11 July 2024

February 28, 2022: One commendable thing about Thailand’s oldest political party is that  it always has a great leadership transition process that minimises monopoly of power, and Bhichai Rattakul, who has just passed away, was a big part of that.

The Democrat Party’s modern history has been seeing unrelated people taking turn at the helm and they wield true leadership power. Apart from Bhichai, party leaders over the past few decades includes Chuan Leekpai, Banyat Bantadtan, Abhisit Vejjajiva and Jurin Laksanawisit. They are not related to one another and none of them is obscenely rich enough to finance operations of a whole political party.

Thailand has seen influential clans dominating political parties _ the Shinawatras, the Silapa-archas, the Adireksans and so on _ meaning “clans” of political “royalty” has dictated much of the country’s pulse. That can be unhealthy because it is likely to spawn nasty nepotism and conflicts of interests.

Many may say Bhichai, who has died of lung cancer, was not a flashy politician, but that might be because “flashy” and “dignity” do not go hand in hand in politics.

February 27, 2022: The removed president of Chulalongkorn University’s Student Council has issued the strongest response to the campus’ regulators, saying they are the ones who are the most pitiful.

In his Facebook post, Netiwit Chotiphatphaisal accused his removers of being “shortsighted”, of “consuming news one-sidedly”, of failing to listen to students’ opinions, and of practically ignoring the legitimacy of his elected status.

Because of all that, “I’m not the one who you should pity,” he wrote.

He had been stripped of the post after the Office of Student Affairs deducted 10 points from his “behavioural score” for gross violation of the university’s student regulations. Since the decision to oust him must have gone through some of the university’s highest authorities, his Facebook post must have wound them up.

February 26, 2022: The Thai prime minister has asked the Finance, Energy and Commerce ministries in particular to focus heavily on the Ukraine crisis, according to the government’s spokesman.

There is no mentioning of the Foreign Ministry in Thanakorn Wangboonkongchana’s latest media briefing, but it goes without saying that international politics related to Ukraine is as important as trade, tourism and energy prices.

Thanakorn said Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha wanted the Commerce, Finance and Energy ministries to pay serious attention to economic consequences that could increase hardships already prevalent in the face of COVID-19.

The Ukraine situation has generated economic sanctions that could have a domino effect beyond the military trouble spot. For example, a Russian billionaire’s ownership of Chelsea Football Club is being under scrutiny, in addition to the change of venue for the final of this year’s Uefa Champions League.

Significant gesture is being contemplated for the Carabao Cup final between Liverpool and Chelsea in England tomorrow (February 27) which is being closely watched for political reasons.

February 25, 2022: Some Thais including at least one leading opposition politician are openly condemning Russia. Others are saying “Not so fast”.  Such divide is inevitable because the complex issue of Russia, Ukraine and the West involves sovereign rights, ideological rights, legitimacy or illegitimacy of rebellion, and to a large extent hypocrisy concerning what has been preached by both sides in the grand military showdown.

Move Forward leader Pita Limjaroenrat’s call for immediate Russian pull-out of Ukraine is lauded by some and criticised by others as too premature, uncalled-for and probably not so considerate toward dissident minorities whose feelings he should have understood the most. One Thai academic said Pita was unnecessarily “drawing the war to the Thai direction” while a former senior national security man said if Pita had been leading Thailand, such a comment would put Bangkok near the centre of the global volatility.

In an online post, Pita said he demanded “unconditional” pull-out of Russian troops because “warfare removes any sense of security of the people, who suffer the most in an armed conflict although they are not the ones who want it.”

The former high-ranking security official said: “You need to be more armed than Joe Biden to demand a Russian military pull-out. You need to be more powerful militarily than the United States and NATO to make such a demand.” And Pita was not even Thai prime minister, at least not yet, the official said.

The case of Pita, however, is showing how awkward it can turn out to be for governments around the globe. International analysts believe that when push comes to shove, countries’ leaders may be forced to take a stand in statements which have been vaguely pro-peace so far.

February 24, 2022: An extended war could force governments to take sides, which may lead to unthinkable consequences, but that is a hypothesis for the future. Immediate concern must have to do with the fact that the standoff between the United States and Russia, the two countries in possession of the world’s largest nuclear arsenals, has never been this volatile and their armed forces have never been positioned so closely in a highly-confrontational manner.

Highest international statements can never be more hair-raising. In addressing the invasion, Vladimir Putin warned against any efforts to deter his forces. “Anyone who tries to interfere with us, or even more so, to create threats for our country and our people, must know that Russia’s response will be immediate and will lead you to such consequences as you have never before experienced in your history,” Putin said. “We are ready for any turn of events.”

