24 May 2024

May 24, 2024: One possible explanation why two prime ministers were not treated similarly by the Constitutional Court may concern the highly-subtle differences of their cases.

Prayut Chan-o-cha’s case directly had to do with questions about his prime ministerial tenure, with exact dates coming into play and being the crux of the controversy, while Srettha Thavisin’s  did not involve specific timeframes as much.

If Prayut had been allowed to carry on, what he could have done as prime minister after the court “accepted” complaints would have created more legal problems, because complainers insisted he should not have been there in the first place.

Srettha’s case, meanwhile, is more “ethical”, meaning that what he does from now on as prime minister would be more “acceptable” if he is to be found guilty later.

May 23, 2024: The word “acting” can lead to an endless debate, but if “acting” senators are still paid with taxpayers’ money, it means they are still expected to do their job.

So, the most important question is not whether the senators who petitioned the Constitutional Court against Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin are trying to rock the boat one last time, but whether all the senators still get their salaries and what is expected to come from the state expense.  

Acting senator Direkrit Janekrongtham, defending the senatorial petitioners, claimed several other senators admonished them for being nonsensical and acting beyond their authority, as the terms of all senators have already expired and they are now serving only as acting senators, until a new set of 200 senators is elected.

The Constitutional Court accepted the petition for further consideration, meaning that the complaint is anything but nonsensical in the eyes of the judges. And is it sensible to sweep a serious suspicion under the rug waiting for someone else to clean it up while you can tackle it now?

May 22, 2024: It could be either a traditional marking of an anniversary, or a big hint on when and how Yingluck Shinawatra would return to Thailand.

In her Facebook post marking the 10th year of Prayut Chan-o-cha’s coup that ousted her government and sent her into exile, Yingluck said: “I’m beginning to have hope of seeing Thailand return to (full) democracy. We will have a new Constitution written by the people and for the people. That will give the country an opportunity to develop according to its potentials. I’m waiting with genuine hope for a new Constitution that can take our country to real democracy.”

As we all know, the “Thaksin model” of homecoming without being jailed is more difficult, because health claims can be harder to cook up and be executed this time for political and legal reasons. A constitutional “reconciliation” can be a lot easier.

May 21, 2024: It’s up there with the most bizarre political comments you have ever heard.

Before his resignation as a PM’s Office minister, Pichit Chuenban has delivered a lengthy and peculiar statement to defend his questionable appointment to the Cabinet, a big political controversy that can even doom Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin. The self-defence came as pressure was mounting against both of them, with dozens of senators petitioning the Constitutional Court and a leaked Council of State document telling the government what prohibitive rules are concerning ministerial appointments.

Analysts and media commentators have begun to say that, thanks to Pichit’s appointment, Srettha may meet his Waterloo.

While long, Pichit’s remark can be easily summarised. He said court rulings against him contained a shadow of a doubt that should make him get away with the Cabinet appointment, that his political rise is not part of a “vicious circle”, that the prime minister consulted the Council of State because he (Srettha) wanted to clear all the doubts, and that if his immediate resignation could end the “vicious circle”, he (Pichit) would do it right away.

He said this was “definitely” a conspiracy against Srettha. “We are having a normal situation in our country, with a functioning prime minister. “Why should we take it all away by making an unnecessary mess? That is everyone’s homework question. My only question is whether the so-called vicious circle will end if I resign,” he said.

His eventual, albeit belated, resignation is certainly a good start, but Thais’ only question is different from that. It has to do with how the so-called vicious circle can end if people like Pichit do not resign.

May 20, 2024: Bribery happens all the time, but it’s not every day that someone related to an anti-establishment campaigner purportedly fighting for justice is found guilty of getting involved with old-style efforts to buy off officials.

Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, who is fading politically somewhat but is believed to still be playing a major role behind the scenes, being the wind beneath Move Forward’s Pita Limjaroenrat’s wings, is a hardcore politician who was publicly active in demanding transparency regarding management of royal assets.

His younger brother, Sakulthorn Juangroonruangkit, has been convicted of attempting to do a murky deal with an agency managing royal assets.

