Bangkok race: Most hilarious advertisement award goes to …

May 18, 2022: The only thing flooding Bangkok streets more than rainwater these days are political clichés in the campaign posters of city gubernatorial candidates.

Amid the likes of “Bangkok has to go on”,  “Bangkok can get better” and “I will tackle problems head-on”, there are plenty of promises. There are so many of them that it is not a bad idea to set up a committee, make all the candidates sit in it and task them with fulfilling their vows only. In other words, they all should be given governorship and allowed to do nothing else except making their promises come true.

Only then would Bangkokians live in a heavenly city where they can walk 15 minutes to the park wherever their starting point is, use free internet anywhere and, if they are too lazy to walk, spend just 10 baht to ride a sky-train to any destination.

Those promises are in posters which can be slammed into their faces later. However, the most hilarious advertisement has no evidence, unless someone has recorded it on a mobile phone. Today, at around 2.30 pm on the in-bound Lat Phrao Road, a candidate’s pick-up truck equipped with loud speakers blared a message at a decibel intended for anyone within a 50 meter radius.

That message, yelled repeatedly as if that could ease commuters’ pain of a traffic chaos, is: “We are effective, but we will go about our business quietly.”

May 17, 2022: The endless debate on the exact definition of terrorism will plague Finland’s and Sweden’s bids to join NATO, with Turkey standing in way of the “neutral” countries’ willingness to change their stand.

Turkey is holding a good card, because without the support of all Nato members, Sweden and Finland cannot join the military alliance. Being a member, Turkey has practically told Finland and Sweden: “Don’t bother coming here. If you want to lobby, go somewhere else. We can’t help you.”

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s strong message has to do with what he sees as the two countries’ willingness to host Kurdish militants.

Sweden suspended arm sales to Turkey three years ago, following Ankara’s alleged military intervention in Syria. And according to the official Turkish news agency, both Finland and Sweden have rejected dozens of requests to extradite Kurdish militants who Turkey describes as terrorists, CNN said.

The question of what separates freedom fighters from terrorists has hounded the world for centuries, and emerging “human rights” principles are not making it any easier.

The Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) is one example, apparently. Sweden and Finland say they are nothing more than victims of political persecution, who were simply fighting for freedom, whereas Turkey views the grouping as a terrorist organization.

May 16, 2022: That a political camp would seek to win an election through the promotion of Chinese leader Xi Jinping is a surreal concept in Australia, but it’s happening.

In campaign posters across the country, one face stands out, and it belongs to the Chinese leader, who is supposed to have no business in any other country’s election. It’s not a small insert overshadowed by faces of candidates. Xi’s face is HUGE, catching the eye in many places in the vehemently pro-America Australia.

Xi’s name has come up in press conferences, interviews and debates between Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and the Labour Party leader seeking to dethrone him, Anthony Albanese.

China has changed, thanks largely to Xi, according to Albanese. Here are his thoughts on Beijing as reported by CNN: “It’s more forward leaning. It’s more aggressive. And that means that Australia, of course, must respond.”

Many analysts think the overly pro-China stand can backfire badly against Albanese, whose camp could face hardened anti-Beijing feelings on the election day. But there’s a slight possibility of the unthinkable happening. Around the time Bangkokians know who will be their next governor, an earth-shattering event might be occurring elsewhere. Everyone knows Australia’s current international allegiance and the West wants it to remain firmly that way.

May 15, 2022: Vladimir Putin is apparently playing his energy card well. The country’s oil income is reported to have gone up 50% so far this year despite trade restrictions following the invasion of Ukraine, according to the International Energy Agency.

Bloomberg, quoting the Paris-based IEA, said Moscow earned roughly $20 billion each month in 2022 from combined sales of crude and products amounting to about 8 million barrels a day.

Russia’s energy export revenue was forecast to reach nearly 321 billion U.S. dollars this year. All in all, the earnings from energy exports were expected to grow by 36% from the previous year. This is despite all the sanctions and talks about more restrictions.

Bloomberg has also reported that economic sanctions against Russia has breathed a new life into an otherwise dormant coal industry. In Germany and Italy, coal-fired power plants that were once decommissioned are now being considered for reactivation. In South Africa, more coal-laden ships are embarking on what’s typically a quiet route toward Europe. Coal burning in America is now at a level unseen for a decade, while China is reopening shuttered mines and even planning new ones.