If that can’t shake peace-lovers, nothing will. Over the past few weeks, the US and European allies have moved troops, naval ships and warplanes eastward on the continent, near where Russian military is positioning and operating, According to Time magazine, even during the Cold War, American and Russian military forces were never so closely positioned amid an active conflict.

Putin’s latest speech declared Ukraine to be an “inalienable part of [Russia’s] history, culture and spiritual space.” That prompted speculation that Russia could up the scale of its military operations. As for the West, it remains to be seen how longer condemnation and talks about sanctions can hold and not turn into something scarier.

February 23, 2022: Political narratives in America are pushing Donald Trump closer to Vladimir Putin and away from Joe Biden when Ukraine is concerned.

It does not matter who is right and who is wrong on the matters of the “right to choose” one’s sovereign destination or the “right” to protect that right. The United States’ foreign policy can be weakened just when it needs to be strong or at least appear unequivocally unified.

According to pro-Biden American media, while the president tries to regain the US role of leading the “free world”, Trump is in a “giddy rush to side with a foreign leader who is proving to be an enemy of the United States and the West.” In the words of CNN, Trump is showing that “impunity, dictator-coddling and hero worship will return if he wins back the White House.”

This followed a curious Trump speech this week in which he seemed sympathetic toward Ukrainian “rebels” and Russian troop movement that Biden stated would lead to a large-scale war. At this stage, it’s not so clear how serious Trump was, especially the part where he called Putin savvy.

The Republican-Democrat divisions in the United States have been aggravated lately, but Biden was reportedly hoping that serious international problems with Russia and China would renew patriotism that could fix some cracks.

With Trump getting shoved toward Russia, that kind of hope might be in jeopardy, alongside the United States’ foreign policy that had seemed a lot more immune to domestic political fighting.

February 22, 2022: The “Spanish Flu” that swept the globe during the World War I got a lot of help from overcrowded military conditions like those in camps or in trenches, as well as wartime censorships aimed at easing or preventing fears related to contagious diseases and the sending home of infected soldiers. Today’s situation is becoming eerily similar to the past outbreak that almost went toe to toe with gunfire and bombardment in terms of death tolls across the planet.

It does not matter whether it’s Russia or the US-led West who is thinking about “peacekeeping” in Ukraine. It does not matter if both are thinking they are helping Ukrainian people. The confrontation is at its most dangerous point now, with COVID-19 looming as a scary backdrop.

Spanish Flu mutated several times, and one wave was scarier and more potent than the other. There were breaks, killing sprees and periods when scares and relief were mixed. The virus that caused it must have liked the war.

It remains to be seen how new-age warfare can assist the coronavirus, but a lot of people surely don’t want to see it.

Both Washington and Moscow must be thinking they are helping the world right now, but “responsibility” materializes at many levels, and with greatest power comes greatest responsibility.

February 21, 2022: The prime condition for the Biden-Putin talk to take place, according to the media, is that Russia must not invade Ukraine. That’s a little bit funny, and there are a few reasons why.

Is such condition something so basic and understandable that it isn’t warranted? If the invasion occurs, does it mean Russia doesn’t want a summit anyway?

Furthermore, didn’t Russia’s (alleged) refusal to change its mind on invading Ukraine that prompt calls for a summit in the first place? In other words, the idea of a summit is to tell a “stubborn” Russia “We know you want to do it so badly but let’s talk first”, not “We won’t talk with you if you are to go ahead and do what you want.”

To put it bluntly, if a highly-intoxicated man is holding a child at knifepoint, should we try to calm him down or provoke him? Is it a good idea to tell him: “Drop  the knife or this conversation is over.”?

Surely Russia hasn’t been saying “We want a summit.” It’s the other side that keeps saying dialogue is far better than the use of force. In other words, shouldn’t it be Russia who set conditions , not the other way round?

It’s ok to tell the man with the knife: “ Promise us you won’t hurt the boy.” It’s dangerous to tell him: “If you don’t promise us you won’t hurt the boy, we are walking away right now.”

February 20, 2022: The line between external “guidance” and “domination” will be thinner if the biggest opposition camp’s idea of how the law governing political parties should be changed is accepted by Parliament, critics say.

The latter (domination) can lead to a party dissolution, and Pheu Thai’s connections with Thaksin Shinawatra and his activities over the past few years have put the party on a dangerous territory. The former (guidance) is what the party believes must be differentiated from “control.”

