You can dance, you can jive

FILE – Finland’s prime minister is ruling out taking any drugs during a party in a private home with some friends, after a video showing six people dancing in front of camera, including Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin, was leaked. “I’m disappointed that they’ve become public. I spent the evening with friends. Partied, pretty wild, yes. Danced and sang”, she was quoted as saying by Finnish broadcaster YLE on Thursday, Aug. 18, 2022. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini, File)

August 19, 2022: But you can’t bemoan the video of your dancing or jiving becoming public. You are the prime minister in a democratic country, period.

People do everything at 36, and Sanna Marin is 36. She is disappointed that the video of her “private” dancing was leaked and went viral. She has the right to be, but so do Finland’s citizens who don’t want to see their prime minister as a dancing queen while she is in office.

It’s debatable if what she and her critics did was appropriate. What is not debatable is the fact that she is a public figure in a “democratic” country. In a democratic society, rightly or wrongly, the public decide what is “private” and what is not. More importantly, a politician in a democratic country should have known there are possible consequences of every action.

August 18, 2022: Fears are escalating among ex-president Donald Trump’s political enemies that his potential platform for a possible re-election bid would be the US government’s “persecution.”

Such fears have been fueled by a victory of a vehement Trump supporter, Harriet Hageman, in a primary House election for Wyoming earlier this week. As for the opponent, Liz Cheney’s reelection hopes had been in question since she and nine other House Republicans voted to impeach Trump after the Capitol “insurrection.”

The Trump camp was obviously buoyed by the Hageman victory and is reportedly planning to make further noises _ backed by video tapes _ about the recent FBI search at his estate to further boost his political future, reports and American analysts claim.

One report, citing Hageman’s primary win as key evidence, said Trump’s “denialism” was appealing to Republican voters made to believe that the 2020 election was stolen and that he was being persecuted by the Biden administration, with the FBI raid one of several highlights.

Whatever the truth is, oldest political strategies in the book are being at play here. One side is decrying “persecution” and dictatorial style of governing while the other is citing top national security.

In an all-too-familiar victory statement, Hageman, now the Republican nominee for Wyoming’s sole seat in the House of Representatives, predicted that her primary triumph would serve “as a beacon” for the rest of the “fed up” country.

August 17, 2022: Elon Musk’s first Manchester United tweet sent sports reporters scrambling and many of the club’s fans dreaming. But before it all got out of hand, he quickly poured cold water on the situation.

“No, this is a long-running joke on Twitter. I’m not buying any sports teams,” Musk said when asked by someone if he was serious. His eccentricity records including the huge investment problem with Twitter had created a groundswell of excitement in the football world, which has seen an increasing dissatisfaction of a large section of Manchester United local and overseas fans with the current American owners.

Musk’s money and business acumen seemed to be the answer for those fans, who believe that anyone would be better than the unpopular Glazer family, accused of being responsible for a “toxic” environment at one of the world’s most famous football team. When Musk had earlier said that he was “also buying Manchester United” while discussing politics, the statement spread like wildfire, which ended shortly, though.

The Glazer family had seen vociferous and sometimes disruptive fan protests. How the Musk “disappointment” would do to more planned protests ahead of Manchester United’s next game at home to Liverpool on August 22 remains to be seen.

Musk’s first tweet, about purchasing Manchester United, was “no joke to fed-up fans”, a western news report was headlined.

August 16, 2022: With repercussions still on-going after Monday’s large boycott of a key parliamentary session shot down the controversial “Divided by 500” party-list calculation formula, the ruling party is dismissing a theory about a secret deal with the biggest opposition camp.

Palang Pracharath’s deputy leader Chaiwut Thanakamanusorn, also minister of digital economy and society, said MPs who shunned Monday’s session were acting independently on an issue that directly affects them and their peers. Almost 90 MPs from his party stayed away from the crucial parliamentary meeting, fueling speculation about a “conspiracy” with the opposition Pheu Thai, not least because the revival of the “Divided by 100” formula would benefit both big parties more than the killed method.

“Electoral rules directly affect politicians and many must have thought it’d better end this way,” he said.

The prime minister was reported today to be avoiding reporters and their questions about the quorum collapse and relationship between him and Palang Pracharath leader Prawit Wongsuwan.

Conspiracy rumours have turned up the heat on Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, who is also facing a Constitutional Court verdict on whether his prime ministerial tenure is ending. According to a leading politician, Nipit Intarasombat, Prayut might either resign or dissolve the House of Representatives before the verdict comes out, which could force the court to drop the case. That is just one of a few scenarios, of course, including one in which he is cleared by the court.