Those activities, Bloomberg said, were a result of the Ukraine war turbocharging an energy shortage crisis.

Climate campaigns may have to wait.

May 14, 2022: Maybe the first question regarding the first-ever, newly-released picture of the Milky Way black hole is how they positioned the camera(s) to get such a stunning bird’s-eye view.

In other words, it’s one thing to get the photo of another galaxy’s black hole, a feat accomplished a few years earlier, but it’s entirely another to peer into our own black hole like a God staring down directly onto an object, not a peripheral observer taking a peek. It’s a brilliant achievement which only the best scientific minds can thoroughly understand and explain.

Maybe that’s the first “fact”. Which is that our galaxy is not as “flat” as we thought, so the photos of spiralling Milky Way have to be thought of multi-dimensionally. Or the movement of the orange “ring” makes it look like we are on top of the black hole rather than being at its side.

The black hole we see is its past. It means that if it was to disappear at this very moment, our great great great great great great great great great great grandchildren (add as many “great” as you like and you still never come close) would still be able to take its picture.

Someone has made a rough calculation. It will approximately take you almost one billion earth years to travel to the luminous ring with the speed of 8 kilometer per second. (That is as fast as the rocket launched for space) It’s a difficult mathematic exercise, as light year is in fact a measurement for distance whereas earth year is about time. Anyway, the black hole we see was at a stage when no human civilization existed. As they say, the farther we peer into the sky, the farther we look into the past.

Humans have past another stepping stone, which can make us more humble and determined at the same time.

May 13, 2022: A very old and apparently senile monk, who is immensely respected because of his deeds during his better days. Younger monks who seemingly took advantage of his mental conditions and allowed money to flood in along with activities that were not supposed to happen in a temple. An army of proclaimed “protectors” of the religion who were led by a well-known “hunter” of “misbehaving” men who should never have been ordained in the first place. Social media clips.

All that have led to one of Thailand’s biggest case studies of religious problems, social knee-jerk reaction and how the social media are in fact a double-edged sword.

Luangpoo Saeng Yanwalo is nearly 100 years old. When he was surrounded by intimidating “hunters” and “reporters” after certain “sexual” action that he probably was unaware of but caught on camera, it has backfired badly against the aggressive visitors. “Save Luangpoo Saeng” has become a trending hashtag. Online content is now abundant concerning his past records and physical and mental conditions. The social media now have turned against the previous social media condemning him.

The leading “hunter”, Jeeraphan Petchkhao, better known as “Mor Pla”, has come out to “clarify” that his army was intending to expose the younger monks and other disciples taking advantage of Luangpoo Saeng. That prompted another clip to go viral, in which he told the monk to leave the temple and stop eating free food.

The controversy, it has to be said, is taking place when social trust in Thai Buddhist monks is low. “Mor Pla” was credited for exposing a few misbehaving monks in recent days but this case is way too complicated. He’s biting off more than he can chew, apparently. The mainstream media have suffered a major social wrath as well, with Workpoint TV having to punish a female reporter seen mockingly reproaching Luangpoo Saeng when the “hunters” besieged him.

May 12, 2022: It looks like a big PR triumph for anti-Putin West, but the true military significance of Finland and Sweden shedding their supposed “neutrality” may not be that big. At least for now.

First of all, Russia invading Finland, which shares a long border with its superpower neighbor, is a highly-remote possibility, although latest opinion polls in Finland have been overwhelmingly in support of the pro-NATO shift thanks to Ukraine. Such public support has given politicians a big help in the push for NATO membership.

Secondly, both Finland and Sweden have been close partners of NATO already for the past three decades, taking part in crisis management operations beyond their boundaries, and in joint training exercises in the Baltic Sea region. While Russia has threatened unspecified measures if NATO expansion close to home makes it feel insecure, invasions of Finland and Sweden remain a far-fetched idea.

Yet, to be fair, Finland and Sweden have the right to be afraid and seek protection. The immediate effect of NATO being on the verge of welcoming high-profile new members could be a more intense cold war between two equally powerful sides. To Finland and Sweden, it can be “pre-emption through provocation”, if you will. You provoke your aggressive neighbor through the purchase of a gun, but by buying the gun and letting him know about it, you also can keep him at bay. That’s what it is.