Pheu Thai is attempting to make the law more lenient regarding advice or guidance. In its proposed amendment to the law governing political parties, it seeks to insert a clause saying that offences do not include honest advice or acts of supplying information that can help a party make better judgement. Critics view that as a potential slippery slope toward allowing political parties to be fully “remote-controlled”.

Standing in Pheu Thai’s way are government MPs and senators who will have to elaborate on the idea and a few other proposed legal amendments in the next few days. Pheu Thai’s initiative could be shot down, but the fact that the party has been bold enough to propose the change at all reflects its worries about Thaksin’s activities and their possible consequences. Many complaints have been filed with accusers alleging that evidence including captured online texts or videos shows the party is still influenced by what Thaksin wants.

Ironically, Pheu Thai’s attempt to “soften” the law could be used as evidence that the party itself “feels something was not right” about Thaksin’s activities. After all, political parties receive “honest advice” from outsiders all the time but nobody else has attempted to change the law. Proposed legal amendment can also draw more attention to what Thaksin has done of late.

February 19, 2022: Imagine a western tourist being pushed from the platform onto an oncoming train in Thailand. Or see how robbery-murder outside America of foreigners generated furious reactions from all concerned including journalists and politicians.

When it happened in the United States, to Asian American citizens, the media have tried to “rationalise” the violence rather than figure out what is systematically wrong with the society, according to an American critic.

It’s a subtle way of saying the crimes against Asian Americans were bad, deplorable and on a sharp rise, but, frankly speaking, we should blame psychopaths, not society, according to Sung Yeon Choimorrow, executive director of the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum.

The following is her thought on what the US media have done: “/‘Let’s dig into the past of the perpetrator.’ ‘Oh, he had mental illnesses, he had misdemeanors.’ It’s like finding a way to rationalize why that person did what they did, instead of looking at the system and saying, ‘What the hell is wrong with this city or this country that Asian American women are scared to leave their homes?’/“

It was a comment that followed latest attacks that were causing bigger alarm as if hate crimes had never happened before. Choimorrow said racist prejudices against people like the victims certainly predated the COVID-19 pandemic, which only intensifies the violence and brings attention to the problem.

Now, many Asian American women are staying back from subway edges, walking home clutching pepper spray and talking to people they know on the phone so they know where they are. According to several reports, hate crimes against people of Asian descent in US cities surged more than fourfold in 2021. Political strategies of blaming China for the coronavirus are substantially to blame. One interviewed Asian American said that she would stay away from strangers’ group talks anywhere if the subject she overheard turned to COVID-19.

Among the victims, Michelle Go, 40, was pushed onto the tracks of the New York subway January 15 in an unprovoked deadly attack. A senior manager at a financial consultancy, Go was a Chinese American who had volunteered to help the homeless. Authorities were quoted by American media as saying that said her assailant, an African American homeless man, had a history of psychiatric illness.

The point is that the likes of Go tragedy are more systematic than random, and blaming lunatics can deter efforts to solve the problem effectively. A Chinese immigrant who did not want to be named pointed out that an unprovoked attack against her in an upscale neighbourhood in Long Beach, California, was not recorded and received no news coverage, although it left an indelible mark on her.

Vicha Ratanapakdee, 84-year-old Thai American, was walking in a San Francisco neighbourhood over a year ago when 19 year-old Antoine Watson ran across the street and violently shoved him to the ground. Vicha head hit the pavement as he fell and died shortly after arrival in the hospital. 

Vigils alone cannot help, critics say. Deeming the victims “unlucky” can blur the overall situation and delay or even prevent a large-scale social revamp, they say.

February 18, 2022: Thailand has seen the highest surge in weeks of infection cases, but concerned locals have also been told that more than 70% of Thais have been given the second dose of the vaccine whereas nearly 30% of Thai citizens have received the booster (third shot).

In other words, it’s good news on the vaccination front but bad news on the spread, although the daily death toll has been below 30 for many consecutive days.

The low daily death toll seems to be in line with the global belief that COVID-19 is weakening in severity, with America and European nations all but playing down huge jumps in infections. Whether it’s complacency or sensible state directions, the World Health Organisation is cautioning against the “We should start living with COVID-19” approach, saying that although latest variants are not massacring human beings like their predecessors did, allowing big spreads is tantamount to facilitating the coronavirus’ mutations.

