Happy New Year…and celebrate safely
December 31, 2020: At this time last year, much of the world was only vaguely aware of an unknown virus bothering China, and ones could have been laughed at if they had said students’ haircuts and uniforms would become a serious political matter in Thailand in the months to come and Thai kids would pour onto streets in jaw-dropping numbers with aggressive, unheard-of demands.
You could have been committed as well if you had predicted that “Across-the-years” prayers would become a serious health threat for Thais at the end of 2020, and that staying quietly alone at home on the New Year’s Eve would be the best way to go. Crowded countdowns, solemn or else, are things of the past, largely and at least for now.
The planet’s ability to spring big surprises is on show this year _ politically, economically and socially. Ultimate questions have been asked of everyone, every government, every country, big or small, rich or poor, “democratic” or “dictatorial”. Life or money? Businesses or safety? Is democracy as we know it the best there is? How much importance should we give “minority” voices, or massive minority like the more than 70 million votes given to Donald Trump? How much should we follow others and how much of ourselves should we keep for ourselves?
Humans have been humbled by those questions, asked in the most peculiar year in decades. A “new order” (which many people call a “new normal” to soften the blow) is pushing hard to assert itself, and Mother Nature is having a big say on that.
It has been a tough year, but the bright side is that it has forced a massive soul-searching on an unprecedented, global scale. And it looks like 2021 will keep doing so.
Happy New Year, celebrate safely and embrace any new challenge 2021 has in store for all of us.
December 30, 2020: Thailand is skating on thin ice when the coronavirus is concerned, with hundreds of daily infection cases possible amid “middle-path” measures, the government said. Laxness can cause a nightmarish scenario in which cases break through the ten of thousands barrier, it admitted.
“We are taking the middle-ground measures and the graph is still worrying, showing the daily rise of more than 100,” said Dr Taweesin Visanuyothin, the government’s spokesman for the COVID-19 situation. He is a normally positive man capable of asking people to take extreme caution without showing much anxiety of his own.
But after Tuesday’s press conference, mainstream media reports focused on his worst-case scenario. The media have their reasons. As a citizen of a Buddhist nation and given the New Year occasion, Taweesin mentioning of prayers’ supposed ability to calm minds and strengthen bodies is not that strange. But some people noted that as a scientist, his Tuesday statement alluding to religious help may not be encouraging to all listeners.
December 29, 2020: Rampant businesses that are either illegal or “grey” are the most glaring failure of the Prayut administration and they will finally spell an end to the prime minister’s stormy reign, the Pheu Thai Party said.
The comment came after corruption in immigration-related work was widely blamed for an alarming COVID-19 spike in Thailand.
The Pheu Thai Party pointed out that illegal entries were not just the only weak spot of Thailand at the time of COVID-19. Problems such as illegal casinos also add to the problem, it said.
“We can trace all those problems to senior people linked to the government,” said Anusorn Iam-sa-ard, deputy leader of the Pheu Thai Party.
December 28, 2020: A provincial governor has been infected. A senior police officer has been transferred. A quarantined woman has committed suicide, albeit with reasons still unclear. A minister enters self-isolation. This is against a backdrop of a growing public scare amid a new round of COVID-19 spread in Thailand.
Gatherings, political or else, are out of the question without rare approvals. Department stores, usually busy and bustling during the festive season, are recording obviously thinner crowds. Nobody and no organisation would like to be perceived as being the origins of “super spreaders”. Parliamentarians have gotten a real fright. Open newspapers or log on to websites and COVID-19 domination or panic are strikingly clear cut.
Again, COVID-19 is changing all the conversations and make everyone re-arrange his or her priorities. A vaccine scramble and controversy will add to the picture this time.
December 27, 2020: Bad news is that the current COVID-19 spread in Thailand is scarier than the first one, which subjected the country to months of lockdowns. Good news is Thailand hopefully is more prepared to fight the disease.
That was a message from Dr Taweesin Visanuyothin, the familiar face during the previous COVID-19 peak who has become closely monitored once again after a new spike of infections. The spokesman for the Centre for the COVID-19 Situation Administration called for “100% cooperation” among Thais” which means people in high-risk areas should stay “virtually still”, in other words they must practice strict self-isolation.