The conviction is a big irony and will most likely create a political uproar. Amid political considerations, there are two main facts in the case. The first is that Sakulthorn himself has admitted to giving Bt20 million to two persons convicted of fraud. The other has to do with the conviction verdicts handed down against the two, which clearly stated that the money was to be used “dishonestly” as a bribe so Sakulthorn’s real estate company could rent a lucrative plot in Chidlom from the Crown Property Bureau.

The two convicted persons, one is a former Crown Property Bureau official, were found guilty of a scam dating back several years ago. The apparent scam involved faking of documents to allegedly convince Sakulthorn that his real estate company stood a great chance of renting the vast plot from the bureau after a rental contract with the Telephone Organisation of Thailand expired. Apparently believing that a lucrative deal was in sight, he gave them the money, an act that he has been convicted for.

May 19, 2024: Let’s shelve the vaccine scare for a minute. Elon Musk has taken the “Covid conspiracy” to a new level.

It all began with a strange and apparent admission, reported by several media outlets, that the United States funded a potentially-dangerous viral research at China’s Wuhan institute. It could be a big twist in the whodunit mudslinging between Washington and Beijing.

In a tweet, Musk captured the New York Post front page which screamed “Sick Lies” and added a little remark of his own.

“Prosecute/Fauci” Musk said on X.

Most media networks said he was demanding the arrest and prosecution of Dr Anthony Fauci after America’s National Institutes of Health came clean to Congress and admitted funding a risky research in Wuhan before the pandemic outbreak.

The New York Post said NIH principal deputy director Lawrence Tabak admitted to Congress on Thursday that US taxpayers unknowingly funded gain-of-function research at the Wuhan Institute of Virology in China in the months and years before all hell broke loose.

“Did NIH fund gain-of-function research at the Wuhan Institute of Virology through [Manhattan-based nonprofit] EcoHealth [Alliance]?” he said to the Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic.

“It depends on your definition of gain-of-function research,” he said. “If you’re speaking about the generic term, yes, we did.”

The man further explained: “This is research. The generic term [gain-of-function], is research that goes on in many, many labs around the country. It is not regulated. And the reason it’s not regulated is it poses no threat or harm to anybody.”

The New York Post, which quoted him, said: “The response comes after more than four years of evasions from federal public health officials _ including Tabak himself and former National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases director Dr Anthony Fauci _ about the controversial research practice that modifies viruses to make them more infectious.”

More highly-technical debate has taken place and seemed to be raging. The simple question of who were responsible is getting a lot more complicated now.

Musk did not specify what criminal charges any senior American figure should face, although perjury and lying to Congress are being touted as likely options and have been recommended by congressional Republicans.

Musk is no stranger to Covid 19-related attacks on Fauci, who has responded to the former’s criticism a few times, calling him among other things a conspiracy lover. This time, though, there are Tabak’s ambiguous words, and how much trouble they can cause Fauci remains to be seen.

Fauci would face tough questioning after he agreed to testify in front of the House panel, the first time America’s foremost Covic 19 man will publicly face Congress since leaving government nearly 1½ years ago. The man who helped steer the Trump and Biden administrations’ efforts to fight the virus is scheduled to testify June 3 in front of the House Oversight select subcommittee on the coronavirus pandemic, The Washington Post said last month.

May 18, 2024: It’s one thing if“serial petitioner”Srisuwan Janya asks the Constitutional Court to remove someone in the government, but it’s totally another if about 40 senators do the same.

Srettha Thavisin’s first big trouble with the Constitutional Court does not come from Srisuwan. The fact that it has come from the Senate must be sending a chill down the prime minister’s spine.

And the petition deals with some solid legality, not vague accusations that can be construed as a political conspiracy. The appointment of Pichit Chuenban has been controversial since Day One and Srettha was even warned of a major constitutional and ethical breach.

According to one of the senators who signed the petition, the Constitution clearly prohibited documented backgrounds like Pichit’s from getting a ministerial post, and the charter was also clear that a prime minister who promotes such people to the Cabinet must lose his or her job.

The petition seeks to remove both Srettha as prime minister and Pichit as PM’s Office minister.

The timing is remarkable as well. The not-so-small Senate group has turned against Srettha at a time when the conservatives are getting increasingly restless. It’s not the same as former prime minister Prayut Chan-o-cha when he had problems with the Constitutional Court. The environment was absolutely different.