Thailand’s daily infections reached 18,066 today, the highest in weeks. Of the 27 people who died, 8 were in Bangkok and 21 were the elderly whereas five others were suffering from chronic diseases. More than 76% of Thais have been given the first shot and 71% the second shot. About 18.6 million Thais have received the third shot (26.8%). For today alone, the numbers of first and second shots combined (more than 78,000) is just above half of the number of booster (third) shots given (more than 142,000).

Seeing the big spread, low death toll and advancing inoculation and one can be forgiven for not knowing what to feel.

February 17, 2022: During his latest Clubhouse talk earlier this week, the de facto patriarch of the biggest opposition party lashed out at what he suggested were prostitute MPs on the verge of defecting or being tempted to defect to the government side by big money.

He also claimed he knew who are doing what and their exact identities.

News articles said it was either a warning or show of frustration. Here’s his actual words: “I have heard that opposition MPs have been hit with vaccination. Twenty million. Thirty million. It was a vaccination rush. Wow. Switching parties, maybe? Let me give a warning. The other day saw (some) Pheu Thai MPs joining a government meeting. That I heard. I even know the names. (Some) get Bt200,000 monthly. Where does the money come from?

“… Staying in Dubai, I know everything. It’s true that a name list was going to be shown to the prime minister. (But remember that) MPs are like fighting roosters. If they win, they are worth Bt300,000 each. But if they lose, it’s Bt35 per kilo.”

He attacked the government and Prayut Chan-o-cha as usual in his online talk, but that was not surprising.

February 16, 2022: “Krungthep Maha Nakhon” will take some getting used to, and many people, including those in the English-language media, are still hoping that the current name of the Thai capital is not dead and buried yet.

“Krungthep Maha Nakhon Fashion Week” may not sound too bad, but in other occasions when the media have to state the official name of the Thai capital, it may sound laborious. “Washington sent the Krungthep Maha Nakhon government 100 million doses of vaccine yesterday” is wordy and will be included in “Things not to do” in every concise and economical writing manual.

A news story datelined “Bangkok” is definitely more convenient than a story datelined “Krungthep Maha Nakhon”.

People hope many public signs will not have to be changed, because that’s a lot of money. For foreigners familiar with the name “Bangkok”, it remains to be seen how many will be turned off by “Krungthep Maha Nakhon” and what impact the tourism industry is looking at because of that.

Companies surely don’t want to gather their boards of directors to discuss whether and how they should go with the flow. Name changes affect brands. Ask Bangkok Bank or Bangkok Airways.

Confusion reigns and the social media are on fire. Questions include “Why now?”, “Why can’t we have a shorter new name?”, “What is the name again?” and simply “What???”

Many are waiting for the government’s explanation. What should we do now? Is it a matter of formality and “Bangkok” will continue to be used, or a substantial change is required? Are some people having knee-jerk reactions and misinterpreting an official announcement, or having solid, understandable concern?

February 15, 2022: Bad as it is, but as soon as Vladimir Putin’s troops sweep into Ukraine, many doubts will be cleared and new fears will overshadow diplomatic and military speculation. As long as it remains a murky standoff, the rest of the world does not quite know who to trust.

Much has been said about why Russia is tempted to invade Ukraine, and quite soon. Less talked about is what if it won’t happen soon enough, or if it does not happen at all.

A former Indian diplomat with in-depth knowledge about Russia, Afghanistan, Middle East and international military affairs, M.K. Bhadrakumar, believes a “war hysteria” is taking place for three main reasons.

First, Washington feels “a constant need to rally European allies” and drumming up fears help. Second, the United States is keen to severe Russia’s relations with European countries where energy cooperation is a template — especially, the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline. Last but not least, the war drum “provides the (reason) to step up US deployments in Eastern Europe and the Baltics.” For example, the writer said, the size of the NATO deployment on Russia’s western borders already stands at 175,000 troops while advanced weapons have been deployed too.

Problem, according to the writer, is that the war drum can’t go on indefinitely, no matter how much Washington might want it to, and the United States is walking a tightrope between making Europe fear the “Russian bogey” and preventing the fear from growing to the point of Europe talking directly to Moscow behind its back. Washington has a trust deficit with the French leadership, and allowing the United States’ European allies to dominate the dialogue track with Moscow can create a dynamics of its own, something the Biden administration will not like.

February 14, 2022: It’s the identity of the accuser that is probably more of a bombshell than the accusation itself. The issue concerns political bloodshed in Thailand just before Prayut Chan-o-cha’s coup.

In his most recent Facebook posts, one of the most extreme left-wing activists, Somsak Jeamteerasakul, said he suspected those on the same side as his to be the ones who attacked, in come cases fatally, protesters campaigning against the Yingluck government.