August 15, 2022: When there are not enough lawmakers to officially seal a legislative change, the advocates of such a change are in trouble, a lot more so if those advocates include the political status-quo.

Today, proponents of the “Divided by 500” party-list seat calculation formula are practically defeated. Long-term implications have to do with the Pheu Thai Party, which stands to benefit if the calculative method is killed. Immediate implications, however, may have to do with the future of the government coalition.

Quorum failures in the recent past may have many other reasons aside from government unity, like individual laziness or ignorance or little conflicts here and there. The importance of today, though, ruled out minor excuses and amplified the big one, which is the questionable unison of the ruling camp.

On the surface and amid looming suspicion, Prayut Chan-o-cha and Prawit Wongsuwan kept saying that there was nothing between them. Today’s events may suggest otherwise.

August 14, 2022: An opinion survey is showing how the public may be perceiving Thailand’s prime ministerial candidates _ their strong and weak points.

Incumbent Prayut Chan-o-cha did well in the “loyalty” department, with over 45% of 2,025 Thais surveyed by Super Poll thought his faith in the monarchy was his greatest asset. His “shouldering” of national burdens was named as his second strongest point (35%) and about the same number thought reopening what were previously “closed” like the Thai-Saudi relations was another key asset of his.

His “weak points” were his temperament, his long incumbency and his economic expertise. (Fifty-five per cent named his perceived testiness in public, 51.5% his long stay at the top, and 48.4% his handling of the economy.)

The strongest point of Paetongtarn Shinawatra of the Pheu Thai Party was her being a daughter of Thaksin Shinawatra (46.3%). Almost 40% thought being part of the new generation was her great asset. However, almost 43% believed her weakest point was lack of political experience.

Palang Pracharath leader and Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan’s strongest point was perceived by 39.2% to be his connections. But his weakest point was said by 62.7% to be his age.

Move Forward leader Pita Limjaroenrat’s strongest point was his new generation image (41.4%). His lack of experience and political achievement was said to be his weakest point (around 36%).

August 13, 2022: Piyabutr Saengkanokkul’s unorthodox proposal could all but wipe the House of Representatives clean once in a while, replacing its members with new faces every few years. There are both pros and cons, though.

In a Facebook post, the secretary-general of the Progressive Movement said the current system promotes and benefits “political dynasties” _ families that monopolise elections and seats in the chamber and thus whose actions are more motivated by maintaining that status quo rather than by independent serving of public interests.

He is probably right in saying that an MP seat is considered by many as a “family fortune” that shall not be given away to others. Having a constitutional cap on how long one can serve as an MP could reduce that kind of thinking and increase “independence” of lawmakers because “politicians will worry less about whether they will become MPs again and will not do everything necessary to be MPs one more time.”

The capping will make MPs’ job “truly belonging to voluntary and ideological spirits” not “one that must be acquired at all costs to strengthen an empire or passed from one family member to another.”

The statement can be right or wrong. It seems idealistically right, but, for starters, it may just quicken the tradition of passing “family fortunes” to the next generation. In other words, “a breath of fresh air” may happen, but political dynasties or political empires can also grow quicker.

August 12, 2022: Federal police were looking for highly-confidential nuclear-related documents former president Donald Trump was allegedly keeping in defiance of the law, according to latest reports.

Such claims cast new light on the FBI raid on Trump’s resort a few days ago. They may also drive government’s and Trump’s supporters further and further apart.

Both sides are fighting a war that could decide the political future of the superpower. Trump’s camp has been decrying tyrannical and undemocratic political persecution after the raid on his estate a few days ago, while the government, backed by media outlets that were much respected before but which have been seriously questioned since the ex-president came along, is building a case that the urgent manner of the search was extremely necessary, considering what he had in possession.

The Trump camp was apparently having the upper hand, politically, because the search could have been done in a more discreet and respectful way. That was until whispers began about nuclear data.

The plot is thickening. The Washington Post quoted sources familiar with the investigation as saying that federal agents were looking for classified documents related to nuclear weapons, among other items, at Trump’s resort. The sources did not describe the documents in detail nor disclose whether they were related to nuclear arms belonging to the US or another nation. CNN, reporting what the Washington Post is saying, has not independently confirmed the nuclear claims.

No matter how this episode transpires, the grave political divide in America are expected to widen a lot more now. Already before the raid, important political issues like the Capitol Hill “riot” have drawn clashing perspectives from supporters of the Democratic Party and the Republican Party. Both sides have accused each other of being detrimental to democracy and have their own media backers galvanize their peoples.

