Omicron raises possibility of another New Year countdown cancellation
November 30, 2021: The United States stresses that there’s no reason to panic now, and the Thai Public Health Ministry hopes to see a semblance of festivities on December 31, but they, like the rest of the world, are saying that with crossed fingers.
The global red alert is causing a return to tough restrictions around the globe just when everyone has wanted to celebrate, with the World Health Organisation amplifying its frequent warnings after Omicron made its presence felt. With political and economic problems intertwined, Thailand is walking on a tightrope at the moment more than most other nations.
Here’s what the permanent secretary for public health, Kiattipoom Wongrajit, had to say today about the New Year countdown and the possibility of a new total lockdown: “Don’t go that far just yet. Being cooperative (on current measures) will still protect you.”
Similar comments were made by the Thai authorities before Songkran in 2020 and this year, and we all know what happened. It also has to be noted that previous cancellations of major human celebrations took place when the coronavirus did not get the sort of respect and awe it is getting today.
November 29, 2021: Today is one of those days when Thai politicians cannot really smile but cannot put a finger on the exact reason why.
Palang Pracharath has to come out to deny that a significant exodus is on the card, saying speculation about imminent departures of members associated with the “Sammitr Group” is pure rumour, but the ruling party didn’t look too happy talking about it. Move Forward, meanwhile, was trying to look “pleased” with Sunday’s rural elections’ results although opponents saw the outcomes as a failure to win the hearts of older voters upcountry and expand its fanbase from young urbanites. The Democrats, hoping to bounce back from a catastrophe of two years ago, were dealing with more high-profile members wanting to leave. Pheu Thai said it was hopeful of a “landslide” election victory, but that goal looks increasingly like it has to be over the dead body of its frenemy, Move Forward.
While it’s debatable whether Move Forward scored or flopped in Sunday’s rural elections, it’s more obvious with each passing day that the second biggest opposition party wants to penetrate Pheu Thai’s “market”, the populace upcountry who don’t like “the other side”. It’s fair to say that apart from Palang Pracharath and Democrats, Pheu Thai will have Move Forward to worry about in the next election.
Yet, the opposition’s biggest party has tried to appear upbeat today, and, all things considered, Pheu Thai may find it easier to do so than the other camps. “We will be the post-election government,” Chaikasem Nitisiri, Pheu Thai’s chief strategist, told a press conference after a key party meeting to lay down groundwork for the next election. “Policies have been drafted (in case we are in Government House).”
November 28, 2021: In a tweet that could impact its popularity and recognition which had seemed to be gaining ground since George Floyd’s death, a loose and vast movement supported by millions of Americans has practically said the superpower country was built on “stolen land”.
The Thanksgiving post raised eyebrows and a backlash has been seen in some sections of white American adults. Obviously, it’s a kamikaze tweet.
“You are eating dry turkey and overcooked stuffing on stolen land,” Black Lives Matter’s national arm wrote on Twitter just a few days ago. The post included a graphic reinforcing the “stolen land” claim.
“Colonisation never ended, it just became normalised,” the graphic said, and asked Americans to learn “which ancestral homeland” they are “currently occupying.”
It triggered tens of thousands of comments. Many replied bitterly or furiously, or both, to the post. While BLM has gained recognition by campaigning for rights and justice for black people, it has never ceased to be controversial, supporting certain moves by Cuba’s communist rulers for instance, and the latest act of boldness is unlikely to take advantage of the serious Democrat-Republican split rocking America at the moment.
November 27, 2021: Human beings, in the awkward race against the coronavirus, are always bothered by the possibility that, someday, it might come up with a variant that evades existing vaccines and spreads for fun.
Omicron is the closest thing to that fear so far. It seems to carry worrisome mutations that may enable it to evade antibodies, according to scientists, who are trying to pacify the world by saying that it will take more research to know how Omicron fares against the vaccinated or in areas where vaccination is intensive.