He basically said he did not believe the attacks were carried out by agents to provide a political pretext for the coup.

Somsak’s posts drew much angry criticism from those sharing his ideology. One asked “When did you start having a whistle in your mouth?” while another accused him of undermining his own kind ahead of an election, unknowingly or not. “How come a man like you who has been overseas most of the time knows so much?” asked yet another one sarcastically.

Somsak’s political comments have been swinging wildly between extremism and cautiousness. This one can, expressed in two posts, rank among his most controversial. It features a conversation that he said took place between himself, and unnamed person, and a western “journalist” who apparently believed that the “majority” of attacks on whistle mob protesters were the work of “agent provocateurs” bent on setting up conditions that could become an excuse for a military coup.

“I told him ’No’. I told him it was our people,” Somsak wrote. That “journalist” did not believe him, insisting that the “our people” would be responsible for 5 % at most of what happened violently. “I told him I don’t think so. It should be like 50-60% at least,” he wrote. Somsak quoted the unnamed person at the conversation as saying that, “I’d rather think it’s 99%”

According to Somsak, the conversation took place in Paris after the coup, which Prayut insisted was necessary to end the political violence. Attacks on whistle mob protesters involved shooting and explosions at rally sites and killed almost 30 people and injured many more.

Somsak said the western “journalist” eventually believed him, after contacting some reliable sources.

Somsak made a lot of Facebook comments over the years. But the latest one is one of the most remarkable:

“We must not use political reasons to remember the past. (We must not think) Oh that will make us look bad or what’s the point of reopening old wounds. Ethical remembrance is what we should do.

“Selective remembrance, like choosing to remember violence the others unleashed upon us, is not true remembrance. It’s forgetfulness. It’s forgetting violence suffered by other human beings who did not think like us. It’s forgetting violence suffered by innocent people.

“Only through ethical remembrance can the Thai society move on maturely.”

February 13, 2022: It can’t be Valentine’s Day Massacre, can it? The idea of former Palang Pracharath rebels being chalked off as MPs is far-fetched, but there are people who wouldn’t rule out that scenario.

One theory, highlighted by Thai Post today among a few news outlets, has it that if the “expulsion” from Palang Pracharath of the former dissidents led by Thammanat Prompao, somehow is ruled illegal, the rebels could end up being members of two parties _ Palang Pracharath and Thai Economic.

As a possible result of “dual membership”, their legal registration with the Election Commission could be seriously affected. In the worst-case scenario, they can even lose their MP status.

The EC will reportedly decide on the Valentine’s Day whether the “expulsion”, wanted by the rebels as straightforward resignation would have bigger consequences on their MP status, met all the legal requirements. Some Palang Pracharath members have challenged the expulsion procedures, and the former dissidents must be praying that the EC would not agree with the protest.

February 12, 2022: A “small” party’s move against the return to “two ballots” is perhaps barely noticeable now, but the development might turn out to be like a post-credit scene in a superhero movie.

To cut a long story short, the return to two ballots has been approved by Parliament and would renew the Pheu Thai Party’s electoral advantages and boost its chances of being the next government, at the expense of small parties and possibly the Move Forward Party. The “scrapped” system featured only one ballot, which was also counted as a popular vote, a situation that did not benefit Pheu Thai because small parties that lost elections in all constituencies could still have party-list MPs thanks to the way popular votes were calculated and translated. As a big party that wins a lot of constituency seats already, Pheu Thai did not get party-list MPs in that system.

Two ballots would make it clear-cut and Pheu Thai would reap total benefits from popular votes cast for the party in the additional balloting.

Recently, Warong Dechgitvigrom, leader of the newly-formed Thai Pakdee Party, filed a complaint based on constitutional grounds against the return to two ballots, but it was ruled that he was not an affected party. But that argument would be very weak against Ravee Maschamadol, leader of the New Palangdharma Party. In the 2019 general election, Ravee’s party contested in 134 constituencies, lost in all, but, thanks to the “every-vote-counts” one-ballot system, it got a seat in Parliament.

Now, Ravee will file a protest with the Ombudsmen in the next few days. “I’m no doubt an affected party. Every small party is,” he said.

If the protest manages to go all the way to the Constitutional Court, an action-packed movie, so to speak, might ensue.

February 11, 2022: The longer it goes, incumbents’ popularity finds it harder to resist gravity, but if Donald Trump was really a nightmare his rivals made him out to be, things should not have gone wrong so quickly for Joe Biden.