May 17, 2024: Just hours left before arguably the most solid proof that football transcends national borders leaves a foreign club that considers him to be their king.

German Jurgen Klopp is really loved by all Liverpool fans, including those in England who, it’s safe to say, are more emotionally attached to him than all of their living national heroes. He composed a team that is impressive both on the pitch and in terms of players’ nationalities.

There were times when Liverpool played with athletes from 11 countries _ Brazil, England, France, Egypt, Colombia, Uruguay, Argentina, Japan, Hungary, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

While the World Cup takes nationalism to the extreme, club football has had the opposite effect, and it’s not an overstatement that Jurgen Klopp has taken the opposite effect to the extreme.

In a viral remark, Klopp said Liverpool made him realise the true meaning of You’ll Never Walk Alone (the club’s terrace theme song) and his life’s best memories are in England (which fought Germany in both World Wars).

All Liverpool fans will miss him, not just his managerial skills but also what are considered to be exemplary human qualities.

His life motto: It’s not important what people think when you come in; it’s much more important what people think when you leave.

Thank you and good luck, Jurgen. #YNWA

May 16, 2024: Pol Gen Surachate Hakparn’s campaign to prove his “innocence” is reaching the point of gathering public signatures to seek a removal at the National Anti-Corruption Commission.

In doing so, the former deputy police chief is getting further and further away from the charges related to online gambling which he needs to rebut while paying no attention whatsoever to what others do. His latest move, which he described as “historic”, cannot help Thailand’s already-weak fight against corruption, since any accusation against anyone can always be politicised and portrayed as a “conspiracy” nowadays.

At Parliament, Surachate has submitted a letter stating an intention to gather 20,000 signatures seeking to impeach an NACC member who he accused of malfeasance and corruption. He told reporters he was confident that he would get more than 20,000 signatures within two weeks and interested members of the public could go to his website created for the “Clean the NACC” purpose.

The website provides nothing to prove that bribe-taking charges are false. Instead, it glorifies Surachate’s work regarding such problems as “Call Center” scammers and “grey” businesses, in addition to preaching how the NACC should perform its duty.

In a way, Surachate’s campaign against the NACC is what he publicly denounces. It’s political and conspiratorial, meaning to discredit. The only difference is that his is a relatively-vague accusation against the NACC while he faces more damning information that he needs to confront.

May 15, 2024: It’s not every day that people can look at a democracy survey and become amused.

But here we go. Findings in the latest “Democracy Perception Index” must have left many perplexed and some must be trying hard to suppress their smiles.

Check out the following discoveries by Democracy Perception Index researchers.

1 Governments around the world, even those in countries perceived to be generally or very democratic, are not seen to be living up to the democratic expectations of their citizens. The dissatisfaction is close to half of people surveyed and is very prevalent in the US, Europe and in other countries with a long “democratic” traditions.

2 About half of the people around the world, in both democratic and non-democratic countries, feel that their political leaders only serve the interest of small groups of people. Over the past four years, this perception has remained highest in Latin America, lowest in Asia and has steadily increased in Europe since 2020 – particularly in Germany.

3 What’s the deal with democracy and wars? Israel, Ukraine and Russia have all experienced a “rally around the flag” effect, with public perception that the government is acting in the interest of the majority of the people increasing rapidly after the start of their military problems. In Ukraine, however, this perception seems to have declined sharply lately.

4 The surveyors wanted to find out what governments are fulfilling their people’s “democratic” aspirations or expectations, and the winner is … Israel.

5 In America, there are more people who think “there’s not enough democracy in my country” than those who think “we have the right amount of democracy”. In Thailand, close to half of the people think there should be more democracy, while the rest is a mix between those who believe the amount is just right and those who think there’s too much democracy (this last group is the smallest.)

6 China is the first runner-up in terms of their people thinking the country is having just the right amount of democracy. The champion is South Korea. The third place is Taiwan. Vietnam comes fourth.

7 Greece, perceived to be among the “best democracies” in the world, is among the countries where most of their peoples want greater democracy.

8 Much-maligned China has at least managed to please the public. Meanwhile, the Biden administration has increased the sense that government only serves a minority (Such thinking has risen from roughly 52% in 2020 to 57% in 2024). Germany stands out as the country with one of the most significant deteriorations in public perception of government accountability (those thinking that rulers only serve an elite minority have jumped in numbers from 34% in 2020 to 54% in 2024). In China, of course, public perceptions of government accountability remain among the world’s highest.