Details of the search warrant may have to be publicised now, which will be another big development. The government side is threatening to do it, and the Trump camp is calling its bluff.

August 11, 2022: Political fights over how party-list numbers should be calculated might move to the Constitutional Court as early as early next week.

Parliament President Chuan Leekpai’s aides have said that the legislature’s job could come to an end on August 15 no matter what happens. A quorum collapse would automatically mean that the calculation would go back to the “Divided by 100” formula as originally advocated by the Cabinet.

Then it could lead to a constitutional fight in the Constitutional Court, with both the “Divided by 100” and Divided by 500” camps having strong arguments for their cases. The former would benefit big parties greatly while the latter would help small parties even if they lose at all constituencies, narrowly or else.

Chuan has officially called for a parliamentary meeting on August 15, which is practically the last day that the crucial matter remains in Parliament’s hands.

“If they can’t make the quorum again, it’s them (people involved) who will have to tell the public why,” said Issara Seriwattanawut, a Democrat MP assisting Chuan.

The calculation issue, which always fuels ideological emotions, has sparked resentment, reported back-stabbing, alleged flip-flop and claims of conspiracy. August 15, therefore, is a very interesting day of Thai politics.

August 10, 2022: Fans of Manchester United may face a moment of truth when Ryan Giggs’ trial reaches its conclusion.

A court has heard dramatic and jaw-dropping allegations hurled against him by the plaintiff, portraying one of the planet’s best-known and most-loved ex-footballers as a man whose public face is shockingly different from the one his ex-girlfriend allegedly saw and had to endure.

Allegedly and on separate occasions spanning three years, he head-butted her, kicked her in the back, threw her out and left her naked outside a hotel room, and subjected her to news of his affairs, constant threats, blackmails and hence psychological abuses.

The Manchester Crown Court was told that his adored on-field football talent shall never be used as an excuse for “sinister” acts she had had to go through. He denied all allegations, which were all over the internet over the past two days, and cross-examination can draw attention that may rival the Amber Heard-Johnny Depp saga.

Sexual and domestic violence or harassment is often linked improperly with social, sporting or political status of the ones accused. Wealth and fame also play a big part. Victims always risk being accused of hungering for spotlight or lucrative compensation.

Manchester United fans reacted honorably months ago when a much-loved young player, Mason Greenwood, was alleged by his girlfriend to have abused her physically. His fame and supporters’ adoration, however, are far outstripped by those enjoyed by Giggs, who is considered one of Manchester United legends.

August 9, 2022: The federal police force raiding the estate of the sitting president’s key political opponent does not sound good for America’s democracy, no matter what lies beneath.

It doesn’t matter if it was what needed to be done. Politics, especially a badly-divided one, can turn “honest” enforcement of the law into something sinister. If the raid had happened anywhere else, protests would have been heard left and right, from other governments to so-called “human rights” organisations.

Donald Trump was suspected of mishandling certain official records from the time he was president. But funny things about democracy is that it quite often clashes with the laws, and enforcement of the latter, while necessary, can generate awkward results when “justice” is concerned.

Trump is giving many a taste of their own medicine.  “These are dark times for our nation,” Trump said. House of Representatives Republican minority leader Kevin McCarthy echoed him: “I’ve seen enough. The Department of Justice has reached an intolerable state of weaponised politicisation.” Florida Senator Marco Rubio, a Republican, tweeted: “Using government power to persecute political opponents is something we have seen many times from 3rd world Marxist dictatorships.

Trump said his “cooperation” with all relevant government agencies made the “unannounced raid on my home not necessary or appropriate”.

He called it “prosecutorial misconduct” and “the weaponisation of the justice system” to prevent him from running for the White House again.

“Such an assault could only take place in broken, Third-World countries,” he said. “Sadly, America has now become one of those countries, corrupt at a level not seen before.

“They even broke into my safe!”

August 8, 2022: One woman is about to face the defense lawyers on Tuesday who seek to get the man who was allegedly responsible for her little daughter’s death off the hook.

It will be one of the biggest moments in the modern Thai history of “justice”. Savitree Wongsricha was once alleged to be the villain herself, an accusation amplified enormously by the social media who turned the eventual suspect into some kind of a superstar. Chaiyaphol Wipa, better known as “Loong (Uncle) Phol”, was invited to sing before large, shrieking crowds at concerts, appeared on catwalks, drew millions of viewers to his YouTube clips, and _ from someone whose bathroom had no walls _ becomes a millionaire overnight.