In just a year, the new president is seeing his approval ratings drop by approximately 10 % on average, or even more from the peak. Considering the facts that he succeeded “the worst-ever” leader, is portraying himself as American democracy’s last hope, and has been at the forefront of defiance against China and Russia, the downward trend can be mind-boggling.

And the CNN poll, which covered several issues including the coronavirus, economy, China and Russia, was conducted just as his administration marked the first anniversary of the “Capitol Insurrection”, an occasion that was supposed to give Biden more sympathy and support. Biden’s ratings fell in all categories. Just 41% approved of the way he’s handling his job while 58% disapproved, a significant decline from his approval numbers in a similar poll last year on the cusp of the 100-day mark of his presidency.

Why is the change more important than ever? It’s because Democrat losses were not necessarily Republican gains in the past. That does not look like the case now thanks to America’s increasingly divisive politics. The Red and Blue divide will only intensify, apparently Thai-style.

Here’s how CNN sums up the latest poll: “Nearly 6 in 10 Americans disapprove of how Joe Biden  is handling his presidency, with most of that group saying there’s literally nothing Biden has done since taking office that they approve of. The finding, from a CNN poll conducted by SSRS in January and February, highlights the entrenched politics driving the nation at the start of the midterm year, with little agreement across party lines on priorities for the government or how to handle the coronavirus pandemic.”

February 10, 2022: Opponents and advocates of the use of parliamentary quorum collapses to pressure the prime minister can argue all day long over whether the idea is democratic or actually goes against the principles of democracy.

Quorum clashes have been the biggest highlight of the Thai Parliament over the past few days, with both government and opposition MPs responsible for the numerical shortages that prevented the country’s legislative arm from doing a lot of work it is supposed to be doing.

One camp says that if government MPs, “who claim they are the majority”, can’t make a parliamentary quorum, then so be it. The other says that the government is not the only party to make sure the House of Representatives, a major component of democracy, function as well as it possibly can.

The advocates say the prime minister did not gain parliamentary powers through entirely-democratic means, so there is not much wrong about using “imperfect” Parliament as a tool to get him out. The opponents say this is a bad precedent leading to a dangerous slippery slope, because the “democratically-elected” representatives of the people should “vote” to get an unwanted man out, not spurn sacred duties or obligations resulting in the public being the ultimate sufferers.

Even the opposition bloc has been divided into those who agree and those who disagree with the quorum strategy. Some say democracy should be about using an elected Parliament to debate pieces of legislation, and the quorum manoeuvring shows a lack of respect for that key value of democracy in the first place. In other words, if you accept that preventing a Parliament from doing what it should be doing is a way out, why do we need Parliament, or ultimately “democracy”, anyway? After all, anything can be a “way out”, including Prayut Chan-o-cha’s coup a few years ago.

“Are you protecting Prayut?” the advocates ask. “This is eye for an eye.”

“No,” the other camp say. “This is about not becoming what we don’t want to be.”

“Oh, that’s nice, but did you or did you not support anti-Prayut protests in which objects were thrown and some properties set on fire?” the advocates shot back

February 9, 2022: Mass transit fees. State contracts with the private sector that concern genuine interests of the public. For a change and thankfully, it’s not about Thammanat Prompao, parliamentary quorum collapses reeking of politicisation, or fights over something too irrelevant when man on the street is concerned.

Make no mistake, the conflict within the coalition Cabinet over the proposed contract extension for the Skytrain green line is capable of snowballing into something big enough to sink the embattled and shaky government. But if a government is to fall, it should be over something like this.

On Tuesday, ministers from the Bhumjaithai Party stayed away from a Cabinet meeting, purportedly to express their displeasure over the Interior Ministry’s plan to extend the concession for a private operator of Bangkok’s electric trains.

Bhumjaithai, which controls the Transport Ministry but does not have a final say on the proposed extension, always made noises about Skytrain fees in the past. This public transport issue, however, often escaped big or persistent media headlines over the past few tumultuous years.

February 8, 2022: If Omicron could kill like its predecessors, a US map of the coronavirus’ global infections could give many people heart attacks.

The world map provided by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention  and shown by CNN deals with travel warnings and is almost dark red in its entirety. It means that you shouldn’t go anywhere virtually, including staying on cruise ships that never reach a shore.

About 135 places are on Level 4, which means the risks are extremely high. The number is more than places categorised in Level 3, Level 2, Level 1 and insufficient-data level combined. Thailand is in Level 3 (High Risk as opposed to Very High Risk in Level 4)

Japan is one of the new members of Level 4, joining Israel which was put there recently as well as Singapore. Only around 80 destinations were in Level 4 just a few weeks ago.