May 14, 2024: The United States’ global popularity is shrinking significantly due largely to its support for Israel in the Gaza war.

The annually-updated survey, recognised and much-followed worldwide because it is considered the world’s largest, also has China and Russia on the rise despite, in the case of the latter, the war in Ukraine and the former’s territorial and sovereignty problems with smaller countries as well as alleged attempts to interfere with US politics.

According to the European edition of Politico, the fresh information in the Democracy Perception Index came from a recent online survey across 53 countries conducted by the Latana research company and the Alliance of Democracies. The survey was carried out between February and April and covered 62,953, averaging 1,200 respondents per country across significant age and education spectrums.

Although America is becoming increasingly unpopular in predominantly-Muslim countries, Europe has started to join the trend, Politico said.

“For the first time since the start of the Biden administration, many Western European countries have returned to net negative perceptions of the U.S. This rise and decline, from negative attitudes to positive [and] back to negative attitudes is particularly stark in Germany, Austria, Ireland, Belgium and Switzerland,” Frederick DeVeaux, senior researcher for the Latana survey company that compiled the index, was quoted in Politico as saying.

As remarkable are positive perceptions of China in Asia, North Africa, the Middle East and Latin America continue to grow. This has brought the global perception of Beijing to a net positive, despite continued European skepticism and Washington’s continued anti-China campaigns.

Russia, having an overwhelmingly-negative image globally following the invasion of Ukraine, “also appears to be on the path to image rehabilitation in most regions surveyed, with the exception of Europe”, the Politico said.

It added, perhaps underlining the White House’s diplomatic homework: “America’s faltering popularity, combined with Russia and China’s improved standings, means the latter are now viewed as positively as the US in most Middle Eastern, North African and Asian countries surveyed.”

In the words of the surveyors: “This drop in positive attitudes towards the US is particularly stark in the muslim-majority countries surveyed (Indonesia, Malaysia, Turkey, Morocco, Egypt, and Algeria) as well as many European countries (Switzerland, Ireland, Ukraine and Germany).

“The United States is still seen as having a positive influence on global democracy by most countries around the world, particularly in Latin America, Asia and several Eastern European countries such as Poland and Ukraine. (However,) the US’s impact on global democracy is seen more critically in Western European countries, where attitudes are mixed or even slightly negative. Over the past four years, perceptions of the US’s global influence became more positive – peaking in 2022 or 2023 – and then declined sharply in 2024.”

As many analysts are saying about the survey, this is not just a popularity contest whose results will wane soon enough. Attitudes reflected in the survey have great ramifications on how global violence or military conflicts are dealt with and how world opinions are mobilised to respond to aggression.

May 13, 2024: Somsak Thepsutin may be the most versatile man on earth. However, one of his latest remarks is strange to say the least.

The public health minister was asked why he did not raise a voice when the Prayut government, which he also served, deregulated cannabis, a policy which the Srettha government, which he currently works for, has reversed.

Here’s his reply: “We didn’t have the right to oppose what we did not understand thoroughly.”

An unofficial interpretation: “I didn’t have the right to oppose a policy affecting public health if I didn’t have a thorough knowledge although, who knows, I could become the public health minister in a matter of months.”

That’s how Thai politics works. Somsak has been deputy communications minister, industry minister, agriculture minister, industry minister, labour minister, justice minister, tourism and sports minister before he is what he is nowadays.

Yet to hail his “versatility” may not be entirely proper and may do other Thai politicians an injustice as many have had similar journeys.

May 12, 2024: In a truly democratic world, fireworks would have been all over Middle East’s skies these past two days after the UN General Assembly voted by a wide margin to back Palestine’s request to become the 194th member of the United Nations.

In our world, though, there’s still the UN’s Security Council which will most likely block what the General Assembly has decided.

To scale it down, the Security Council is like a non-elected Senate in a certain country whose members can veto a crucial decision made by the elected House of Representatives. The General Assembly is that by-the-people-for-the-people House of Representatives which democracy advocates say must be entitled to leading the way.