And the number of high-risk areas is growing, with some 30 provinces involved already. Mask-wearing is an absolute must, he said, adding that the country is doing well on the availability and affordability of face masks.
“We can see that the numbers rise pretty fast over the past few days, which makes this one tougher than the first spread,” he said. “But we have also been more prepared. During the first one, we didn’t quite know how to treat seriously-ill patients and there were problems about masks and medicine. We don’t have those problems now. We have the strength to cope with it.”
December 26, 2020: An overwhelming majority of Thais in an opinion survey says they want the superpowers to stay away from Thai politics but help the country fight COVID-19 and its economic threats.
The survey was conducted by Super Poll, which anti-government critics often accuse of being politically biased in favour of the status quo.
Super Poll surveyed 1,328 Thais over a five-day period ending December 25. A massive 94.4 % said they wanted the upcoming US President, Joe Biden, to stay strictly neutral and avoid interfering in Thai politics. Interestingly, Super Poll said, 93 % regarded China as “behaving well”, in other words neutral, when it comes to the Thai political trouble.
Also notable, according to Super Poll, is a staggering 92.4% that wanted the United Nations to keep away from sensitive political issues like Article 112.
More than 95 % said that if superpower countries like the United States and China as well as the UN really want to help Thailand, the assistance should come in the form of politics-free economic aid and vaccines to fight the coronavirus.
December 25, 2020: A political activist is set to ask the National Anti Corruption Commission to investigate Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit’s alleged links with a Yacht that had been registered in the Cooks Island, which is practically a tax haven, and caught fire a few days ago.
In what could be a political movie script featuring jaw-dropping mysteries, Silvretta caught a mini fire on the night of December 23 in Phuket. The damage to the property was limited, but political damage may be not.
As news spread about the fire incident, it emerged that Silvretta was registered in the Cooks Island, although all its reported four co-owners are Thais, including Thanathorn and his younger brother Sakulthorn Juangroongruangkit. Some reports noted that no plaintiff filed a complaint with the police about the fire incident, which is unusual because the fire broke out at night on a very expensive boat.
Srisuwan Janya, secretary general of the Association for the Protection of the Thai Constitution, will ask the NACC to investigate the matter. In his assets report before being banned from Parliament, Thanathorn stated that he owned a yacht but did not provide its registration information.
Thanathorn being a billionaire is not a secret, and his entitlement to lavish lifestyle is undoubted, but his answer to the questions whether he did own the yacht and why it was registered in the Cooks Island, known as a haven for rich people wanting to hide some assets or evade taxes, will be eagerly awaited, not least because of the politician’s tenacious public fight for transparency and equality.
It is another setback or potential setback yet to hit the Juangroongruangkits in rapid succession. Sakulthorn has been linked with a mysterious payment to convicted schemers whom the court said were planning to use the money as a bribe. Thanathorn’s political group, the Progressive Movement, has suffered a staggering loss in last Sunday’s Provincial Administration Organisation elections nationwide.
December 24, 2020: Thai political activists in particular are anxiously watching developments in the United States after a bill that would give Hong Kong anti-establishment protesters special immigration privileges has got stuck in the Senate.
The US Senate’s resistance, not prevalent at this point, is based on argument that America does not benefit _ and even stands to lose _ from allowing Hong Kong activists fleeing the city to be granted a special refugee status. One concern is that “spies” could mingle among genuine political refugees and laugh inside all the way into the United States.
Thai government supporters have, of course, pointed to the uncertainties and said Thai protesters seeing America as a safety net had better watch out. Such a cynical warning has been there for some time, even before the Hong Kong bill ran into the roadblock in America, but it is getting louder and genuinely worrying some key Thai ideological extremists facing legal action.
The bill has cleared the US House comfortably earlier, but now it will be many days of anxious waits for many.
December 23, 2020: With COVID-19 returning to become his potentially worst enemy, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha has resumed the role he took during the first wave, as a pleading leader attacking “fake news” and promising that everything is, and will be, under control.
With criticism against corrupt border and immigration authorities rumbling and threatening to be thundering, he called on locals and those in the know to share information with the state on how illegal immigrants have been helped to sneak into Thailand, causing a spread first in Samut Sakhon and then some other provinces including Bangkok.