Cambodia is among those in the insufficient-data level, which mostly include remote places or places with unrest or warfare.

In the words of CNN, Level 4 has been “jam-packed”. Cruise ship travel has remained on Level 4.

February 7, 2022: Sooner or later, the embattled Thai prime minister will have to make some key decisions regarding Parliament, the Constitution and his own political status as a non-member of any political party.

Speculation has risen again about whether Prayut Chan-o-cha would eventually join or lead a political party after Vice Minister at the Prime Minister’s Office Seksakol Atthawong, alias “Rambo Isan”, has quit the ruling Palang Pracharath Party, reportedly for the intriguing Ruamthai Sarngchart Party.

Is Ruamthai Sarngchart, little known previously but attracting some key figures in Palang Pracharath, waiting for Prayut? What will happen to Palang Pracharath? Will the ruling party die a slow-but-sure death, or is it also waiting for Prayut to come “to the rescue”?

Prayut gave little away when asked about Ruamthai Sarngchart today with a virtually-muted reaction, but his small shake of head would not fill Seksakol, who seems to be wanting Prayut to bless the new party or even join it, with much optimism.

On the House dissolution, Prayut will have to decide whether to do it very soon in order to maintain electoral and constitutional advantages, or not do it at all and hope his political fortune will change.

February 6, 2022: Chadchart Sittipunt remains a firm favourite in the city governor race, Pheu Thai is slightly ahead of Move Forward despite not having fielded a candidate yet, and undecided voters are increasingly less influential.

That’s what the latest NIDA popularity survey for the Bangkok gubernatorial election has revealed. The opinion poll was conducted between January 31 and February among 1,324 eligible voters.

Chadchart’s popularity declined by a very small degree, from 38.80% a month ago to 37.24% now. His good news is that he will have to worry a lot less about undecided voters being a key variable. They amount to only 5.59% now, shrinking continuously from what was once one of the biggest portions of surveyed voters.

Interestingly, 8.31% said they would vote for a Pheu Thai candidate, not knowing who the party will field, compared with 8.08% who vowed to vote for Move Forward’s newly-unveiled candidate Wiroj Lakkanaadisorn.

Chadchart’s closest rival is incumbent governor Aswin Kwanmuang (12.09%), followed by Democrat candidate Suchatvee Suwansawat (11.03%). It’s a reversal of popularity poll fortune, actually, as Aswin was 10.25% and Suchatvee was 13.06% in the previous survey a month ago.

February 5, 2022: The prime minister has made what looks like a veiled  House dissolution threat. A Move Forward MP has blamed his party’s key ally, at least partly. Pheu Thai, meanwhile, used to benefit more from a quorum collapse than now.

It’s a messy situation in which timing is crucial. A House dissolution will affect everyone negatively, albeit differently. The charter amendment push, which Move Forward and Pheu Thai are so keen about, could be affected. The electoral system change, which Pheu Thai is so eager about, could be disrupted. and while a House dissolution will be considered a government defeat, it might look somewhat appealing, unlike before, when Prayut Chan-o-cha is concerned.

Just as Prayut intriguingly said MPs must attend House meetings if they want a general election to take place, a Move Forward MP, Rangsiman Rome, literally said in a Facebook post that Pheu Thai did not honour a “contract” to attend House sessions that are beneficial to the public.

Rangsiman also said “game being played is eating away at Parliament’s image” instead or Prayut’s.

All eyes are on Pheu Thai at the moment, as frequent quorum collapses may benefit it less than before.

February 4, 2022: Its possibly “much ado about nothing” when the prime minister’s long chit-chat with the media on Thursday was concerned.

Here’s what the media say regarding the talks and his situation: He did not give any assurance that he would not dissolve the House of Representatives to gain electoral or constitutional advantages; He was evasive on “taking over” the embattled Palang Pracharath Party; He shrugged off the Palang Pracharath by-election losses, saying “You have to wait and see” what the general election delivers; He wasn’t “thinking about a Cabinet reshuffle” at the moment; Thammanat Prompao and his men “are still with the government the latest I heard”; Thammanat’s “enemy of the enemy is our friend” Facebook post is just someone talking and “I don’t have the flashy linguistic ability like the others.”

He was talking to reporters on Thursday, his first since returning from Saudi Arabia, a trip that required some kind of quarantine.