In an absolutely-overwhelming manner, the UN General Assembly approved the Arab and Palestinian-sponsored resolution with a 143-9 (with 25 abstentions) to grant new “rights and privileges” to Palestine and called on the Security Council reconsider Palestine’s request to become a UN member.

The United States voted against it, along with Israel, Argentina, Czechia, Hungary, Micronesia, Nauru, Palau and Papua New Guinea, AP reported. That’s bad news for Palestine because everyone knows who are in the Security Council which has been blocking General Assembly’s resolutions for fun for political reasons.

The General Assembly’s vote would have made the biggest headlines in an ideally-democratic world. The reality of our planet has manifested in the near silence of well-known news organisations who know better and probably don’t want to upset the powers-that-be too much.

According to AP, while Friday’s resolution gives Palestine some new rights and privileges, Palestine remains a non-member observer state without full UN membership and the right to vote in the General Assembly or at any of its conferences. The news agency added that the White House has made clear it will block Palestinian membership and statehood until direct negotiations with Israel resolve “key” issues, including security, boundaries and the future of Jerusalem, and lead to a two-state solution.

May 11, 2024: The reversal of the cannabis policy is one heavy load being added onto the already-strained camel’s back, which one man who used to be working for Thaksin Shinawatra said was close to breaking.

Former red-shirt leader Jatuporn Prompan claimed the conservatives’ general feeling was that, with Thaksin’s shadow looming, the Pheu Thai Party might be violating “the deal” with wild abandon.

Digital wallet, cannabis, rice-pledging stocks re-promoted for auction, the prime minister’s respectful treatment of Thaksin and demonisation of the central bank. These are examples and the list is growing, Jatuporn has been pointing out in interviews and his own online analyses.

Pheu Thai has strongly denied that Thaksin was asserting influences over administrative affairs. His whirlwind trips, during some of which he was rumoured to be meeting ethnic people from Myanmar, had nothing to do with the party, were within his legal rights, and became controversial simply because he had many friends, the ruling camp said.

Jatuporn, however, is warning that what’s happening is testing the conservatives’ limits, a dangerous situation that might prompt them to consider more “desperate measures” than hooking up with Pheu Thai to form the government.

Watch Bhumjaithai closely, Jatuporn said. That’s what a lot of people are doing already.

May 10, 2024: Let’s just say Anutin Charnvirakul is more graceful than Benjamin Netanyahu when it comes to big snubs from big people who matter.

It’s debatable which is worse _ the Srettha government reversing the Bhumjaithai Party’s cannabis policy or the Biden administration threatening publicly to halt arms shipment to Israel _ but Anutin is definitely more diplomatic and hence makes Netanyahu pale beside him.

Here’s what Anutin said in the South on cannabis reverting back to being narcotic drug under far greater control by the authorities: “Disagreements are not conflicts. They are about having unequal data. There shouldn’t be any conflict. As for my part, I will give the public health minister our side of information.”

Bitter? Anutin is apparently so, but he is hiding it well and sounding very diplomatic. (What his party will probably do next does not count here.)

Now, let’s hear what Netanyahu said about the United States’ threat to suspend arms shipment to Israel: “If we need to … we will stand alone. I have said that if necessary we will fight with our fingernails.”

May 9, 2024: When you want to hurt someone deeply, just a few words will do. So, what was described as one of the briefest responses by the prime minister to a question that deals with one of the most complex and difficult issues facing his administration can have great ramifications.

Also, it’s not “what” you said, but “how” you said it. Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin did not seem to try to cushion the blow for the Bhumjaithai Party, one of his reluctant but deadly-important allies, when commenting on the cannabis reclassification plan of the Pheu Thai-led coalition.

Imagine you were Bhumjaithai and heard Srettha said this: “Why do you (reporters) often ask me which political party will be affected? (We work on) what affects the people. I believe everyone _ Bhumjaithai, Pheu Thai or the entire Cabinet _ make decisions based on how the people are going to be affected.”

To add to that, when asked if he had discussed the big cannabis decision with the Bhumjaithai leadership, he said: “I believe thorough talks have taken place among authorities concerned.”

May 8, 2024: Is very old rice edible when cooked? Commerce Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Phumtham Wechayachai says not only “Yes” but also “Yummy” regarding a 10-year-old stock.