Savitree will tell the court about events of the day her three-year-old daughter disappeared and how she felt after the girl was found dead and naked up on a mountain near their home in Mukdahan. The defense will seek to establish a case that “Nong Chompoo” wandered and got lost while playing with a dog.

Loong Phol’s narrative is changing from his assumption that a girl that young could not climb such a high mountain to the defense-promoted theory that she might have been lost by herself and starved to death. There is some scientific evidence against Loong Phol which will be questioned by the defense lawyers.

Savitree had few sympathizers until Loong Phol was officially implicated. The woman, if there’s time left after her testimony, is likely to be cross-examined heavily, especially on her possible claims that there were many things that her daughter could not have done by herself, like walking high up a rough mountain or removing her own clothes. Without established signs of physical abuses, the defense team will try to convince the court that the little girl could have removed her clothes by herself due to hot weather or delirium.

No matter how it ends or whatever the truth is, what looks like a normal rural case in fact has everything _ positive and negative influences of the social media, alleged manipulation of social thoughts on a grand scale as well as how far “playing victim” can go and serve the wrong people.

August 7, 2022: A NIDA survey, indicative of future election results, has found that bad news for the prime minister is not going away and will likely intensify in the weeks or months to come.

The opinion poll sampling 1,312 Thais showed that 64.25% want his constitutional eight-year tenure to end on August 24 this year as his coup-installed premiership should also be included. Almost 33% said the Constitutional Court should have the final say and about 2.8% were not interested.

The survey results are also overwhelmingly against Prayut and his allies known as “the three Ps” having influences in forming the next government. More than 80% do not want the three Ps to play such a role, whereas more than 55% do not believe they will be able to play such a role.

The findings tell a lot. They show the road will only get increasingly bumpier for the prime minister. If the car does not stop at the next bump, that is.

August 6, 2022: In the mid-1990s, Taiwan’s late leader Lee Teng-hui visited America, sparking a major international controversy. China, sounding very familiar, staged live-fire military drills, issued stern warnings to Taipei and launched missiles into waters near Taiwan.

But, at the time, the US military responded with one of the largest shows of force since the Vietnam War, sending an array of warships to the area, including two aircraft carrier groups. That, capped by a statement by the then defense secretary that “Beijing should know the strongest military power in the western Pacific is the United States,” drove home the idea of America’s military dominance.

According to all military analysts in America, China’s military, which could do nothing about it then and was still shocked at that time by America’s Gulf War display, has undergone a staggering transformation from a low-tech, slow-moving ground force backed by lackluster naval and air fleets. One top American defense official, echoing several counterparts and former officials, reportedly described the fast and furious improvement of China’s military might as a “strategic earthquake.”

China’s weaponry precision, improved lengths of formidable attacks, and state-of-the-art detection system have changed the game. Beijing’s ship-killing missiles and a lot more advanced and massive navy and air force make the current tension a lot scarier than the past and the military strengths of both countries anything but lopsided, American analysts say.

This week, China has launched large-scale, live-fire military exercises located in waters surrounding Taiwan to the north, east and south, including ballistic missile launches. The scale of the whole thing is said have surpassed the drills carried out in the 1995-96 standoff, with some of the drills within about 10 miles of Taiwan’s coast. Experts noted that China once lacked the capability to conduct a major exercise in waters east of Taiwan.

On Thursday, China fired at least 11 ballistic missiles near Taiwan, with one flying over the island, according to officials in Taipei, and Japan apparently it was offended, too.

This time, Washington has made no announcements about warships moving through the Taiwan Strait. “Biden could try to do that, but China could put them on the bottom of the strait. That’s something they (the Chinese) couldn’t do in 1995,” one American expert on China was quoted as saying.

August 5, 2022: A huge concrete beam fatally fell on commuters. Rival young gangsters clashed with firearms for a long period in a crowded public place. Fire killed many at a pub whose structure and safety standards reportedly had a tragedy written all over it.

To add to the sad sequence, which spanned just days, the rates at which each incident disappeared from public and political attention because newer horrors were always on the horizon were both alarming and reflective of why the nightmare continues to recur.

Officials have been removed. Political rhetoric abounds. Yet Parliament has been obsessed with something else. The authorities have been distracted by how the political wind is blowing. Another big weak point of Thailand is that a sizeable portion of society makes noises according to political stances while many issues don’t require ideological partisanship.