The World Health Organisation calls it a variant “of concern”. On the one hand, that sounds formal, was used before and not that scary. On the other hand, the designation, announced after an emergency WHO meeting, is reserved for dangerous variants that may spread quickly, cause severe disease or reduce the effectiveness of vaccines, according to western reports. The last COVID-19 variant to be classified as “of concern” is Delta.
Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, whose reopening plan politically and economically depends a lot on how serious the “new wave” is, has ordered a close monitoring of everything related to Omicron. The rest of the world is doing the same, with travels from southern Africa subjected to absolute bans or great restrictions. This is in spite of scientists’ insistence that current vaccines are still the best way to go and that previous mutations have been effectively dealt with.
While technologically-advanced nations would not admit it, their failure to really work together may have opened the door for the coronavirus to come up with one variant after another.
November 26, 2021: Europe has been stunned yet again; winter has come or is coming in much of the world; and the festive season is arriving. So is the “new wave”, it has been warned.
Thai doctors have cautioned that December could take away the country’s painfully-slow, hard-fought and barely-noticeable reduction in COVID-19 infection number, as Thailand hopes to recapture economic gains from the reopened tourism sector and embrace the arrival of 2022.
It is warned that the fact that Southeast Asia has seen some positive signs could be a part of COVID-19’S vicious circle in which the virus jumps from one continent to another, apparently back and forth. Seemingly-declining death tolls could also represent some major adjustment of the coronavirus which faces threats of a diminishing number of “hosts” and powerful medication in the forms of vaccines and straightforward drugs.
“Much of Europe has been fully vaccinated, yet the infection numbers are rising scarily,” Prof Prasit Watanapa, a top expert at the Siriraj Hospital, told Krungthep Turakij this week. He said cultures, complacency, reopening and political misdirections are to blame for the looming new wave.
“December will be a very high-risk month, and discipline, quick executive reactions, and strict cooperation of the populace are highly important,” he said.
November 25, 2021: As the Dtac-True deal looms over Thailand, Thaksin Shinawatra apparently wonders what the Temasek fuss is all about. The answer, though, lies in the amount of tax he paid.
In a tweet by the CARE group, which comprises his strategists and top supporters, Thaksin seemingly had a theory on why the Dtac-True merger did not cause a monopoly stir that much.
“It’s because Thaksin name is not in it,” the tweet, apparently quoting the man in Dubai himself, said. If Thaksin’s name had been in it, the tweet implied, all hell would have broken loose.
That is a bit misleading, however. The Temasek uproar near the end of Thaksin’s prime ministerial tenure, if one cares to remember, revolved around the minuscule tax and the reasons why, including suspicious transfers of shares that made little taxation possible. Monopoly questions were not the reason why all hell broke loose.
Meanwhile, although he has said he is sorry, famous anti-establishment figure Thanat Thanakitamnuay has done little to repair damage caused by what looked like one major case of a Freudian slip.
To say to the face of a court security guard during an argument that “My car is more expensive than your house” should never have come from someone claiming to fight for better social equality. Many anti-establishment peers have thought so, saying that no matter how heated the moment was, that statement was dead wrong.
He has apologised and thanked those who had given him warnings and teaching. But the hi-so politician-turned-activist, remarkable for drastic ideological swing, put some weird content in his apology. He said he only meant to scold an opponent in an argument, used wrong “experimental” words, and would think better before scolding next time.
November 24, 2021: Donation accusations have apparently resurfaced against certain characters among anti-establishment celebrity figures after a much-talked-about incident that took place at a party just a few days ago.
That one incident opened a floodgate of social media pictures and mockery comments as well as mainstream media reports digging back into alleged irregularities concerning how anti-government donations were solicited and how the money has been used or abused.
The pro-government camp, obviously, is taking to the incident like a duck to water, saying celebrity anti-government figures have been living a luxurious, fun-filled life, suspiciously overseeing donation money and fighting among themselves over donated cash while “lesser activists” faced tear gas, rubber bullets and jail.
According to news reports, photos and clips, the incident began when a famous anti-establishment activist, Rukchanok “Ice” Srinork, stormed into a party where many other leading anti-government figures were gathering. Like all parties, there were a lot of drinking and dancing. She had a heated argument with movie director Yuthalert “Tom” Sippapak, who allegedly slapped her. She claimed to have been kicked, too, and has filed complaints with the police.