That has sparked an uproar, with a bacteria warning and all. Apart from science, this is also politics at its most important, since it concerns public healthcare safety and a ruling party determined to change history and prevalent perceptions.

To cut a long story short, leftovers from the controversial rice pledging scheme of the Yingluck government are believed to still be abundant and the Pheu Thai Party allegedly wants to show that they still have market (auction) values. Phumtham is leading what the Thai Pakdee Party’s Warong Dechgitvigrom described as a fire sale effort and a campaign to whitewash Yingluck so it becomes easier to bring her home.

The alleged motivation, Warong and other critics claim, led Phumtham to Surin the other day where the Pheu Thai man tasted 10-year-old rice after it was freshly cooked. After the inspection, Phumtham concluded that rice that old was all right for consumption, and, in another interview, demanded an end to the “drama”.

Opinions have been divided, with some people even warning the government that losses might overshadow gains. For example, according to the warning, scared consumers might avoid poor “Khao Kaeng” vendors suspected of serving old rice from the controversial stocks.

This whole rice thing brings to mind the time when Thaksin Shinawatra was prime minister. He once ate a chicken piece at a Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant before camera as a deadly bird flu virus apparently threatened Thailand’s local chicken sale and exports. He urged everyone to eat chicken, saying cooked poultry was perfectly safe, promising to pay anyone who died as a result out of his own pocket.

Thaksin faced some mockery back then, but it was apparently a good thing to do as a prime minister. As for Phumtham, the jury is still out, and real experts must come out, the sooner the better.

May 7, 2024: Thaksin Shinawatra might or might not have met Myanmar’s leading ethnic figures, but Thailand’s new foreign minister will now have to live with related questions from here on out.

The first such questions have arrived, and apparently-unprepared Maris Sangiampongsa said he just learned about the alleged activity, too. He pointed out that Thaksin had many friends and some of them could be influential within their communities and might think Thaksin could help.

“(Whatever happens) has nothing to do with the Thai government,” Maris. “As I’ve told you. I have just learned about it myself.”

He said Thailand’s stance remained the same as before, with the Bangkok government concentrating on helping the neighbouring country achieving peace.

“Thailand has tried to be a mediator and been working within the principles of Asean. Some things we have been doing cannot be disclosed, but the most important thing is that what we do is aimed at establishing harmony and peace in Myanmar,” he said in what sounded like a textbook diplomatic statement for such an occasion.

The following was what Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin had said earlier. “The situation across the border will affect Thailand, as the frontier is long and whatever happens on the other side has a big impact over here, too,” the new foreign minister said.

Thaksin has been seen in the news visiting the North, but media video and still footages have him in the company of familiar Thai figures. Rumours about him meeting ethnic groups’ representatives have just emerged, but they are quickly adding to speculation concerning his alleged administrative guidance.

Maris stressed that who was consulting whom was Myanmar’s “absolutely private affair” which had nothing to do with the Thai administration. “What we do is strictly following Asean and humanitarian principles,” he said.

May 6, 2024: The uproar against Paetongtarn Shinawatra may be exactly what the Pheu Thai Party wants, according to one theory.

Warong Dechgitvigrom of the Thai Pakdee Party claims the Bank of Thailand may be getting set up to be a scapegoat if the digital wallet policy of the Pheu Thai-led government could not go ahead because of legal obstacles.

Indirect opposition to digital wallet has come from the central bank, and banking regulations particularly those governing the Bank of Agriculture and Agricultural Cooperatives may become the last, big hurdle.

Paetongtarn has been under fire for her statement criticising the BoT for being an obstacle to a painful yet necessary economic fix, but Pheu Thai’s big guns have come out to defend her. Both support and attacks have put not only Paetongtarn on the map, but also the central bank.

Warong did not talk about interest rates, the apparent crux of Paetongtarn’s controversial remark. Instead, he only focused on digital wallet, Pheu Thai’s flagship policy and key electoral promise.

“There’s a high chance digital wallet will hit a dead end,” Warong wrote on his Facebook. “… The government, therefore, needs someone for the people to point their fingers at if that happens. That someone is the central bank, it’s as simple as that.  That’s why the prime minister and (Paetongtarn) have become vocal lately against the institution.”

May 5, 2024: A politically-tumultuous Thailand is way above politically-peaceful Singapore on the latest press freedom index which also shows America’s remarkable decline on the table.