Strategically, it can be a win-win by the anti-Russia camp. Finland’s military and intelligence might is widely recognised, boasting one of Europe’s most sophisticated cyber capabilities that can become NATO’s great asset. For Finland, it may soon have a “gun” to wield.

May 11, 2022: Only in Thai politics are people you dine with more significant than any kind of MOU (Memorandum of Understanding). Which is why the focus will on whom Thammanat Prompao eats with the week after next.

Palang Pracharath is saying that there is no way Thammanat would have dinner with opposition MPs, whereas Pheu Thai is saying it is none of Palang Pracharath’s business. After all, Pheu Thai says, Thammanat is with another party now, and Palang Pracharath’s attempt to interfere with that could lead to the main coalition party being dissolved.

May 23 will be closely watched. Rumours have it that Thammanat will dine with some Pheu Thai heavyweights and other opposition figures on that day. “I have talked to him and there’s apparently no such a plan,” said Prawit Wongsuwan, deputy prime minister and the Palang Pracharath Party’s leader.

“Who are you to say whom someone who is not a member of your party should eat with?” a Pheu Thai MP, Yutthapong Charassathien, shot back in a separate interview. “That’s intervention and against the law.”

It’s a dangerous game Thai politicians are playing. As everyone knows, not just Thammanat’s Thai Economy Party has been viewed as heavily linked to another party. Recent history shows “proxy” parties were common and the trend could even strengthen in the future. In addition, Pheu Thai itself is no stranger to allegations regarding “outside influences.” It can become a smearing competition.

May 10, 2022: Truth is that court verdicts related to political cases are treated differently by different people nowadays, and ideological beliefs play a big part, leading to activists, academics and the media being more or less prejudiced when it comes to what the judges say.

Things are unlikely to change after key members of the yellow shirt movement that staged chaotic protests against the government of late Samak Sundaravej many years back have been confirmed by the Appeals Court to be guilty.

The defendants were virtually accused of using violence and extremism to force a political change. This kind of charge has accumulated at all levels of the Thai courts over the years, spanning both sides of the national divide, not to mention corruption allegations that have spawned verdicts that in most cases feed political strife and extremism.

So, today’s court rulings, while serving a serious warning to everyone, will unlikely end extremism-driven political turmoil. Elections may help creating a semblance of peace, as violence can backfire badly, but this kind of calmness has proved time and again to be temporary and illusional.

May 9, 2022: From a military ban to retail stores’ growing restlessness to potential legal action, online shopping giant Lazada is fighting a multi-pronged battle featuring business, political and arm-of-the-law threats.

The military will now not allow delivery in its zones, which are aplenty. Even before that, retail operators were already complaining about major drops in orders and many are considering boycotting the platform entirely. The authorities have been asked to investigate, despite Lazada’s profuse apology the other day, and potentially take action against the network.

Opinion polls have picked up the topic, and so have politicians and certain news networks. Online bashing has barely abated.

Lazada’s immediate and unequivocal apology, on the one hand, is considered a show of sincerity and remorse. But on the other hand, many view the platform’s action as underlining the owners’ acknowledgement of the severity of the controversy. This latter group thinks Lazada would rather be labelled sloppy or inefficient than be regarded as an accomplice.

May 8, 2022: Super Poll has announced a few remarkable and latest findings on the Bangkok gubernatorial election, except that independent Chadchart Sittipunt still commands a comfortable popularity lead.

Among the findings are the seeming surge of ex-deputy governor Sakoltee Phattiyakul; how the Lazada controversy may have benefited him more than the other candidates; how Suchatvee Sawansawat is breathing down his neck; and up to 30% of eligible voters remaining undecided.

Chadchart still leads with 24.1% support, followed by Sakoltee at 13.1% and Democrat Suchatvee at 13%. Ex-governor Aswin Kwanmuang is next at 8.4%. Move Forward’s Wiroj Lakkhanaadisorn is 7.5%. Previous popularity polls never named Sakoltee the first runner-up.

Super Poll covered 1,455 eligible voters in the wake of the Lazada affair. Sakoltee was named as the biggest defender of Thailand’s national culture regarding the controversy (35.8% compared to Aswin’s 11.5% and Chadchart 6.7%). Chadchart was deemed the most critical of bullying or devaluing of the handicapped, getting 23.8%, followed by Sakoltee at 14.5%, Suchatvee at 14.3% and Aswin at 10.9%.

It has to be said that opinion polls on elections are more or less politicised or politically influenced and have been wrong before.