Rukchanok, seen in the photo, had been uninvited and people attending the party had needed to be formally selected and registered. The argument, it was said, involved donation allegations.
November 23, 2021: Camps profiting or badly affected in the “every vote counts” electoral system have begun preparing themselves for a change back to the old days, when if a candidate lost an election by just one vote, those who cast ballots for them mattered nothing.
The argument for that system is that it was in fact democratic in a big way, because votes for the losers should account for something, especially if a contest was close, and that if there is something in there for the losers, it would make elections less destructively fierce. The argument against is that it’s not “democracy” as we know it, because “majority” deciding or answering political questions is the main point of the idea. Another point of argument against is that the “every vote counts” concept was invented to undermine Pheu Thai, because, for example, votes in the Northeast for the losers would no longer be meaningless. Moreover, calculating numbers of party-list MPs in the one-ballot system is more complicated than the two-ballot system in which voters just select a party they like and their decision will simply decide how many party-list lawmakers each party gets.
But the debate is academic now, as it has been decided that the old two-ballot system will be revived in the next election. Parties will either benefit from the change or lose advantages. Future Forward (now Move Forward), for example, would have to come up with a plan to compensate for an expected decline in the number of party-list MPs. The same goes for the Palang Pracharath Party. Pheu Thai is smiling and probably the Democrats too.
All of those mentioned will have to readjust their plans accordingly. Smaller parties, which in the last election benefited from accumulations of “losers’ votes” here and there, will be very nervous.
November 22, 2021: One major political development has come to pass rather quietly. The announcement in the royal gazette on the new electoral system means that the motivation for Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha to dissolve Parliament now will decrease considerably, and that the opposition Pheu Thai Party has officially got what it really wants.
To cut a long story short, Thailand will return to the two-ballot election system that will benefit Pheu Thai in terms of parliamentary numbers. The party is expected to win the biggest number of constituency MPs in the next election but now can hope to also get many party-list MPs.
It was not the case in the last election, because the balloting system at the time came with a calculation method that deprived Pheu Thai of party-list entitlement. Reaping benefits from the now-defunct system primarily were the Palang Pracharath and Future Forward (now Move Forward) parties.
Since the royal gazette announcement would officially usher in the two-ballot system, the best time for Prayut to dissolve the House of Representatives is passing, although there remains the issue of making new organic laws to accommodate the changed Constitution. Calling a snap election should be “before” the royal gazette announcement. That would take away the “advantage” from Pheu Thai.
Apart from many in the government, another group that would be particularly unhappy is Move Forward, which despite its criticism of the Constitution benefited remarkably from the one-ballot system and could see its size shrink in the next election. Already, Pheu Thai and Move Forward are said to be preparing separate versions of organic laws and whatever transpires will tell a lot about unity in the opposition bloc.
November 21, 2021: It was a day Prayut Chan-o-cha addressed many issues, giving the kind of comments that will please supporters and dismay critics.
Being The University of the Thai Chamber of Commerce’s guest speaker, the prime minister acknowledged the economic hardships, international political and economic complexities but expressed strong hope that the government will have rolled out 100 million doses of vaccines by the end of this month and another 20 million doses by the end of December.
He said the COVID-19 situation seems to be “progressively improving” but the last thing Thailand needs is complacency. “We must never assume that we can be less cautious,” he said.
Prayut also replied to recent criticism. According to the prime minister, the political drama stemming from his coriander comment omitted the possibility that he was just using coriander as an example since he could not name every vegetable. Also, his comment about military trucks in the face of truckers’ protests was just an attempt to calm down worries about a potential transport crisis, not a threat against the trucking industry.
He complained that what he had said was often subjected to distortion, a situation, he said, made further complicated by the fast pace of the online world.