The United States is ranked 55th, a drop from the 45th place last year. Norway, Denmark and Sweden are first, second and third respectively. (Norway was also first last year, followed by Ireland, which spiralled down to the eighth place this year. Sweden was fourth last year.)

Thailand is 87th, up from 106th last year as ranked by the Reporters Without Border. In 2020, the country was 140th. In spite of the relatively-low position in the last index, Thailand can gloat among many Asian friends. Malaysia is 107th while Indonesia is 111th. Even Japan at 70th is not that far up.

Singapore is 126th. The Philippines is 134th. South Korea is 62nd.

Hong Kong is 135th. India is 159th.

Many things are used as part of the methodology _ not just “independence” but also representation of potentially-unpopular opinions, infrastructure and abuses or threats.

One important factor which could soon feature in the measurement of neutrality is the unstoppable surge of the work of online “influencers”, who depend totally on sponsorship money, at the expense of genuinely-independent journalists.

The online influencers are edging out genuine journalists, meaning that if reporters in one country are the freest and equipped with the best tools, they may not have the same impact as before if they exist in just a small number. That is in addition to manipulations of online technology to block or discredit some content or suppress public exposure to it.

In a report marking the world press freedom day a couple of days ago, it was said that the Gaza conflict was very deadly not only for the innocents but also for journalists.

According to Al Jazeera, more than 100 journalists and media workers, the vast majority Palestinian, have been killed in the first seven months of the war in Gaza. The figures were part of information provided by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ).

Gaza’s media office has reported that more than 140 were killed, which averages to five journalists killed every week since October 7.

May 4, 2024: We expected what he would say, according to “Tent Cities” participants, who also predicted that the US president’s statement concerning the on-going campus protests against the military terror in Gaza would come back to haunt him in November.

After Joe Biden broke his awkward silence and insisted that order must prevail and that his government would not change its pro-Israel stance, the protesters said they were not the only Americans who resent the government’s steadfast protection of Israel regarding the war in Gaza.

The protests had met with a fierce backlash from university administrators, as well as pro-Israel lawmakers and groups, but the demonstrations have also gained substantial support, and Biden’s statement has added fuel to the fire. The protesting students and other observers quickly slammed Biden’s overall attitude including what they perceived as his failure to recognise that US colleges and universities have called heavily armed police forces onto their campuses that should have been treated as a sacred hotbed of free thinking.

The protesters, adamant that their action is by no means political, are warning that Biden could face electoral consequences.

Al Jazeera reported that Biden’s approval rating stands at 28 % among voters under age 30 as seen from a Pew Research Center survey released last week. A recent CNN poll also showed that a staggering 81 percent of voters younger than 35 disapprove of his administration’s handling of Gaza, Al Jazeera said.

That could get worse following the last few days. “The Democrats can’t really afford to give people more reasons to vote against Biden, and this actually becomes one,” Omar Wasow, assistant professor of political science at the University of California, Berkeley, told Al Jazeera.

This may explain what many perceive as uneasy coverage of the student uproar by pro-Biden media outlets. Gaza, experts and men on the street are warning, can cost him dearly come November.

Even some young Democrats are not happy. Hasan Pyarali — the Muslim Caucus chairperson for College Democrats of America, the university arm of the Democratic Party — told Al Jazeera Biden’s comments disappointed him.

“We’re here to make it known that if he doesn’t change course, there’s a real risk that we [Democrats] lose 2024,” Pyarali said.

May 3, 2024: Having been silent for days regarding the student uproar in his country, the American president has come out to insist that “lawlessness” shall not be tolerated.

As the campus rebellion, now called by some the “Tent Cities” campaign apart from “American Spring”, intensified in the United States and beyond, Joe Biden is saying that democracy is peaceful expression of opinions, not disruptions of class or others’ graduation plans or making others feel intimidated or unsafe.

“There’s the right to protest, but not the right to cause chaos,” Biden said shortly before leaving the White House for a trip to North Carolina. “People have the right to get an education, the right to get a degree, the right to walk across campus safely without fear of being attacked.”

He was obviously walking a tightrope, as the protesting students have been demanding a clear-cut distance from Israel which they say is waging a campaign of terror in Gaza.