More or less, each of the aforementioned has contributed to preventable tragedies.

A tougher gun law and better and fairer implementation would have made anyone think twice before wielding firepower in public. Construction or building catastrophes would have been a lot fewer had the legislative and administrative arms worked swifter and more in unison and paid right attention to the right issue.

August 4, 2022: In light of the Nancy Pelosi tension, the Bangkok government has reiterated its commitment to the “One China” policy and called on all parties involved to exercise restraint.

The statement by Tanee Sangrat, spokesman of the Thai Foreign Ministry sounds respectful to all sides but is strong at the same time in confirming Thailand’s adherence to the One China principle.

“Thailand remains committed to the One China principle (but) we don’t want to see any act that would increase tension and undermine stability in the region,” he said. “We hope all parties concerned would display tolerance, observe international laws, respect sovereignty and support peaceful solutions.”

August 3, 2022: A legal case that transcends political differences has reared its ugly head yet again, this time with the expiry of a drug charge when a proper test should have sufficed wherever the suspect is.

When Vorayuth Yoovidhya crashed his supercar into a motorcycle, killing a police officer, Yingluck Shinawatra was Thailand’s prime minister and few people heard of Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit. Many Thais would at the time say “Prayut who?”. The coronavirus was still inside an animal or a lab somewhere. A lot of today’s ideological protesters must have just entered elementary schools. The youngest member of the all-girl BNK48 generation was seven years old.

Yet here we are, watching helplessly as the authorities said there was nothing they could do about the alleged cocaine intake. The justice (or lack thereof) process has straddled all political environments _ from when democracy was supposed to be blooming to when all was taken away to when everyone is demanding ideological perfection.

What looked then like a simple fatal hit-and-run incident that took place under alleged influences of alcohol and/or drugs remains unsettled as of today, with everyone blaming everyone for how justice appears to be fading unbelievably and pathetically away.

August 2, 2022: The prime minister has suggested that he will stick with the Palang Pracharath Party, despite its problems with him and within itself.

But “for now” appear to be the unspoken words. In addition, Prayut Chan-o-cha remains elusive on the question which has been famous from Day One: Will he take over from Prawit Wongsuwan?

During an interview at Government House after a Cabinet meeting, he was asked if he had chosen any political party to be with. “The last time I checked, I was with the Palang Pracharath Party (according to you the media). Where else do you want me to be? What kind of decision do I have to make?

On reports that the new Ruam Thai Sang Chart Party wanted to name him its leader and has also vowed to nominate him as the next prime minister, Prayut said: “Each party has its own policy. As for me, I can only hope the policy would promote law, order and progress. I support every party.”

He admitted that the name “Ruam Thai Sang Chart” had come from his off-the-cuff remarks that Thais needed to “ruam palang” (come together) to push the country forward. “And they named the party after that, without my influence whatsoever,” he said.

Asked if he will “remain with Palang Pracharath in the next election”, he said: Haven’t I just answered that? What’s your problem?”

Here comes one of the most important questions of them all: Would you someday become the Palang Pracharath Party’s leader?

His answer: “I’m not talking about that. Why do you always want me to keep moving? If you ask me this kind of question, I’m not answering. I can work wherever I am.”

August 1, 2022: Signs are that the US House speaker, in Singapore now, would not visit Taiwan, but if she does, it could be a real dynamite affecting world and domestic politics.

Singapore is her first stop, and her delegation also plans to visit Malaysia, South Korean and Japan. High-level meetings are scheduled everywhere along the way.

Her official itinerary does not include Taiwan. Taiwanese officials have not confirmed she would visit. Reports of White House lobbying against such a trip have intensified. China has warned the US President not to play with fire. Western media are downgrading it from “could” to “might.” These point to Nancy Pelosi returning home without a major diplomatic mess for Joe Biden to sort out. Both are members of the Democratic Party after all.

But those signs will make the whole thing more explosive than initially if she remains determined. Visiting Taiwan in spite of all of the aforementioned would be considered by Beijing as a real provocation and cheekiness at the highest level. Washington can claim “We are a free country so she can go anywhere”, but China will have the right to think that all the lobbying and White House anxiety were a façade and get even angrier.

Will a “vacation” claim work in case she pops in? No, considering all the fuss and everyone’s attention. Besides, beautiful, sunny beaches are all over Asia. What about visiting friends or relatives? Surely they can be given free trips to America so the whole world can be spared a huge superpower showdown.

 

 

Daily updates of significant local and international events by Tulsathit Taptim

 

 

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