Prayut added that announcing his grand plans did not mean he was dictatorial and wanted to hang on to power. “Whatever plan I talk about, I keep my own thought in my mind all the time how I much want to do it myself (and how much would be groundwork). I’m not a stubborn man and I’m not a dictator,” he insisted.
Many policies have to take into account the complications of the current world, divided into a pro-US and pro-China camps, he suggested, although the prime minister did not mention the US-China tension directly. “We must be totally aware of what’s happening (internationally) or we won’t be able to analyse anything at all. We cannot think “Thailand only” because we also have Asean, the superpowers and economic superpowers to think about,” he said.
November 20, 2021: If international health experts are correct, about 15-16 million more second shots of the vaccines will make it a lot more difficult for the coronavirus to spread in Thailand.
That would bring the percentage of second-jab coverage to 80, a landmark which is lofty but is needed to hopefully contain the virus in a far more effective way than currently. Even 70% won’t do it. According to the experts, the difference between 70% and 80% is “huge”.
To get the second-shot coverage to 80%, the first shot coverage needs to get to 80% first, which is currently not the case. More than 9 million more first shots are required as of today.
These figures are consistent with the vaccination coverage review taking place because of the seemingly-worsening situation in Europe, where inoculation percentages are high. The experts conclude that even small pockets of unvaccinated populations can drive infection numbers up as the virus is a lot better at seeking out its hosts. Good news is that death numbers are not as scary as before.
There are two key tacit warnings here: Complacency can make a mockery of any percentage, and that no matter how ambitious the 80% goal looks, it might even be elevated in the future.
November 19, 2021: The prime minister is a one-party man, according to the very man who can make him otherwise.
Trying to dismiss persistent rumours linking Prayut Chan-o-cha to a newly-formed political party, Thai Sangsan, Palang Pracharath leader Prawit Wongsuwan has said the prime minister’s bond with his party is impossible to break.
“To Gen Prayut, there is only one party,” said Prawit. “Why would he need to set up a new one? No, he wouldn’t.”
He also suggested that Palang Pracharath was ready to make its ties with Prayut official by giving him membership. But, Prawit insisted, Prayut, legally a free agent at the moment, did not need to do anything extra.
“We always support him no matter what,” said Prawit, whose backing for Prayut has become a subject of speculation lately. He added that reporters think otherwise because they imagined things up and came to believe their own imagination.
Thai Sangsan, many in the mainstream media believe, is Prayut’s safety net in case ties break down between him and Palang Pracharath.
November 18, 2021: If you were a Thai politician, be careful where you buy your food, and pray to God that if you buy it from a wrong source, you won’t get caught.
Progressive Movement’s Piyabutr Saengkanokkul can tell you why. Exhausted and hungry after a tiring day on Wednesday, he went to a convenient store that night and bought a set of microwavable meal. To keep up with today’s trend, he posted a picture of the seemingly normal menu online for his fans. “I had eaten very little today,” the caption read. “So starving and all shops were close. Needed to depend on convenient food.”
The apparently harmless post drew thousands of “likes”, of course, but his political opponents also spotted something to mock him with. It turned out that he bought the food from a famous convenient store chain boycotted, on Wednesday only, by many who share his political ideology.
Many brands and shops have been boycotted as a result of the on-going political conflict. The chain that Piyabutr “depended on” was targeted because it allegedly endangered the wellbeing of the mom and pop stores.
November 17, 2021: To people who hate Cold War, this is a development they definitely do not want to see. According to The Washington Post, the Biden administration is still still weighing how to approach the upcoming Beijing Winter Olympic Games, including the possibility of a diplomatic boycott.
The White House hasn’t reached a final conclusion, but signs are not good, and the current tension between China and the United States makes the slippery slope from Cold War to something worse a real scare.
Boycotts of sports events were a key feature of the previous Cold War between America and Russia. The then tension complicated the world greatly, especially their respectively allies. But, compared with now, it could be just like two big boys in the classroom not talking to each other.
November 16, 2021: With Parliament yet again contemplating proposed changes to the Constitution, maybe it’s time for a bit of national reflection.