“Dissent is essential for democracy,” Biden said at the White House. “But dissent must never lead to disorder.”

AP reported that he largely sidestepped protesters’ demands, which have included ending U.S. support for Israeli military operations. Asked after his remarks whether the demonstrations would prompt him to consider changing course, Biden was quoted by AP as responding with a simple “no.”

Some may say Biden finds lawlessness concerning US students unacceptable but somehow has condoned massive killings of the innocents in Gaza.

The White House, AP said, has been peppered with questions by reporters. On Wednesday, before Biden broke his silence, press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said that the president was “monitoring the situation closely” and that some demonstrations had stepped over a line separating free speech from unlawful behaviour.

“Forcibly taking over a building,” such as what happened at Columbia University in New York, “is not peaceful,” she was quoted by AP as saying. “It’s just not.”

Again, a building being taken over is not ok, whereas the flattened landscape of Gaza has to be highlighted by US students, not politicians.

May 2, 2024: Police in riot gear moving against student protesters resenting mass killings of the innocents. Many would assume it could be anywhere but the United States.

But that local development should be the least of Washington’s and Israel’s concern now. Students across the Middle East and globally are skipping class and ignoring planned graduation celebrations to directly join in with or express strong support for the pro-Palestinian cause.

The youngsters’ resentment has swept across America in recent weeks, with numerous reported arrests that beggar belief. The students want their campuses to cut financial ties with Israel which they think is conducting a terror military campaign in Gaza with tacit yet solid backing from their government.

Violence and divisiveness are forming a background that seems to be increasingly worrisome. Israel wants the students to be expelled. Pro-Israel masked attackers were reportedly targeting the US students. Tweets devaluing the students’ cause have been trending, but so have shows of support.

It looks like, however, the students are gaining public and even global attention. They have liberal groups supporting them to thank for that, and also, rather ironically, movements disliking them or hating them outright.

All the while, the Biden administration is progressively awkward. Being too harsh against the students goes against “democracy” that Joe Biden talks about on a daily basis, but being too lenient would help it spread and make Israel frown. Sitting and watching is also a bad idea because the phenomenon seems to be catching fire from Kuwait to Egypt and Lebanon as well as certain parts of Europe.

The White House is definitely losing face, as the protesting students are virtually denouncing American economic ties with Israel which they believe is significantly funding the latter’s war machine.

May 1, 2024: Many liberal groups are expressing strong support for American university students demonstrating against US support for Israel’s Gaza action, against a backdrop of legal threats facing the demonstrators in the “land of the free.”

Aljazeera reported that the groups including the Working Families Party, IfNotNow Movement, Sunrise Movement, Movement for Black Lives and Gen-Z for Change lauded the student protesters in a joint statement on Monday.

How protests have become widespread and relatively harsh response of the authorities have belied limited mainstream media news coverage about them and related crackdown, but the issue is simmering and could gain more attention soon.

“We commend the students who are exercising their right to protest peacefully despite an overwhelming atmosphere of pressure, intimidation and retaliation, to raise awareness about Israel’s assault on Gaza – with US weapons and funding,” Al Jazeera quoted the organisations said in their joint statement.

The campus protests have entered their third week, with participants facing threats of losing places at their universities or even legal action. Some leaders have reportedly been rounded up.

The joint statement was backed by nearly 190 groups and also included the Arab American Institute, MPower Change Action Fund, Greenpeace USA and Justice Democrats.

“What happened shows how democratic America really is,” a Thai news commentator said in an uploaded YouTube clip whose comments furiously noted that international human right advocates have been too timid about this development.

American students’ uproar against the war in Vietnam was compared. One of the comments said student activists in the United States would come out significantly like that only when the serious matter of life and death is concerned.

Said the statement as quoted by Al Jazeera: “These students have come forth with clear demands that their universities divest from corporations profiting from Israeli occupation, and demanding safe environments for Palestinians across their campuses.”

The students wanted their universities to disclose their investments and end ties with firms involved with the Israeli military. According to Al Jazeera, the protests started to gain momentum earlier in April at Columbia University in New York, where students continue to face arrests with the police called upon to clear their encampments.

One protest placard read: “How many children have you killed today?”

Daily updates of local and global developments by Tulsathit Taptim

File photo : Former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra