massive numbers of infections that can still stretch or even break health services in affected countries.

January 2, 2022: With a Democrat candidate joining the Bangkok gubernatorial race and presenting his biggest threat to date, hot favourite Chadchart Sittipunt must be happy with the latest NIDA survey that shows his situation is even better now.

In the latest NIDA survey of more than 1,300 Bangkok eligible voters just before the New Year, almost 39% now support Chadchart, compared with 34.3% in the previous polling in early December.

Democrat Suchatvee Suwansawat, featuring in the running popularity poll for the first time, has the support of just over 13%. On the bright side, it’s his first involvement in such a survey, there is still time, and he is more popular than the incumbent. On the down side, Chadchart’s rating is not supposed to jump with Suchatvee’s fresh involvement, the time may be short, and it’s not the incumbent that the newcomer should worry about.

The portion of undecided voters increased very slightly, from 11.68% previously to 11.85%.

Dropping are the numbers of people vowing to vote for candidates from the Move Forward and Pheu Thai parties, from 6.37% to 4.71% and from 6.15% to 4.10% respectively.

Bangkok governor Aswin Kwanmuang trails Chadchart significantly, getting 10.25% support, dropping noticeably from 17.07% from the early December survey.

Bad news for the chasing pack, judging from this popularity poll is that even if all undecided voters finally decided to support a Chadchart opponent entirely, the favourite would still prevail.

A glimpse of hope for Move Forward and Pheu Thai is what happened to the Democrat Party, which had been nowhere to be seen at the top of popularity rankings until Suchatvee came along. Then again, more high-profile candidates are not necessarily bad for Chadchart, because they could fight each other for votes and thus enhance his chances.

January 1, 2022: The normally pessimistic and extremely-cautious World Health Organisation is guardedly optimistic that humans can tame the coronavirus this year _ on one huge condition.

True human solidarity, which has been lacking since the pandemic began, must be there, the WHO chief said in his agency’s most updated analysis on the coronavirus-related situation.

Tedros Ghebreyesus insisted that while the pandemic can be overcome, beating the virus would require utmost science and technological harmony. The virus, he said, has come up with Omicron which, together with Delta, can unleash a “tsunami of cases” if human beings fail to put up proper resistance.

He also repeated his grave concern that demands for booster in rich countries could cause low-income nations to again fall short. The WHO director general called on leaders of wealthy and powerful nations and their manufacturers to work together to reach an ambitious global vaccination target of 70 % by July.

“This is the time to rise above short-term nationalism and protect populations and economies against future variants by ending global vaccine inequity,” he said.

Not helping the world’s poor “is not only a moral shame, but it also costs lives and provides the virus with opportunities to circulate unchecked and mutate.”

The quotes were played down by several international news agencies which chose to highlight his “optimism” rather than the emotional plea.

Meanwhile, whereas it’s not difficult to begin this year positively, it’s quite difficult to find political news, in Thailand and abroad, that is not negative.

CNN plays up “disappearing” Tiananmen statues. Opening a Thai website and one finds a blown-up mugshot of Yingluck Shinawatra who was reported to have lambasted the Prayut government and asked Thais to “endure it” in her New Year message. Another Thai site analyses the questionable relationship between Palang Pracharath’s big guns and says Yingluck expects 2022 to be “a very tough year” for Thailand thanks largely to the Prayut administration. To be fair to her, anything can be picked up from her words and headlined.

Simply put, China was discredited from Day One and Yingluck’s New Year post is immediately politicised as expected. It looks like a long and winding road toward complete harmony.

Elsewhere on the Internet, COVID-19 dominates, with Omicron reported to be dampening celebrations with fast and furious spread.

 

Daily update of local and global politics by Tulsathit Taptim

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