Bye-bye 2021, year of COVID-19 roller coaster
December 31, 2021: It has been 365 days of facing the bad, fearing the worst and hoping for the best. Many experts believe that 2022 will be more or less the same.
The fighting spirit has been there, and so has genuine heroism as seen through the sacrifices of health personnel, emergency health responders and all others in the medical world. But so have naivety, destructive diplomacy preventing ultimate cooperation in the face of a major threat to all of mankind, and questionable business, ethical and moral practices generating flawed innovations and obstructing fair and quick availability of medicine that could have made us better poised for what is to come.
But so much for the doom and gloom. Here are some fun facts about us, our planet and the universe: The earth is rotating at a speed of roughly 1,000 miles per hour, circling the sun at 67,000 miles per hour, and being in a galaxy that is moving at 1.3 million miles per hour. So, if you are working from home and believing that you have not gone anywhere this year, think again.
And if the earth’s history of 4.5 billion years was compressed into one year, it would mean human beings just emerged to become the predominant species in the last few seconds. The rest of the year would be about unbelievably relentless asteroid bombardment, unbelievably hot fire, unbelievably cold ice and unbelievably fierce dinosaurs.
The moral of all of the above? We are so incredibly small, moving incredibly fast and still incredibly young.
Happy New Year, everybody. And celebrate safely.
December 30, 2021: Following is a summary of key points as emphasised by one of the most powerful men in the ruling Palang Pracharath Party in a year-end media interview:
- The biggest coalition camp is here to stay, not a special-task political party that will fade away really soon. Palang Pracharath, according to party secretary-general Thammasat Prompao, will remain a big organisation for a long, long time.
- Conflicts, which have resulted in top executives quitting their jobs and leaving the party, are “normal”, something that happens in every major organisation. The differences are that other organisations may have been better at keeping internal fighting from public eyes, and that party faction leaders have their own media allies who may have knowingly or unknowingly aggravated quarrelling.
- Party leader Prawit Wongsawan remains the magical glue that keeps the big party in shape, a great political genius both on and off the scene who will only make Palang Pracharath stronger and stronger.
- Party members’ confidence in Palang Pracharath’s leadership continues to be solid, not least because “Our leader (Prawit) never fails.”
- (This one is probably the least questionable) Party members are not the problem. They do what faction leaders tell them to.
December 29, 2021: Certain scientists are worried that if the Omicron surges all around the globe which are causing unprecedented rises in daily infection numbers in several countries are played down because of apparently “mild” symptoms, the “new wave” could get out of hand and give the coronavirus the much-needed opportunity to further mutate.
Despite daily infection numbers teasing the half a million mark in the United States, and breaking through 200,000 in various European countries, there have been no breaking news updates running around the clock on international networks, nor dynamite headlines on major websites. The almost-business-as-usual attitude is unlike in the previous stages of the pandemic, where infection numbers were even lower and slower.
This relative calm among governments and media has been attributed to lack of reports on severity, as well as “lockdown fatigue” that is making men on the street struggle badly economically. Some skeptics also are frowning upon vaccine commercialism, as Omicron seems to be mocking the theory that vaccinated people are largely safe from infections.
The concerned experts say the sheer numbers of new cases alone can overwhelm hospitals, and cases of paediatric hospitalisations related to COVID-19 do jump significantly, although there have been no reports of severe illnesses.
In addition, the scientists do not believe that Omicron would be the last variant to come out, because the coronavirus has proved time and again that it keeps mutating. Massive and rapid rises in infections may be the virus trying to buy time and seeking opportunities to further mutate.
Playing down Omicron by citing its inability to inflict heavy health damage, therefore, can be a bad idea because that could mislead many of the world public into complacency, resulting in more infections, the scientists warn.
December 28, 2021: The numbers of new infections in the United States and United Kingdom are beyond hair-raising, but severity and death reports are far lower than expected.
America’s daily infection average is hovering around 200,000, the highest since the beginning of this year, and a daily number of 500,000 might be considered “normal” between now and the next few days. England has broken past 100,000, leading the world in confirmed Omicron detections.
It is also possible that massive numbers of more cases are going undetected, because many people may be carrying the virus without even knowing they have been infected.
However, hospitalisation and death are way below what they could have been with this kind of infection number. This is a big positive. Death and severity reports are still relatively low even when a “natural fact” is taken into account _ casualties often lag behind jumps in infection numbers.
“It looks like the degree of severity of the disease is considerably less than what was experienced with Delta,” said America’s top COVID-19 expert, Dr Anthony Fauci, who is virtually the most authoritative voice on the pandemic in the United States. He, however, is strongly advocating cancelling big New Year party plans and vaccine passports for domestic flights.
England, apparently, is also experiencing the same situation, dealing with a big spike in infection but puzzled by lower-than-expected reports on severe illnesses and deaths.
However, even the reported reduction in the degree of seriousness can still overwhelm healthcare systems in all countries, experts including Fauci warn. This is because the number of new infections is so massive that it can strain medical services anywhere on earth.
December 27, 2021: The new coronavirus variant is “burning like wildfire” in many places on earth, and while there has been no medical proof of severe symptoms, belief in inoculation has been upended.
Statistics are pouring in on infections of vaccinated people or people with “natural immunity” gained from previous infections. Numbers have not stabilised yet but they are already enough to worry experts worldwide.
Before Omicron arrived, new infections were largely blamed on vaccine refusals.
One CNN article has called Omicron as “Game changer” when vaccines are concerned. But don’t get too frightened. The same network had described molnupiravir as a “Game changer”, a pill that could render the coronavirus a lot less scary and vaccines probably far less necessary.
Which one is the real “Game changer” remains to be seen. There is an important thing to consider, though. The coronavirus now has added Omicron to its fleets. With Delta and Omicron, the virus now has a variant that can infect human beings and multiply at a warp speed and penetrate or evade the boosted immune system, and another that can inflict considerable damage although it is less likely to outsmart immunity. Certainly, human beings do not want the virus to be able to combine Delta and Omicron in the months to come.
December 26, 2021: The latest popularity poll by the National Institute of Development Administration has the youngest daughter of Thaksin Shinawatra as someone to watch, as the new kid in town who runs almost neck and neck with the leader of the Move Forward Party as prime ministerial favourites.
Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha manages to hang on to his slim lead in NIDA approval ratings (16.93%) while Pita Limjaroenrat of Move Forward is second at 10.74%. This has not changed much from the previous survey in September.
Most noticeable, though, is the standing of newcomer Paetongtarn Shinawatra, who did not feature in past surveys but is hot on Pita’s heels at 10.55% this time.
The number of “undecided” Thais is increasing and remains the biggest portion (36.54% from 32.61% in September). The survey covered 2,504 people all across the country.
December 25, 2021: If Uttama Savanayana and Sontirat Sontijarawong would really form a new party, the already-confusing political landscape could get a lot more complicated.
According to news reports, a press conference should be called just three or four days into the new year and the two would spring a surprise that will be named something along the lines of “Build the Thai Future” party.
The two were part of the backbone of Prayut Chan-o-cha’s parliamentary politics until a revolt in the Palang Pracharath Party threw them out of the loop and allowed Thammanat Prompao to take control of the ruling camp.
Uttama is former Palang Pracharath leader and Sontirat is former secretary-general of the party, so they know a thing or two about creating a big political organisation and being engaged in a power play at the national level.
Rumours have it they could be joined by Suvit Maesincee and Kobsak Pootrakool. Together, the four were key troops of Prayut until the wind of change blew. But what if the four would back somebody else for the prime ministerial post this time, someone like Somkid Jatusripitak?
December 24, 2021: Her “boxes” _ very recently popular and exciting _ may as well be becoming “Pandora’s boxes”.
Pimradaporn Benjawattanapat, one of the country’s most famous online sellers and celebrities and better known as “Pimrypie”, is seeing her fortune changing and the degree of her legal troubles may become clearer on the Christmas day (Saturday) when disappointed customers of her “random boxes” officially file complaints.
To cut a long story short, people placed orders for her boxes at expensive prices (Bt10,000 or more), hoping to hit some kind of jackpot like a motorcycle, latest smartphone models or gold necklaces in addition to everyday stuff like cosmetics that they might not need anyway but which would make their “investment” worthwhile (unlike lottery). Pimrypie’s boxes flew off their warehouse like herds of locusts, but many buyers ended up terribly upset. Using every online and media channel possible to make their grievances heard, they claim that only celebrity buyers or influencers get lucky items in their “boxes”, whereas ordinary people have wound up with cheap lipsticks, eyeshadows, perfumes or gold necklaces “so thin they can break in a strong wind”.
Defending herself, Pimradaporn, also an entertainment celebrity, said every box is at least worth the buyer’s money. In a scam, combined items in each box must have been of lesser values than the amount paid, which is not the case in her project, she pointed out. The woman also insisted that she ran a financial loss selling the random boxes.
But the online “random boxes” project is not her only problem. Some customers of her beauty clinic are launching police complaints regarding the alleged hiring of unqualified personnel, which has allegedly resulted in some wayward Botox injection, for example. An investigation is underway and intensifying.
Although she always insists that her activities shall not be politicised, Pimradaporn is always drawn to the divisive Thai politics. Earlier this year, for instance, she slammed Thaksin Shinawatra for making her life difficult by mentioning her “contribution” and thus drawing fire from anti-Thaksin people in her direction. One side of Thailand’s political divide always cited her “swift repayment to society” in its taunts of the government’s management style.
December 23, 2021: It was nothing the world does not know about or is not expecting or speculating, but what the Russian leader has just said is a good confirmation of the trend at the highest global level anyway.
Vladimir Putin said at a press conference that if the Ukraine situation gets worse, the West should be blamed. His analysis does not sound promising when peace is concerned. “I feel like we (Russia and NATO) are on different planets sometimes.” He made it clear he did not like NATO’s expansion or movement towards the east.
In response to a blunt question on whether his military would invade Ukraine, Putin said: “How would the Americans react if on their frontier with Canada we deployed our missiles … it’s a question of security and you know our red lines.”
On the seemingly strengthening alliance with Beijing, he said something that CNN stated could alarm western observers even more. “China has one of the most advanced technological armies and we are working with them to develop high precision weaponry” was his statement.
In the good old days when diplomacy was more subtle or “polite”, this kind of remark by a superpower leader could send stock markets crashing. But this is a new era where hard-hitting speeches at the summit of the world are common.
December 22, 2021: As governments around the globe teeter on the brink of new tough measures and even lockdowns, the World Health Organisation is torn between economic and medical nightmares that are clashing at this time of the year.
WHO messages on Christmas and New Year celebrations have been mixed, and the same statements can deliver completely opposite headlines.
The Daily Mail of England, for example, said WHO stance on festive occasions is that it was better “to cancel now and celebrate later than to celebrate now and grieve later”. The outlet was quoting WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who, however, did not mention Christmas or New Year directly.
A WHO expert, Dr Margaret Harris, meanwhile, has been quoted as saying: ‘We prefer not to see lockdowns, a big lockdown, because they have huge economic implications, they have very severe social implications and mental health implications.”
On whether her WHO boss was saying differently, she opined: “He was saying large events, so he was actually referring to a reception we promised to have with journalists..”
She did not state the obvious, though: Countdown is absolutely a lot more crowded and unrulier than a press conference. She did advise ultra carefulness.
Globally, tough measures are being implemented or mulled with each passing hour. For instance, Scotland has just announced new restrictions and cancelled New Year’s Eve celebrations, while spectators are to be banned from sport events in Wales from Boxing Day and England is said to be heading for a circuit breaker lockdown before the end of the year, although football matches will continue with live audiences as long as clubs, hit by infected personnel in unprecedented numbers, have enough players to compete.
Omicron, found in more than 100 countries now, is now the dominant strain in many countries including the US, Denmark, Portugal and the UK. Israel is offering a fourth dose. Spain has recorded its biggest daily number since the pandemic began. In hard-hit Germany, Bundesliga games will all be played behind closed doors again in a few days’ time.
What should Thais do? Cancel now and celebrate later, or do what is easier said than done, which is celebrate carefully?
December 21, 2021: In the electoral grand scheme of things, Thailand surpassing 100 million vaccine shots could prove just a blip in the Pheu Thai Party’s seemingly rosy chances of getting back the political power.
This, however, could not prevent netizens from reminding Thaksin Shinawatra that he once said he would bet Bt100 and any opponent can use dog poo as the stake on the possibility of the government dispensing 100 million jabs by the year’s end. “No way” was what he said on June 1. “Just piling up 100 million vials on Thai soil is unlikely, let alone this government administering them all,” Thaksin said during an online programme organised by his political strategists.
The roll-out this week has gone way past 100 million doses (all jabs combined), and the mainstream media and social media were subsequently busy digging up the “dog poo” statement.
With the Pheu Thai Party set to benefit from a change in the electoral system and continuing to attract some government members hoping to be on the winning side in the next general election or even become electoral candidates of the opposition party, the vaccine issue may not be strong enough to drastically alter the pro-Pheu Thai trend.
December 20, 2021: Pentagon’s confidential files on innocents killed by US strikes in the Middle East make surprise and grim readings, although the big tolls were described by the American military as uncommon, unfortunate and unavoidable.
The New York Times is running a series on innocents killed by American troops in American wars overseas, raising questions about proclaimed “precision” technology though not quite about the “legitimacy” of the wars themselves.
The news outlet, which has obtained a trove of hidden Pentagon documents regarding American air war in the Middle East since 2014, said the massive civilian losses exposed “flawed intelligence, continuous civilian casualties, faulty targeting and scant accountability.”
Thousands of civilians have been killed in US strikes, according to the American military’s own assessments of more than 1,300 reports of innocent casualties.
“The documents show that despite the Pentagon’s highly codified system for examining civilian casualties, pledges of transparency and accountability have given way to opacity and impunity,” the New York Times wrote.
The media exposure has come hot on the heels of a Kabul drone strike that reportedly killed 10 members of an Afghan family earlier this year, a story perhaps overshadowed by America’s hasty and hectic troop pull-out from Afghanistan and allegedly overwhelming fears of the Taliban return. It has been reported a few days ago that no American soldier or official involved in the tragic drone attack would be punished or held accountable.
This is what the Times wrote: “There is no way to determine that full toll (of Middle Eastern civilians), but one thing is certain: It is far higher than the Pentagon has acknowledged. According to the military’s count, 1,417 civilians have died in airstrikes in the campaign against ISIS in Iraq and Syria; since 2018 in Afghanistan, U.S. air operations have killed at least 188 civilians. But The Times’s analysis of the documents found that many allegations of civilian casualties had been summarily discounted, with scant evaluation.”
December 19, 2021: Brutal crimes, narcotics and corruption should not be subjected to leniency, according to a NIDA survey of more than 1,300 Thais last week.
The opinion poll, conducted following an uproar related to reduction of jail terms granted to certain convicts, shows that almost 86% of those surveyed said those punished for heinous crimes such as rape-murder must not be entitled to clemency.
As for production and running of narcotic racketeering, it is 74%. Corruption is 50.04%, compared with 22.02% who said those convicted of graft should have the same entitlement as all others. More than 26% of the people surveyed thought reduction of punishment against those convicted of corruption should happen only after at least half of sentences have been served.
More than 54% of the Thais surveyed across the country said institutions like the court and prosecution office should be involved in deciding clemency, instead of giving exclusivity to the Corrections Department and the highest level of the Justice Ministry as is currently the case.
December 18, 2021: Jurgen Klopp’s frustration with what he implies is secretive handling of information concerning the coronavirus and football clubs should be as well looked at at the global scope, in which “face” has determined flows, accuracy and even sincerity of data and more or less impacted the spread.
He reportedly said Liverpool will lead the way in being open about infections and its personnel, reasoning that secretive stance is “strange” and “misleading”. He was talking about football clubs in general, but the same is happening in the international picture, where vaccine and pill commercialisation as well as boasting rights have hampered medical and scientific efforts to bring the virus under control. Many countries are doing what football clubs do _ hiding or guarding information that could have made them lose face or “benefited” rivals in politics or business.
Europe and America are facing scary new surges, renewing suspension of sports games and other big events, an eerie reminder of an earlier big stage of the pandemic. As European football is highly commercialised, eyes are on it at the moment, and halting or scrapping leagues or tournaments must be taken very seriously by mankind.
Klopp literally said the Premier League can go on but people concerned must stop misleading each other or hiding information.
December 17, 2021: European football matches are being postponed. Big shows are being cancelled everywhere. The United States is averaging more than 118,000 infections and 1,300 deaths a day. The United Kingdom, which for months had a rough ceiling of 50,000 or a bit more in daily infection numbers, is now seeing that 100,000 is scarily possible. Last but not least, Omicron is being identified in an increasing number around the globe.
Despite claims that most Omicron-related cases have appeared to be “mild” so far, hospitalisations have jumped in the United States where medical facilities, once again, have been under great pressure and where high-ranking authorities admit there’s “no doubt” vaccinated individuals can be infected by Omicron. Booster demands had risen in much of the world even before the admission and despite lingering suspicion concerning Omicron and vaccination.
Manchester United, Watford and Leicester have shut down their training grounds temporarily as the Premier League has postponed more games this weekend in addition to earlier postponements. The three clubs are joined by the likes of Brentford and Norwich in having too few players available for selection. Now, busy year-end schedules _ the highlight of English Premier League _ are under real threat as more COVID-19 information keeps pouring in.
European football, due to its high degree of commercialisation which made postponement or cancellation or audience ban difficult to take place, has been somehow a barometer of how serious the COVID-19 situation is.
And in the face of insistence that Omicron is not causing more severe symptoms than earlier variants, some scientific findings have found its disturbing ability to multiply inside the lungs much faster than Delta.
December 16, 2021: A leading independent city gubernatorial candidate has taunted political leaders who are saying that party affiliation is not as important as “representation of democracy” in the Bangkok race.
Rosana Tositrakul, running independently, said big parties must field their own candidates, and that claiming that democracy is “already represented” is a cheap shot motivated possibly by fear of losing.
“If you are a big party wanting to participate, an honourable thing to do is to openly field your own candidate. You shall not use such beautiful words like you will support a candidate who stands for democracy. What is your definition of candidates who support democracy anyway?” she posted on her Facebook.
As Move Forward has declared its intention to field its own candidate, this brings the Pheu Thai Party under a sharp focus. Her comment also yields big clues on how the gubernatorial race will pan out.
December 15, 2021: The second biggest opposition party will unveil its Bangkok governor candidate around the middle of January, and is confident that he or she will be a big hit among capital voters.
After the Democrat Party declared Suchartvee Suwansawat as its candidate, all eyes are on the opposition camp, specifically the Pheu Thai and Move Forward parties. The latter today has virtually confirmed its intention to compete, but said that the Thai public must wait until next month to know who it will field.
“Of course, our candidate is a popular person,” said Move Forward secretary-general Chaitawat Tulathon. He, however, added that policies are as important, and his party’s will definitely please voters.
The election is expected before the middle of next year.
December 14, 2021: The Bangkok gubernatorial election is getting more exciting with some more candidates joining or tipped to enter the fray, but that could be a blessing in disguise for the hot favourite.
Chadchart Sittipunt, running as an independent candidate against backdrop of deeply-divided national politics and topping recent popularity polls, may not be too worried by new big names making or planning to make their entrances, like the Democrat Party’s Suchartvee Suwansawat .
Perhaps, the more popular candidates, the higher Chadchart chances. In other words, Chadchart would prefer several popular rivals competing for votes among themselves to one popular competitor who would snatch votes that would otherwise go for him.
Suchartvee looks like someone who will make the Bangkok election anything but one-horse race. But he will not be necessarily causing Chadchart sleepless nights as long as other popular names follow suit, and they certainly will.
December 13, 2021: Promising a review of a controversial industrial development project in Songkhla is the right choice politically, although it’s doubtful if southern protesters and their anti-establishment counterparts can completely converge.
The Chana movement involves the questions of local rights and environment, something that can increase anti-government sentiment easily and considerably. Sea and land farming groups from other parts of Thailand as well as environmentalists are supporting the movement, which features poor villagers, who look powerless yet able to spark a groundswell of sympathy.
Southerners completely merging with Bangkok-centric anti-establishment protesters is a questionable proposition, considering regional differences in political leaning. However, the Chana movement has shown a tendency to become a major political headache, drawing more support with each passing day and its human rights aspect already under domestic and foreign scrutiny.
Politics aside, the core demands of the Chana movement concern good governance, which calls for rulers to look into genuine wellbeing of the people and their environment and be prudent about projects that can potentially affect them.
December 12, 2021:A year and a half ago, Michael Osterholm, a very senior and respectable expert on infectious diseases in the United States, predicted that COVID-19 would kill 800,000 Americans in the next 18 months. A year and a half later, 793,000 have died in America from the disease.
Now, the director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota and author of The New York Times bestseller, “Deadliest Enemy: Our War Against Killer Germs” has something to say about Omicron.
According to the man, quoted by CNN, the coronavirus is keeping on trying to outsmart human beings by maintaining a very high degree of unpredictability. Which is why Delta emerged in India all of a sudden and inexplicably, why epicentres keep shifting and changing and tolls ebbing and flowing throughout the world, and why Omicron has been born.
Even when case numbers were dropping markedly in the US and vaccines were flowing, “I thought that some of the darkest days of the pandemic would be ahead of us.” Fast and varied mutations made him realise that “variants were like 210-mile-an-hour curveballs, and we couldn’t predict if they might have increased transmissibility or the ability to cause severe illness. This conclusion was not popular among many of my colleagues and policy makers.”
If you think he’s eerily prescient in predicting the US death number, this admission to CNN could be a scarier part: “(If you ask me why the virus is doing what it’s doing) I don’t know. I’d just say with great humility, I know less about this virus today than I probably did a year ago.”
December 11, 2021: The newly-ended virtual conference on democracy may not have achieved desired results, raising more questions than it has answered and giving Joe Biden a soul-searching inquiry instead of an opportunity to take rivals to task.
A glimpse at news headlines over the past few days confirms an increasingly doubtful world. The Economist addresses the “Rise of China’s way”; Some academics are asking whether America “monopolising” democracy is a good idea; China, understandably, came out strong, saying Washington is promoting “divisions”, not democracy, insisting that a uniformed model of governing does not exist, and accusing the United States of using “democracy” as a pretext to interfere with the Hong Kong affair.
Biden, who sparked controversy by not inviting Russia and China, has been asked serious questions about what the United States has been doing and about the real motives of the global conference. First off, if the idea is to promote “democracy”, why inviting just those who will play along anyway and ignoring those refusing to buy it? Critics also noted that while he admitted during the conference that democracy as the world knows it is facing biggest challenges ever, demonising or degrading those not agreeing with Washington is rather ironic and not a good way to start.
Democracy is backsliding was what he said. Who to blame is a very complicated question.
December 10, 2021: What the finance minister says about completing the final analysis of the Thai people’s spending mood before deciding the fate of the “Half-Half” relief programme can mean anything.
“Half-Half 4th Phase” is probably as much on public attention as who will be the next prime minister and what party will field whom as its Bangkok gubernatorial candidate, yet the Finance Ministry is still keeping its cards close to its chest on whether the 3rd phase of undoubtedly the most popular programme of the Prayut administration will be extended into 2022.
“We must see the complete index of how the people have spent (in relation to Half-Half) before making a decision,” said Finance Minister Arkhom Termpittayapaisith.
That does not give a lot away. If he means the government would want to see first if the registered Thais use up their Half-Half quota by the December 31 deadline, the government definitely does not need to, because most, if not all, users probably will. If he means the government wants to check if Thais are spending over the Bt150 (maximum daily government assistance that has the ultimate ceiling of Bt4,500), the answer is pretty much there already as the government is always keeping tracks.
The question of whether Half-Half “encourages” public spending does not require analysing. It has. A lot harder to answer is whether the programme is good in the long run for the economy in need of being kickstarted anew and whether it can saddle government with massive debts and create a flawed spending habit.
December 9, 2021: When the strongest rebuke comes from a friend or ally, not an enemy, maybe it’s time to take notice.
Pravit Rojanapruk, activist long known for his frequent and open anti-establishment remarks, has labelled an attempt to ban an international debut of young artist Sitala Wongkrachang, a daughter of late anti-Shinawatra campaigner Sarunyoo Wongkrachang, as toxic.
Some anti-government factions hate to see her joining a South Korean girl band simply because of her father, but Pravit has become the latest senior anti-establishment figure to say that stereotyping is giving the movement seeking changes in Thailand a bad name.
“You may as well call for a ban on South Korea or North Korea as a whole, so the world will know how toxic Thai politics is,” Pravit tweeted. As expected, that did not go down well with the ban seekers. Many replies call Pravit “nosy”, or “bereaved of attention” or “naive” or “blind.”
December 8, 2021: Three Southeast Asian men, influential in their own different ways, are being subjected to different legal fates that are anything but a reassurance that justice equality is becoming the norm in this part of the world.
Two of the cases have had some big developments today. One of them will remain highly political in Malaysia, meaning a lot of people will still see former prime minister Najib Rasak as a victim, and a big question continues to be a disturbing hypothesis: What if he had won a general election in his country? How would the scandal he had been embroiled in pan out had he been in power?
Malaysia’s Appeal Court today upheld his conviction and 12-year jail sentence linked to the massive looting of the 1MDB state investment fund that brought down his government in 2018. Najib was found guilty last year of abuse of power, criminal breach of trust and money laundering. He was accused of a large amount of money through schemes related to the big financial ambition of the state.
In Thailand, a construction tycoon charged with illegal wildlife activities, Premchai Karnasuta, has been given two and a half year in the “Black Panther case”. But anyone starting to consider that to be a light at the end of the tunnel must also have to consider the painfully-long and on-going issue of “Red Bull” heir Vorayuth Yoovidhya, whose alleged involvement in a fatal hit and run case has spanned all kinds of Thailand’s political spectrums, overseen by “democratically-elected” leaders, coup-makers and “dictatorial” rulers.
Some big progresses have been seen today, but it’s still a long, long way to go.
December 7, 2021: The United States, which reported first detection of the new powerful coronavirus variant only days ago, has said it should know within two weeks whether Delta will be displaced as the fastest spreader.
That’s how scary Omicron is. One first case detected and the rest can be history within days, which is a direct and blunt warning to Thailand. The new strain now has been found in 19 US states as of December 6, just five days after its first detection on American soil.
Whereas Delta still reigns supreme in America, the speed of Omicron’s transmission is seriously challenging its dreaded predecessor’s. According to scientists, Omicron and Delta are basically “competing” to win a race at human beings’ expense. A ray of hope is that there is no evidence whatsoever so far that Omicron is deadlier or can cause more severe symptoms.
While “human rights” have been used to defend those resisting vaccination, vaccine mandates are gathering pace even on the land of the free, with New York reported to have launched toughest mandatory.
December 6, 2021: Probably the key message of potential voters in the upcoming election of city governor is that a lot larger number of them have “decided” who to cast ballots for.
The portion of undecided voters has declined significantly from nearly 30% just weeks ago. Now it is only slightly over 11%.
Support for frontrunner Chadchart Sittipunt has been further solidified, with over 34% of those surveyed backing him. This means that even if potential voters of second-favourite Pol Gen Aswin Kwanmuang (17.07%) and those vowing to back candidates from the Move Forward and Pheu Thai camps were combined (6.37% and 6.15% respectively), Chadchart would still win.
It has been widely speculated that the election would take place within the first quarter of next year.
December 5, 2021: If there is a national spending plan that the Prayut government can pin its shaky election hope on, it’s the one that is costing about Bt91 billion in state budget in its “third phase” at the end of this year.
The “Half-Half” programme, in which each of registered Thais can buy food or specified services at half prices not exceeding Bt150 daily for a maximum state assistance of Bt4,500, expires on December 31. According to the government today, some 26.22 million Thais have used “Half-Half”, spending almost Bt94 billion in their own money.
The figures showed only a slight difference between the amount registered people have spent out of their own pockets while using the programme and the amount the government has had to “assist”. This can be looked at in opposite ways. It can mean registered Thais are still quite reluctant to spend without state help. But it can also be said that the state help has encouraged some kind of spending that would not have taken place.
The programme often topped opinion polls on what Thais liked about this government the most, and, to be fair, it is a popular way to spend state money. Criticism has focused on financial overloads that can harm the state’s balance sheet in the future.
Government spokesman Thanakorn Wangboonkongchana said the Thai economy was somewhat recovering this festive season and “Half-Half” has played a part in it. He, however, reminded every registered Thai that the December 31 deadline is approaching.
December 4, 2021: Thaksin Shinawatra’s “loyalty” to the Thai political system, which he has just reinforced in the most unambiguous manner of late, will keep dominating the run-up to the next election.
With his Pheu Thai Party walking a tightrope toward what is expected to be a comfortable election win, he can’t say he wants Thailand’s constitutional monarchy system to change, as that could have damaging ramifications on the biggest opposition camp.
In an online post this week this week, he described himself as a man of gratitude, saying it was totally impossible for him to turn against the monarchy. He said lingering suspicion that he wanted to overthrow Thailand’s political system was just a campaign to discredit him and the Pheu Thai Party.
“I’m what I am today, successful, because of the monarchy,” he wrote, going on to list his police study, state scholarship and work for the country. “Gratitude is a strong point of my life. Let me confirm here that things you have heard about me sponsoring any undermining attempt is funny and without the slightest bit of truth.”
Thaksin has been taunted by both sides of the national divide. There are those who think he is “fighting while kowtowing” and others who think he wants the best of both worlds _ sharing anti-government support with the more aggressive Move Forward Party and getting backing from Prayut Chan-o-cha’s detractors who may not like the prime minister’s management but do not question his patriotism.
And there are those who think every Thaksin move is politically motivated.
Seksakol Attawong, who has turned against Thaksin and is working for the government, has asked the man in Dubai to read his own previous statements, most notably an interview with the English press more than a decade ago. Seksakol suggested Thaksin’s words and action don’t necessarily go along with each other but they have one thing in common: Political motivation.
December 3, 2021: Democracy is not doing well in America, and neither is President Joe Biden. At least that’s what US youngsters surveyed in a respectable poll are saying.
The Institute of Politics at Harvard Kennedy School has released the results of its poll questioning 2,109 Americans aged between 18 and 29 from the end of October to early November. The results are as follows:
- 52% of them think American democracy is either “in trouble” or “failing.”
- The young Americans surveyed place their chances that they will see a Civil War in their lifetime at 35%.
- Half of the surveyed think COVID-19 made them “a different person.”
- 46% view Biden favourably, as opposed to 44%. That is a significant drop of Biden approval rantings from a previous survey.
- 51% report feeling down, depressed and hopeless. 25% admitted thinking about self-harm several times in the past two weeks.
- On a list that includes climate change, income inequality, education, social justice and America’s global standing, the surveyed young Americans prioritise strengthening the economy, creating national unity and improving health care. In other words, they think government leaders must bring about economic progress, national harmony and inequitable health services.
- By a margin of more than 2 to 1, the surveyed value compromise over confrontation.
Over the years, Harvard Youth Polls have been highly credited for providing insights into what the new generation is thinking, politically or else, in America. Surveys cover Republicans, Democrats and Independents.
December 2, 2021: People on both sides of the political divide have come out to deplore calls by certain anti-establishment “keyboard warriors” for a boycott of an entertainment debut of one of the daughters of late anti-Shinawatra activist Sarunyoo Wongkrachang.
Sitala Wongkrachang is joining a South Korean girl band with great international potentials. Since she is Sarunyoo’s daughter, she has to endure what siblings of political figures have been facing on a grand scale _ taunts, threats and boycotts.
Thailand’s political polarity has led to unexplainable “bans” on goods, food, or services. The deplorable “culture” of activists has expanded menacingly to relatives, friends, or any celebrity voicing just a semblance of political opinion. But a major backlash has erupted in response to calls for Sitala boycott. Defenders of Sitala who include several anti-establishment figures said she was just a kid pursuing her dreams who was not even interested in politics. One person noted Sarunyoo’s strong ties to the Shinawatras and Thaksin Shinawatra’s political party before he turned against them following a series of allegedly massive irregularities and became a well-known political activist.
December 1, 2021: Young people at a Michigan high school scrambled to block classroom doors with desks and climbed out of windows to save their lives during a shooting that left three dead and eight others injured. The suspected gunner? A 15-year-old sophomore.
Most tragic, though, is the fact that the crime is not the first of its kind and by no means will be the last. It will fade away from the front pages in a hurry. The Second Amendment to the US Constitution gives Americans the right to bear arms, leading to about a third of adults in the country being reported to have personally owned a gun.
Gun violence ranks atop of Americans’ general concern, along side affordability of healthcare, illegal immigration and even the COVID-19 pandemic. International and domestic terrorism is far lower in the list of public worries. Concern about economic inequality and racism are also no where near gun-related anxiety.
Yet as the right to possess firearms is stipulated in the Constitution and gun lobbying is huge, there is little anyone opposed to the virtually free-for-all gun ownership can do.
In a survey conducted in the middle of this year, four in ten US adults lived in a household with a gun. About 30% of that admitted they were the owners themselves. The scary numbers seem to be continually rising as well, as “background checks” during a specific time in 2020 are 20% more than the same period in the previous year.
Some said the Michigan suspect had been bullied. It was not immediately clear if he was targeting anyone with the semiautomatic handgun he had taken to school Tuesday.
Daily update of local and international political events by Tulsathit Taptim