There are other colourful remarks or moments. When a reporter asked “Will you keep fighting?”, he shot back “What day is it today?” When the reply was “War veterans’ day”, he raised his right fist and said “Yes, war veterans.”

“What trump card do you have?” a reporter asked. “Here, this piece of paper,” he waved a sheet of paper in his hand.

These are his exact words regarding whether electoral laws will be completed in Parliament (and ease Pheu Thai worries): “I’m not going to stand up or lie down to guarantee anything hypothetical. Please don’t ask hypothetical questions. If I have to speculate at all, the supplementary laws can be passed or they can be shot down. One ballot or two ballots is up to a (parliamentary) process that has not begun yet. Don’t jump to any conclusion.”

February 3, 2022: Reading between its leader’s lines, the biggest opposition party is leaving open all kinds of possibilities regarding the race for the city governor post including staying on the fence.

Cholnan Srikaew has neither denied nor confirmed that the Pheu Thai Party will field a Bangkok gubernatorial candidate, despite being fresh from what was supposed to be a morale-boosting victory in Bangkok’s Constituency 9.

He practically said that if the party could not find a suitable candidate with a great chance to win, it would support any “pro-democracy” runner competing in the capital’s gubernatorial election.

This, in case Pheu Thai does choose to stay away from the race, leaves Move Forward’s Wiroj Lakkanaadisorn as representing the opposition bloc. Hot favourite Chadchart Sittipunt, previously associated with Pheu Thai, is running as an independent.

Cholnan did mention the legal ambiguity regarding non-MP electoral contests and how much national political parties can be involved in them without breaking the law.

What Pheu Thai can do, if bad comes to worst, he said, is “support candidate(s) on the pro-democracy side.”

That could raise a few questions. If Pheu Thai opts to stay away, will it support Wiroj? Or Chadchart? Or both? Is Chadchart, trying in vain to keep away from divisive national politics by leaving Pheu Thai in the first place, on the “pro-democracy” side?  And is branding the Democrat Party’s Suchatchavee Suwansawas a “pro-dictatorship” candidate a dangerous strategy that can backfire, especially if he ends up getting more votes than the opposition candidate(s)?

There is still time as the election is widely expected to take place in May.

February 2, 2022: Diplomacy, they say, is the art of saying “Nice doggie” until you can find a rock, but in the case of Ukraine, “Nice doggie” has become “Bad dog” and rock is essentially extinction-level nuclear arsenals which don’t need to be looked for.

Nice diplomatic words have pretty much gone out the window, and thinly-veiled threats are coming from increasingly senior people. Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Tuesday the United States was trying to “draw us into armed conflict.” British Prime Minister Boris Johnson held a press conference alongside Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in Kyiv on the same day and accused Russia of “holding a gun to Ukraine” and warned that a potential invasion of Ukraine by Russia would be a “political” and “humanitarian disaster.”

Zelensky said that should a war between Russia and Ukraine start it will be a “big war in Europe, a full-scale one.” As for Washington, the “mean dog” quotations are even more frequent.

Some western media are comparing nuclear weaponry between the world rivals.

Troops from both camps are practically circling Ukraine, with each government blaming the other for provocations or increasing aggression.

February 1, 2022: Things done in the past often come back to haunt you. Ask Mason Greenwood. Ask Boris Johnson. They are probably the two most unenviable Britons at the moment.

They remain suspects, it has to be stressed. But at great risks are Greenwood’s highly-promising football career and Johnson’s status as the ruler of England. The former’s alleged problem is hormones, while the latter’s trouble is “excessive” workplace drinking in the inner sanctum of the British government.

Johnson had hoped the release of the 11-page report on suspected partying in Downing Street during the pandemic could let him put the drinking scandal behind him, but instead he is facing increased pressure in and outside Parliament after the document by Sue Gray, a senior civil servant, was released just a few days ago.

While Greenwood allegedly hit a woman (it was unclear whether they were boyfriend and girlfriend at the time and whether he did force himself on her) and there were gruesome pictures to go with the allegations, there is nothing that is awful to look at in Johnson’s case (just pictures of people in nice dresses with wine bottles). Yet all the mentioned pictures could cost both men dearly.

The Sue Gray report has just amplified the jokes about Downing Street partying told by comedians, impersonators and all kinds of entertainment celebrities all over England. That is just the tip of the iceberg, as parliamentary trouble is mounting.

And England’s COVID-19 numbers can’t help Johnson either, as they are rising remarkably as if to say “With this prime minister, what else can we do?”

Daily update of key domestic and international events by Tulsathit Taptim