May 7, 2022: Ferdinand Marcos Jr may or may not win the Philippines presidential race on May 9, but watchers are already scratching their heads.

In fact, students of Washington-Manila relations have been scratching their heads for ages. US attitudes regarding the Marcos family in open diplomacy, secretive maneuverings and in between have been nothing short of puzzling. Was the US leadership supporting a dictator without knowing it? Or knowing it? Or knowing it but did not expect Ferdinand Marcos to be uncontrollably bad, with runaway corruption, nepotism, repression and election frauds triggering one of the world’s most famous popular uprisings?

Those were questions in the past. Fresh questions will be glaring if the son of Marcos, Ferdinand Marcos Jr, wins on May 9, more than three decades after this family allegedly plundered the country’s coffers, obscenely enriched itself, assassinated a key political opponent, effected a brutal rule and fled to Hawaii.

Known as “Bongbong” in the Philippines, Marcos Jr is promising _ surprise, surprise _ “unity”, more jobs, lower prices and bigger investment. There is no need to be said that honesty and transparency are parts of his campaign as well.

Did his father hide behind “democracy” after slipping through its door and he is, in the eyes of many at least, doing likewise? What will America do? Judging people based on what their parents or ancestors did is not supposed to be done and bad for politics, but these are among the major fresh questions all the same.

“Rebranding” is the name of the game. Bongbong is using popularity gained in no small measure through social media campaigns to counter alleged victims of his father’s reign who are asking why past deeds were so easy to forget. He’s calling his father’s time a golden era of the Philippines when investment poured in and mega-projects bloomed. It’s said that Marcos Jr’s popularity seems to span ages, professions and social demographics.

His running mate for vice president is Sara Duterte Carpio, the daughter of outgoing leader Rodrigo Duterte. What we have seen is that Rodrigo Duterte and America don’t like each other that much, a mini irony in itself.

Some investigations and efforts to crawl back the alleged past loot _ which was said to be facilitated by mega-projects, helpful constitutional regulations and massive manipulation of public opinions _ are still going on, but if Bongbong is elected, he will supervise them.

May 6, 2022: The viral uproar and the subsequent, unequivocally apologizing statement from the renowned Lazada company will likely be followed by many things else, and politics, if it did not start it, may jump right in.

The controversy may have been downplayed or ignored by much of the mainstream media, but it was a swirling vortex of emotions in online platforms.  Lazada’s apology had been largely expected before it was actually issued. Such was the intensity of the uproar.

The apology included words like “grave errors”, “devalued humanity”, “hurting society’s feelings” and “We would have absolutely banned it from the beginning had it been thoroughly reviewed.”

How the controversy will go away in just a couple of days remains very much to be seen. The number of online users unfriending, unfollowing or unsubscribing Lazada is massive today. In addition, politicians are lurking, and a major Bangkok election is coming.

May 5, 2022: Thailand’s first COVID-19 vaccine, ChulaCov19, will make the country far better poised to fight future variants of the coronavirus and crippling outbreaks, experts say.

At a time when fears of the pandemic have decreased and public attention is turning to misbehaving monks and politicians, it’s normal to overlook a significant development regarding COVID-19. But economic and public health experts are hailing the progress made by developers of ChulaCov19, which they said would equip Thailand with an effective vaccine that can be made available quickly and cheaply.

ChulaCov19 has shown impressive results in the primary rounds of human trials. The director of the vaccine project claimed the Thai product was even more effective than Pfizer vaccines used in Thailand and it is expected to be  approved by Food and Drug Administration quite soon.

ChulaCov19 is the first mRNA-technology-based vaccine developed by the Chula Vaccine Research Centre at Chulalongkorn University and King Chulalongkorn Memorial Hospital, according to news reports. The director of the developing team, Kiat Rakroungtham, was quoted as voicing confidence that the vaccine would soon be approved and made Thailand a flag-bearer in the fight against COVID-19 in the region.

“Vaccines will be developed faster, and Thailand can share them with neighboring countries,” he was quoted as saying by thethaiger website.

May 4, 2022: NATO might be “barking” in the wrong place at the wrong time, thus probably helping trigger the Ukraine invasion, the holiest man in the western world has suggested.

If Vladimir Putin had said it, he would have been jeered at or booed left and right. But this was Pope Francis.