Since the end of the absolute monarchy and beginning of constitutional monarchy in 1932, the country _ political rivals in the country, in fact _ has successfully changed, drastically or else, the charter 23 times. Biggest fighting has centred on the electoral system and the relevance of the Senate. That means what is being debated in Parliament and on the streets right now has been the crux of national divisions for about nine decades.
On the Senate, Thailand has tried basically everything _ a powerful Senate, a timid Senate overshadowed by the House of Representatives, an appointed Senate or an elected Senate. None of them lasted long.
Arguably the most ironic constitutional attempt took place in 1997, when an unprecedented “drafting assembly” created a “People’s Charter”. It dealt with the Senate issue and overall electoral system, but it also introduced a never-before-seen anti-corruption mechanism featuring the National Anti-Corruption Commission, the Constitutional Court as well as a section in the conventional court handling politicians’ cases exclusively.
It was supposed to be good, beginning with powerful politicians banned for relatively minor cases of financial irregularities and alleged vote buyers punished. But then Thaksin Shinawatra was let off the hook over the “Servants’ shares scandal”, certain political parties were dissolved, more individual bans were imposed and the rest is history.
November 15, 2021: A charter amendment bill that could drastically alter Thailand’s political system might not live to see the light of day comes Tuesday, November 16, but proponents’ real aim might just be to test the waters.
The bill, dubbed proposed amendment “of the people” and signed by more than 150,000 Thais, has a mountain to climb in Parliament because it would virtually make the Senate irrelevant and because it needs the support of more than 80 senators to go to the next step.
“Independent agencies” including the Constitutional Court would face major fundamental changes, too.
While one side of the political divide would win the parliamentary war, what happens on the streets is a different matter. The fate of the bill, strongly advocated by young politician Parit Watcharasindhu, among others, could galvanise its proponents, if they need further galvanising, that is. But the same can be said for the opponents of the bill, both inside and outside Parliament.
Apart from senators, government MPs can be a major stumbling block.
November 14, 2021: On the one hand, the Prayut government would want tourists to pour back into Thailand, because that’s a big deal when “face” is concerned. On the other hand, tempting a large number of foreign tourists may require a lot of relaxing of COVID-19 rules, which is living dangerously.
The opponents of the administration, meanwhile, would want to see tourists staying away from the Kingdom so they can say “See?”. The tourist floodgate opening won’t be too bad for them either, especially if COVID-19 numbers climb back up. Again, they can say “See?”
So, if many tourists come to Thailand while COVID-19 figures are manageable, the government wins. Fewer than expected tourists and the opponents laugh. A lot of tourists and more infections and deaths will, too, be politicised.
England has seen foreign tourists staying away from it, and COVID-19 is one of the key factors. England’s politics is tough, but not anywhere near as tough as Thailand’s. Imagine an international report saying tourists avoiding Thailand because of COVID-19.
According to the Prayut government, about 40,000 tourists have visited Thailand two weeks after reopening. Many people must be watching the trend closely for different reasons.
November 13, 2021: “The Unspeakable” is being shown online including YouTube whereas some 2,700 military veterans have been counted among “conspiracy theorists”. The ghost of one of America’s darkest days is far from being put to rest.
The documentary features struggles of the closest families of some victims of the 9/11 terror attacks on the United States 20 years ago. They refuse to believe the official story on how it happened and have been demanding a new investigation. According to the website of the “Truthers”, about 2,700 war veterans have backed up the call for a new probe.
The film, officially released just a few days ago and going to England, too, adds to what look like stepped-up activities of those not believing the official narrative. A comic book has been published. Legal offensives have been launched. Video clips discrediting them and made by the mainstream media like the Washington Post have seen comment sections on fire.
The “Truthers”, flaunting the most shocking theory of all time, naturally intensify their activities before and after the annual anniversary of 9/11, but their website insists the intensity will increase, not subside.
November 12, 2021: Selective amplification of what was said by the Constitutional Court, its supporters, its critics, the plaintiffs as well as the defendants would only inflame the already volatile political situation and could lead to unwanted consequences, many people have warned.
The warning has come amid intensified wars of words at political forums, TV news talks or on social media. Heated arguments often featured “edited” or selective content that served the agendas of speakers or writers on both sides of the national divide, while the situation requires broader, complete and honest contexts to be publicised to make everyone truly understand the issue, which is already potentially explosive.
One person said massive misunderstandings caused by selective or prejudiced pushing of content led to one of Thailand’s darkest days in 1976.
November 11, 2021: The Election Commission will be looking into Wednesday’s ruling of the Constitutional Court word for word as political attention turns toward a potential new big bomb _ the future of a major opposition camp.
As the court ruled that three key anti-establishment figures were committing offences against constitutional monarchy that is the centre of Thailand’s political system, the defendants’ connections related to their protests will be looked at, according to a senior EC official.
Among the organisations whose futures interest the media in particular is the Move Forward Party.
“The study will take time, as there are a lot of technical details to look at,” said EC Secretary-General Charungwit Phumma, in response to reporters’ inquiry about Move Forward and an attempt by the plaintiff in the Constitutional Court case to seek the party’s dissolution. “After the court’s ruling, our office is seeking a copy of the whole court statement so we can look into the entire matter thoroughly.”
The party has not officially reacted to this development related to itself, but has bemoaned the ruling against the key protesters.
November 10, 2021: The ruling was explosive, but punishment was virtually next to nothing. It seemed the Constitutional Court was treading a super-fine line. Yet it also seemed that the national divisions will remain volatile whatever the judges have done.
The court said what was said on the rally stage by three main anti-establishment figures, who were accused of trying to abolish Thailand’s political system, was actually a crime against Thailand’s political foundation of constitutional monarchy. Yet, the suspects were reprimanded by the court instead of facing heavy penalties. Therefore, it was a ruling that is apparently full of contradictions and pleases no extremists on either side of the political divide.
Things that transpire post-ruling suggest it would be stormy business as usual. Rallying cries are emerging from both sides and Thailand’s political situation will continue to be very fluid. Leaflets were flying. A replica of the Democracy Monument was being burned. Social media hashtags were being wildly created and circulated. And the Move Forward Party is now a subject of rife and renewed speculation due to its perceived connections with protesters.
November 9, 2021: Complaints against certain key anti-establishment protesters can be finalised on Wednesday, November 10, by the Constitutional Court, whose ruling(s) may generate potentially explosive effects one way or the other.
The case involved what was said on a rally stage last year which made the accusers claim it was part of a plan sponsored by foreigners to upend Thailand’s political system.
The plaintiff, Nattaporn Tohprayoon, claimed evidence was so strong that Constitutional Court judges asked to see it again to ascertain it. The evidence involved “top secret” findings by special branch police, according to him.
Restricted entry and checks in and around the court compound have been ordered.
November 8, 2021: Once criticised for being “slow” and “poor” on vaccine planning, the Prayut administration is determined to avoid similar reproach when it comes to emerging drugs that could effectively treat coronavirus-infected patients.
According to the government’s spokesman, Thanakorn Wangboonkongchana, reservations were being made to ensure quick availability of Molnupiravir and Paxlovid, both coming from America, for Thai people. He said the government hopes that Thailand “will be among the first countries to get the pills”.
The potential drugs have become hot commodities that will certainly enrich their developers, but the coronavirus-battered world is keeping weary eyes on the issue of pricing, patent and availability. The pills, said Thanakorn, are essential to Thai health and the country’s reopening plan.
The government’s optimism, he said, has been further boosted by the positive vaccine distribution trend in the country as well as the infection and death numbers that seem to be slowing down. Thailand now ranks 18th in the world in terms of the amount of doses being given whereas the daily death toll has been below one hundred for a few consecutive weeks, he pointed out.
In one month from today, he added, the government hopes it will have been able to give 70 % of the population at least the first jab.
November 7, 2021: She is a key human rights advocate who always goes against the mainstream of what was once her unambiguous movement. Nuttaa “Bow” Mahattana’s stance on Article 112 will make sure that the drifting apart continues.
In a Facebook post, she has spoken her mind about the law, whose proponents want to maintain in its current form (criminalising the offenders and threatening them with potentially harsh penalties) and opponents want to either scrap or drastically amend. Her view: Argument for human rights, favoured by the latter group, actually works both ways.
“When someone says libel should be specifically a civil matter (not criminal offence), it’s the argument for victims’ rights being violated,” she wrote. Nuttaa, many times on the receiving end of defamation attacks herself, elaborated that not all offended parties were rich enough to carry out civil action all the way, so, to many victims, criminal action is their only hope.
“There is no such thing as freedom to violate others,” said Nuttaa, who often argues for human rights and genuine democracy. “When libel matters are in the criminal law, it’s not a problem for well-intended people. It’s meant to protect the rights of those who are offended.”
She added that society could practically count with bare hands the number of offenders who actually have gone to jail because of libel. Most convicts were fined and put on probation if imprisonment sentences were involved, she noted.
“The criminal (jail) penalties are there to make society realise how heavy the crime is if you violate the rights of others. It makes offended parties feel that justice does exist for them,” she said.
The way she sees it, the final conclusion to the on-going Article 112 controversy will tell everyone what kind of society Thais want to live in. “Drunk driving can cause serious harm (though in reality offenders simply are fined and let go), so the drastic law has to be there to remind everyone that it’s a big sin and they shall never ever assume that they can drunk-drive all the time and easily get away with it through paying some fines,” she said.
November 6, 2021: One analysis in a mainstream media outlet has it that the one sitting on the fence in the current renewal of the Article 112 uproar may stand to benefit the most.
That analysis coincides with an opinion poll finding that while Prayut Chan-o-cha trailed Democrat leader Jurin Laksanawisit in a Bangkok popularity survey conducted a few days ago, the prime minister was considered the most patriotic among all candidates for the national chief executive post. The same poll also found a shockingly low rating for Pheu Thai’s Paetongtarn Shinawatra, who has just been ushered into national politics and is immediately considered a potential prime ministerial candidate of the biggest opposition party.
The government bloc is apparently more united when it comes to Article 112, which it insists shall not be touched. The other camp has seen Pheu Thai flip-flopping on a virtually daily basis and Move Forward even attacked by some hardcore street activists who thought the second-biggest opposition party only “pretended” to be pushing hard and was outspoken only because it knew changes were next to impossible. The street extremists, some of them at least, also felt that Move Forward should have done more regarding non-parliamentary activism.
It’s a long way to go still. But as of now, according to the analysis, embattled Prayut could not believe his luck.
November 5, 2021: Good news is that it’s a first. Bad news is that while findings of a large-scale Bangkok survey by the Sukhothai Thammathirat Open University should uplift the Democrats from the doom and gloom of the last election, it may matter little in the national scheme of things.
The STOU poll showed that Jurin Laksanawisit is the most popular politician among Bangkok residents, having more admirers than even Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha and Sudarat Keyuraphan, who came second and third respectively, and leaving Pheu Thai’s new presenter, Paetongtarn Shinawatra, so far behind in the popularity survey of 12,350 people.
Jurin won in all but one major categories. The surveyed Bangkokians liked him for perceived economic capability, experience, determination/devotion, accessibility/humility, honesty and the ability to resist undue influences. Prayut came second in those categories, and topped the patriotism category in which Jurin was second. Paetongtarn lingered at the bottom for all those categories.
Overall, 54.24% of the Bangkokians surveyed liked Jurin as the next prime minister, compared with 52.99% who preferred Prayut. It was close. Sudarat, meanwhile, got 38.12% whereas Paetongtarn’s support of 8.87% put her at the bottom of the Bangkok popularity list.
November 4, 2021: To be fair to the supreme de facto ruler of the Pheu Thai Party, he can never win. One day after trying to defuse a potential political time bomb, another one starts ticking.
Article 112 gives Thaksin Shinawatra a major headache. Adopting a tough stance against it and his Pheu Thai Party along with his beloved youngest daughter can risk a political or legal backlash, or both. Being too soft on the subject and his party, along with his beloved daughter, may as well give their “frenemy”, the Move Forward Party, a huge market share on a silver platter.
To clarify that, Pheu Thai’s hope to capitalise on Prayut Chan-o-cha’s declining popularity could be badly affected by a campaign to change Article 112. At the same time, being seen as too accommodative on the law can also mean Pheu Thai gives the upper hand to Move Forward in an electoral market both camps are fighting over. Simply put, if Pheu Thai wants to make inroads into the new market, it should stay away from Article 112, but if the party wants to maintain its old market share, threatened by Move Forward’s relentless push to change the law, Pheu Thai cannot stand still on the subject.
Pheu Thai, or Thaksin specifically, has been deemed a coward by a leading anti-establishment figure. Exiled Somsak Jeamteerasakul said he read “with great disappointment” the “incredible” Thaksin stance on the subject. The former prime minister, he suggested, would be happy to watch foot soldiers go to jail while those at the top of the political echelon keep making decisions based on political benefits.
November 3, 2021: The man in Dubai is apparently afraid that the Pheu Thai Party’s statement regarding Article 112 can be blown out of proportion, possibly impacting his de facto political camp’s image negatively.
In a Facebook post, Thaksin Shinawatra said the libel law designed for the Royal Family “is in itself not a problem.” He suggested that comprehensive talks that could ensure proper enforcement by the powers-that-be should be enough.
“I’d like both sides to calm down, take a deep breath and start anew according to my proposals,” Thaksin wrote. His proposals were that those enforcing the law hold talks with those wanting to change it so that both sides can see where problems are and make sure that the legislation is used appropriately.
He insisted that both sides using “reasons” is better than tackling the issue emotionally.
“The law itself is never a problem,” he said. That could complicate his Pheu Thai Party’s announced intention the other day that it would like to see legal changes. But he insisted that enforcement needs to be dealt with through talks between proponents and opponents.
Some analysts had believed that Pheu Thai toughened its stance on the law in order to woo potential voters away from Move Forward, its opposition ally with a clearer attitude toward Article 112. However, it was also believed that Pheu Thai’s move can backfire, both legally and politically.
November 2, 2021: The Pheu Thai Party’s announcement that it wants to see changes to the highest libel law will have present and future ramifications. In other words, current Thai parliamentary politics will be glaringly divided along that ultra-controversial line, and political parties will go into the next general election with clashing platforms.
The Democrats have announced they would not support any attempt to change to Article 112, whereas the Palang Pracharath Party’s stance is definitely a “No”. Bhumjaithai is unlikely to support Pheu Thai on this matter either.
The opposition bloc, meanwhile, will certainly be united behind Pheu Thai, with some hardliners believed to favour even more drastic changes.
The more neutral Kla Party, meanwhile, has said it does not want to aggravate social divisions which are already critical in Thailand.
Pheu Thai’s announcement coincided with recent opinion polls showing it was the most popular political party. This particular issue will add a lot of spice to the cutthroat political war.
November 1, 2021: The answer to the question whether the Prayut administration has kept its promise to vaccinate 50% of the population is not easy, as it depends on how one defines “vaccination.”
More than half of the population have received the first shots. Meanwhile, Thailand is a few million more doses shy of giving half the country the second jab.
On October 1, the government announced that each Thai province’s vaccination should cover 50% of its population by the end of the month. As prioritisation and urgency differ from province to province, it’s probably fair to judge success based on whether half of the entire Thai population has been vaccinated by now.
This is where the first shot, second shot issue comes into play, and the debate can be blamed on the apparent government ambiguity. As of October 31 and according to the Public Health Ministry, more than 42 million first doses have been given, easily passing the 50% mark. But when the second shots are concerned, fewer than 31 million doses have been dispensed, meaning more than half of the Thai population have not been “fully vaccinated.”
Overall, when compared to the rest of the world, vaccination coverage is all right. When numbers of infections and deaths are concerned, the situation is anything but.
Daily update by Tulsathit Taptim