The Pope has been walking a delicate tightrope over the conflict. He has condemned Russia’s military aggression and lamented atrocities against civilians, but has never _ officially and directly _ pointed the finger at Russia and Putin. And the 85-year-old pontiff has seemed to suggest to Italy’s Corriere Della Sera newspaper that NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation) was in part to blame.

He said that while he would not go as far to say that NATO’s presence in nearby countries such as Poland and the Balkans ‘provoked’ Russia, the military alliance ‘perhaps facilitated’ the invasion by ‘barking’ at Putin’s door.

Pope Francis must have monitored a few analyses on NATO eastward expansion. While the West had always painted Putin as a potential and unpredictable aggressor, such political and military expansion was anything but smart.

May 3, 2022: District chiefs, kamnans and village heads are all representatives of centralized feudalism and should no longer exist, according to Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit whose opinion is highlighted online by his political group.

The proposed revamp, reported by several news outlets, is aimed at eradicating “redundancy” and “unfair” centralization restricting taxation, use of tax money and overall developments of local areas, said Thanathorn. He viewed such bodies as the tambon administrative organisations as the real representatives of the people because their members have to go through elections.

The politician compares Thailand’s rural administration to “parallel roads”, which are redundant and “go against my idea of decentralisation in that non-elected positions have more power than elected ones.”

From his statement, he is strongly against the structures, origins and powers related to provincial governors as well.

The Progressive Movement, of which Thanathorn is chairman, has been actively fielding candidates in elections of TAOs and Provincial Administrative Organisations. Virtually inseparable from the Move Forward Party in the opposition bloc, the movement is vehemently highlighting Thanathorn’s idea on decentralisation.

May 2, 2022: How the energy crisis rocking Europe and much of the rest of the world is handled will either establish a new global order or maintain the current one.

Much will depend on Russia, which spent decades trying to integrate itself into the world economy using vast energy reserves, and the countries ambivalent about going on depending on them amid the Ukraine invasion.

Europe is scrambling, after Russian supplies have been cut. Vladimir Putin in recent days retaliated his Western foes by ending natural gas supplies to Bulgaria and Poland for their refusal to pay in rublesOther large consumers of Russian gas, including Germany and Italy, have sought to reassure their increasingly-worried citizens that they are doing their best to cope with a possible Putin extension of the cutoff.

But an energy crisis is not something that can be easily worked around. Putin controlling Russian energy is like a highly-unpredictable man standing near the plug of the life support system sustaining another man’s life. The next few months, according to The Washington Post, “are going to be a harrowing time for Europe, as the impacts of high prices ripple around the world and governments struggle to power their factories, heat their homes and keep their electricity plants running.”

Western bluffs will keep on coming out against Putin and there will be optimistic talks about clean energy, but truth is that there are not enough alternatives in the near term right now to deal effectively with Russia over oil and gas supplies. The German central bank warned that the country’s economy could shrink by 2 percent if the Ukraine war persists, and this kind of admission will compete with the anti-Russian pep talks in terms of regularity.

May 1, 2022: Opinion surveys are coming thick and fast on the Bangkok gubernatorial race, and while Chadchart Sittipunt remains the hot favourite in all, the rise of Aswin Kwanmuang is noticeable.

A recent, large-scale popularity poll by Thammasat researchers had Aswin come third after Chadchart and Democrat Suchatvee Suwansawat, but Dusit Poll has just released findings that the former Prayut-installed Bangkok governor is now second, albeit trailing Chadchart significantly.

The Dusit Poll interviewed 2,522 eligible voters. Almost 40% of them would vote for independent Chadchart, as opposed to 14.16% who would pick Aswin. This is a very high lead and key difference between the Dusit survey and the Thammasat poll, which suggested that the gap between Chadchart and Suchatvee, who Thammasat pollsters stated came second, was not that big.

Suchatvee came third in the Dusit Poll, receiving 13.37% backing. Move Forward’s Wiroj Lakkhanaadisorn was, like in the Thammasat poll, fourth, getting exactly 10% support. The Dusit Poll was conducted between April 12-18, around the same time that the Thammasat reserchers carried out their survey.

Both Thammasat and Dusit polls found similar percentages regarding Aswin, though. He got 14.7% backing in the Thammasat poll, compared with 14.16% in the Dusit poll. Both polls got almost identical numbers on Wiroj as well.

 

Daily update of local and global events by Tulsathit Taptim

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