“All Thais must help solve the problem,” he said at an interview today, coming close to admitting that unilateral government action would be useless. “We have done much more than other countries. I’d like to seek cooperation from the media as well. Some unchecked information can lead to big trouble. In this case, those using the social media must be responsible, too.”
He insisted that, as of now, the government could still deal with it. “We are implementing emergency and normal measures and we still can control the situation,” he said. “This should go public, because othewise Thailand will be perceived as returning to a major epidemic, which will erode (international) confidence in the country.”
December 22, 2020: Saying he was unfairly scorned following Sunday’s election defeat in Chiang Mai, Jatuporn Prompan is threatening a new round of showdown with his own Pheu Thai Party, this time claiming he supported the losing candidate to seek justice for the policeman killed in the infamous Red Bull heir traffic incident.
“I wanted to use the Chiang Mai’s PAO (Provincial Administrative Organisation) race to get back justice for Pol Snr Sgt Maj Wichian Khanprasert so he didn’t die in vain,” Jatuporn said, referring to the police officer killed in the traffic tragedy that took place during the Yingluck government.
Jatuporn did not elaborate, but went on to bemoan what he claimed were Pheu Thai attempts to rub salt on his election wounds. He was upset in particular by reported allegations by former Pheu Thai MP Sunai Jullapongsathorn that his losing candidate was a turncoat and he (Jatuporn) lied to Chiang Mai people about it. The candidate was defeated by another candidate backed by the mainstream Pheu Thai Party as well as Thaksin and Yingluck Shinawatra.
December 21, 2020: Thaksin Shinawatra still holds sway in Chiang Mai, while it’s a week to forget for Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, but key political developments are giving way to a fresh round of what promises to be major social and economic disruptions caused by the coronavirus.
Sunday’s nationwide Provincial Administrative Organization (PAO) elections sprang some significant results, not least the large-scale defeat of candidates backed by Thanathorn’s Progressive Movement. A Thaksin-backed candidate won in Chiang Mai, but his top warrior, Jatuporn Prompan, who supported another candidate, prompting a tumultuous and ugly campaigning by both sides, was remarkably subdued after the loss. The door is not quite firmly close on a Thaksin-Jatuporn reunion.
But the scarily-rising number of COVID-19 infections in Samut Sakhon and sporadic cases found in other provinces involving people who had visited Samut Sakhon’s seafood fresh market has triggered a series of tough measures and more are to come. The situation is going to badly affect local businesses that had pinned their hopes on New Year revival like airlines, hotels and event organizers.
December 20, 2020: Threats of COVID-19 resurgence in Thailand may grow to a point of forcing the government to ponder banning big gathering events such as New Year countdown celebrations in high-risk areas, it has been reported.
So far, only Samut Sakhon and neighbourhoods in close proximity are under lockdowns, but rare cases emerging in Bangkok and Ayutthaya are causing alarms, with Thailand’s health authorities closely monitoring the situation and worried by the festive season’s natural ability to bring people together in big crowds.
In countries like America, the high possibility of people getting the disease from loved ones, relatives, family members and friends is the main concern. Thailand is different, and fears of strangers, significantly eased over the past few months, are resurfacing.
The Center for COVID-19 Situation Administration apparently considers Samut Sakhon and closest areas a red zone, where big gathering events that can serve as super-spreaders are all but out of the question. So far, the government is asking the people publicly to keep calm, but the health authorities are well aware of COVID-19’s well-known reputation for surprise attacks that can be quick and devastating.
December 19, 2020: Bt20 million was paid, and that’s a fact. Whether it should be called a bribe or a brokerage fee has become a subject of heated political and legal debates, but a bigger question probably has to do with whether Sakulthorn Juangroongruangkit is the only person in his family who knew about it.
In a statement a few days ago, Sakulthorn, younger brother of political star Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, admitted his Real Estate Development Company paid the money to two people as a commission or brokerage fee in a potentially mega land deal with the Crown Property Bureau more than three years ago. It was an innocent payment, scammed out of him by the two convicted fraudsters, the statement said. Which made him a “victim” of a fraud.
The legal and political debates have intertwined. Was it a bribery scam, which requires payment of the bribe giver for the crime to be “completed”? Or was it a ploy to gain money through deceptions as claimed by Sakulthorn?
Another key fact is that in the court’s verdict handed down on the two, the judge said the Bt20 million was to be used “dishonestly” to convince a senior bureau person to help the company clinch a lucrative deal. Simply put, the court believed that the Bt20 million was destined to end up as a bribe.
Was Sakulthorn practically a parent who paid money to someone who had deceptively convinced him of a school place for his kid? A victim, arguably. Or was he an entrapped thief duped into breaking into a wrong house? An undeniable invader who should have known better.
One major point of contention is how the bureau conducted such a deal. Was it normally involved bidding, which would weaken the brokerage fee claim? Or was the deal normally conducted on a first-come-first-served basis and given to anyone as the bureau saw fit, in which case the brokerage fee claim would sound more plausible.
Either way, though, was it usual for Sakulthorn to pay the money, whether it was commission or not, without the knowledge of other key directors or major shareholders of his real estate company? The Juangroongruangkit family basically controls the firm.
These debates would have the already heated Thai political scene on fire in the days to come.
December 18, 2020: The coming elections of heads and members of provincial administrative organisations (PAOs) across Thailand this Sunday are one of the most-watched in Thai political history. Here are some facts about the polls, whose results will certainly have long-term repercussions on the mainstream, national politics:
First thing first, they are the first local elections in six years. The 2014 coup scrapped all electoral plans and the long break could result in a turnout as high as over 70 %.
A total of 335 people registered to contest for PAO chairmanship in 76 PAOs across the country. The number of candidates vying for PAO membership in the same number of PAOs is 8,186.
The Progressive Movement of Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit fields chairmanship candidates in 42 provinces. The Pheu Thai Party is having a considerably fewer numbers of chairmanship candidates, in 25 provinces. The ruling Palang Pracharath Party does not officially field any candidate, but it is believed to be linked with runners in at least eight provinces.
The most-monitored is arguably the contest in Chiang Mai, where a loss will mean major embarrassment of Thaksin Shinawatra and the Pheu Thai Party.
Most of the rest of the candidates have links with mainstream political parties one way or another. Many runners are even former national politicians trying to re-boost their career.
December 17, 2020: Thailand’s political divide will certainly impact the local elections this Sunday, although many candidates are still relying on old connections and personal influences that have little to do with national politics, analysts say.
On-going anti-establishment protests have amplified the national polarity, and political parties, candidates and their supporters have indicated that voters should mark ballots along their ideological lines on Sunday to give “the other side” a lesson. The urging has come from both halves of the national divide.
Another major “sideshow” is the election in Chiang Mai, where candidates backed by Thaksin Shinawatra and major detractor Jatuporn Prompan have been pitted against each other.
While nationwide results can yield hints on the direction of the mainstream Thai politics, the analysts cautioned that local elections normally attract low turnouts and, in many cases, involve personal, not ideological, influences. In other words, the results can be indicative of what will happen nationally, but don’t read too much into them.
December 16, 2020: In an election home stretch plea, Thaksin Shinawatra urged Chiang Mai voters to elect a Pheu Thai-supported candidate as head of the Provincial Administrative Organisation. He indicated that anything short of a clear-cut triumph would go a long way toward sowing seeds of doubts about his political base’s “love” for him.
Simply put, the Chiang Mai local election this Sunday will tell how much influence Thaksin still has over national Thai politics. If a candidate he strongly endorses loses out in what is supposed to be his and Pheu Thai’s fortress, to a competitor deemed a “traitor” who is ironmically backed by a man who used to be Thaksin’s top warrior, Jatuporn Prompan, that result will speak volumes. Thaksin’s candidate’s narrow win will not satisfy the man in Dubai, either.
“Go out and vote for the person I support, who is a good guy,” Thaksin said in a Facebook clip in yet another public plea for Chiang Mai voters’ help. “Make it an overwhelming victory, or people will say Chiang Mai loves me no more.”
December 15, 2020: “To-be-fair” comments have anti-establishment protesters seek the best of every world. Not-so-friendly remarks portray the movement as ideologically mixed up, not knowing what is good or bad or key irreconcilable differences of major political systems.
After sparking a controversy over its RT (Restart Thailand) symbol, which looks pretty much like a hammer and sickle that remind everyone of communism, the Thai movement’s key branch went on Facebook to denounce capitalism, which is generally associated with the United States, a democratic idol of many people.
Communism is an antidote to capitalism, which is a failure, the Free Youth Group said. “It’s not true that communism takes everything from you. It doesn’t take the toothbrush from you, but only makes sure that toothbrush factories belong to the labour, not entrepreneurs,” the statement said. The rest of it also sings praises for communism, which the movement said is better than dictatorship and has not been given enough time to prove its worth.
Critics are quick to note that dictatorship and communism like to go hand in hand. Moreover, they say, there are the issues of Hong Kong, which the movement has slammed China for, and democracy, which is clamoured by the Thai protesters but seems to love capitalism.
December 14, 2020: The opposition promised earth-shattering information. The government laughed it off. Have we all seen and heard it before?
Welcome to pre-censure Thailand, where a no-confidence debate is expected early next year, most likely in February. As news about street protests has been static for a while, more and more about no-confidence bluffing will be in the news in the coming days.
Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha today said something to the effect of “Bring it on”. He claimed he was not worried one bit about the opposition’s promise of a shock and awe censure piece of information. “I’m not that kind of panicky people,” he said.
The opposition Pheu Thai Party had vowed to rattle him with its no-confidence information, but the party itself is grappling with internal turmoil which might come to a head this weekend when Chiang Mai votes to elect a new head of the Provincial Administrative Organisation (PAO).
The PAO contest has pitted Thaksin Shinawatra and the mainstream Pheu Thai Party against their top red-shirt warrior, Jatuporn Prompan, who has suggested he knew something about the Red Bull heir case, which began during the Yingluck government and has spanned years and counting. The two sides are apparently burning their bridges, although it remains unlikely Jatuporn will change ideologically.
December 13, 2020: Relatively old faces at anti-establishment protests are thought to be the “red shirts”, or largely-provincial supporters of Thaksin Shinawatra. The coexistence has been smooth and uncomplicated, until very recently.
Some unruly behaviours at the youngster-led protests were blamed on belligerent red shirts, and mini-violence or perceptions of aggression were thought to be the major reason why a movement leader, Parit Chiwarak, or Penguin, decided to revamp the “security” system in which red-shirted “guards” played a considerable part.
Parit’s public announcement of the decision undoubtedly hurt many people’s feelings, and that may have something to do with another Parit public statement saying he had been inspired by previous red-shirted protests. But the relationship has reached a crossroads and become more fragile than ever.
However, analysts say the present anti-establishment movement and the red shirts still need each other. The former needs the latter to boost numbers which seem to be declining. The latter need the former because they could no longer mobilise big street support on their own.
More complications have to do with the fact that the red shirts are publicly associated with the Pheu Thai Party, which could be in big legal and constitutional trouble because of the increasingly aggressive and controversial content of the anti-establishment movement’s demands. In other words, the red shirts can be seen as “participating” in the current protests, but not guiding them or even helping them too much.
December 12, 2020: The roller-coaster relationship between Thaksin Shinawatra and his top red-shirt warrior, Jatuporn Prompan, normally had major conflicts fade away like they never happened. This time, though, things may be different.
Thaksin’s latest online message, widely reported today, continued to bemoan “abandonment”. It was directed at Jatuporn, who is tumultuously backing a candidate in an upcoming Provincial Administrative Organisation in Chiang Mai against the Pheu Thai Party’s choice, and possibly Sudarat Keyuraphan who has officially left the party.
In his past conflicts with Jatuporn, Thaksin was always quiet publicly, leading to all kinds of speculation when Jatuporn returned to the fold. This time, though, Thaksin has been outspoken about being ditched by people he used to trust.
“I have heard that a lot of people who have walked away from the Pheu Thai Party are turning to attack their former home,” Thaksin tweeted. It was his second public complaint against deserters or would-be deserters in just 10 days. “I’m not sorry because I’m not in a position to force people to stay or go.”
In an apparent response to Jatuporn’s statement that people who “sacrificed themselves” fighting for the party and ending up in jail had always been mistreated by Pheu Thai, Thaksin said: “I have been doing my utmost to fulfil the ideological aim I promised my brothers and sisters. I have been fighting and have lost a lot in the process, not least (the right to) stay with my family and people I love.”
December 11, 2020: Disbanding of groups calling themselves guardians of the protesters show fears of infiltrations and uncontrollable activities, but it might disturb allies, observers of the protest leader’s latest move say.
Parit Chiwarak announced the revamp of the guard system today, after some unruly behaviours led to criticism and apparent mini-violence. Previous conflicts among the guards were blamed for some skirmishes, and the fact that the guards had come from different places and sources made it difficult to trace everyone’s background, leading to worries about the movement being infiltrated and consequently being discredited.
Parit, in his Facebook post, thanked the disbanded guards for their help, but stressed that more professional guardians would be deployed. He provided no detail on the new look of the protective shield of the movement.
Another Facebook post by another man shed some light on who had been helping and how they must be feeling. Sombat Thongyoi, a leader of red shirt guards, said in the post that all red shirt guardians participating in the protests must keep their guard armbands at home if they still wanted to take part. “Keep your pride inside and keep away all the symbols that say we have shared good and hard times (together and with them),” he wrote. But he added that if something bad happened to the protesters, “Remember that we shall not stand still.”
December 10, 2020: The day before, public prosecutors came out to say why they took no action against Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit’s younger brother, bringing to public attention an issue that has all the potentials to be politically explosive. Here are key details of the story so far:
- How did Sakulthorn Juangroongruangkit get involved in a Crown Property Bureau corruption case? His real estate company wanted to rent a lucrative piece of bureau land a few years ago and was subsequently encouraged by bureau “letters”, which turned out to be fake, so his company allegedly gave Bt20 million to two middlemen out of hope they would help facilitate a deal. The two persons, one of whom was a bureau official with important “access”, have been found guilty of corruption and sentenced to jail.
- Was the alleged Bt20 million payment a bribe? This is where the corruption case gets murky. In finding the two persons guilty, the court based its decision on the beyond-doubt falsification of the letters, and said at the end of the verdict that Sakulthorn, convinced by the letter that his company had a good chance of striking a deal, gave the two the money which was “to be used dishonestly and illegally” to influence those empowered to sign the contract. The court’s verdict was clear-cut about this part, which leads to the next question.
- Why didn’t Sakulthorn get prosecuted as well? This week, the under-pressure prosecutors said it was not up to them. It was up to evidence submitted by the police, they said, adding that as far as Sakulthorn was concerned, police investigation was still not complete. It sounds like the prosecutors have put the ball in the police court.
- Is the land case over yet, meaning no legal action can be taken against Sakulthorn? Apparently and most likely not. Being duped about the possibility of a business deal is one thing; paying bribes to enhance one’s chance for a business deal is another, according to several legal experts. If Sakulthorn was a “witness” in the prosecution of the two, he could be a defendant in a future bribery case, they say.
- Is the Sakulthorn issue political, as claimed by politicians associated with Thanathorn? Pretty much, but one camp would see it as a conspiracy against Thanathorn and the other would see it as a hypocrisy of Thanathorn himself, who has been demanding transparency, particularly when it concerns royal assets.
December 9, 2020: An international watchdog monitoring progresses and plans to distribute COVID-19 vaccines has expressed concern that rich countries probably are and will be hoarding enough doses to serve wealthy citizens “again and again” at the expense of the poor.
Canada, for example, has ordered enough vaccines to protect each Canadian five times, BBC cited the People’s Vaccine Alliance as claiming.
The international alliance brings together well-known human rights organisations such as Amnesty International.
Some productions have been earmarked for poor recipients, but the People’s Vaccine Alliance has said the reservation numbers are nowhere near enough. Making things more complicated are manufacturing countries’ economic and business interests. The same goes with production companies.
It is claimed that although rich nations represent just 14 % of the world’s population, they have already booked or bought up 53 % of the most promising vaccines.
Similar worries were voiced in the past and backed by the World Health Organisation. But now that superpower countries like the United States, Russia and China are competing economically and politically over their proclaimed successful vaccines, the fears of inequality are mounting.
What the Thai government does will be closely watched by supporters and opponents alike.
December 8, 2020: Many Americans are so sceptical about proclaimed US vaccines against COVID-19 that former presidents have volunteered to bare their arms and receive the first jabs to change doubters’ minds; the Russian government has just begun to roll out a vaccine whose creation it announced a few months ago; and Britons are getting “US vaccine” injection before the Americans.
And China, obviously uncomfortable in the curious publicity war, has started vaccinating a large number of people with its own “discovery”.
So, what’s going on? Is the world having many vaccines (despite previous prediction of a far-longer wait) actually good or bad?
World politics, boasting rights and economic advantages are dictating the developments. It is hoped that humanitarianism is playing a big part too.
December 7, 2020: Problems in the Pheu Thai Party are showing no signs of abating as senior provincial and regional “red shirt” members have come out today to suggest that Jatuporn Prompan, the ultimate leader of the red shirt uprising in Bangkok a decade ago, should leave the movement.
“If he continues to do what he is doing, he should no longer be the leader of the red shirts,” said Wichit Tamoon, who coordinates red shirt groups in the North said at a Chiang Mai press conference where he was flanked by other senior red shirt members in the northern province. “He should quit.”
Red shirt seniors joining the press conference made it clear who they support in the upcoming PAO (Provincial Administrative Organisation) election in Chiang Mai, a race that has pitted Jatuporn, who is backing a group of people the Shinawatras reportedly label “turncoats”, against the mainstream of the Pheu Thai Party.
A war of words between Pheu Thai warriors has been fierce and intensifying with each passing day. Today’s press conference attacked Jatuporn’s ambiguous political stand and insisted that the red shirts would never make a U-turn to back the status quo. Jatuporn himself is claiming that some red shirt activists “who sacrificed themselves by going to jail and never squealed” had been smeared and abandoned by those who were supposed to support them.
Meanwhile, the issue of Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit’s younger brother seeking to controversially do business with the Crown Property Bureau in the not-so-distant past has been picked up by the Democrat and Palang Pracharath parties. Their members have made calls for a review of the case that has seen two people receiving jail sentences for dishonesty in falsification of a document and for possible bribe-taking.
December 6, 2020: Former police chief Chakthip Chaijinda has not denied planning to run for the city gubernatorial post, and his latest comment might send government parties scrambling for him.
Basically, he said on Saturday he might run, and that he still did not know whether, if he does run, he would do it as an independent or under a party’s banner.
Certainly, if he seeks association with a political party, it must be one in the government coalition. Opposition parties won’t take him and vice versa.
Asked directly by reporters while joining a charity boxing and scholarship presentation event whether he would run, Chakthip said: “It’s possible. There’s still time to make a decision.”
On whether he would run as an independent, he said: “That’s for the future. I guess the political climate (at the time of my decision) will matter.”
December 5, 2020: The plot is thickening regarding Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit’s family, following the disclosure of details of a Criminal Court verdict issued last year, which apparently alluded to a bribery attempt aimed at the Crown Property Bureau.
“This is the mother of all ironies,” said a well-known commentator in his regular YouTube programme.
The court verdict was issued last year, before anti-establishment protesters started to congregate and only railed against the bureau just a few days ago. The ruling jailed two persons for three years each for falsifying an official document that convinced Thanathorn’s younger brother, Sakulthorn Juangroongruangkit, that his family’s real estate company had a good chance of renting a plot of Crown Property land in the Ploenchit area.
One of the defendants was a former Crown Propery employee.
The political highlight of the verdict does not involve the defendants, though.
The verdict ended with a bombshell statement that the Real Estate Development, of which Sakulthorn was the top boss, paid the two Bt20 million which was to be used “in dishonest and illegal means” to up the company’s chances of getting an eventual rental deal with the bureau.
“Someone has been calling for the bureau’s transparency,” the same commentator said. “What about this case? What about one brother attacking the bureau and the other brother seeking to do business with the bureau?”
The commentator added he did not know why no legal action was taken regarding the payment mentioned in the court ruling. It was likely, he said, that the act of falsification rendered following activities un-prosecutable. “But the court statement made it clear the company paid the money not knowing that the document was fake. In other words, it intended to pay the money,” he said.
But he ended his comments on this affair by saying that, in Thailand, there were other reasons why cases were not prosecuted or were dropped.
December 4, 2020: Since his emotional message to Chiang Mai voters came hot on the heels of Sudarat Keyuraphan’s departure from Pheu Thai, Thaksin Shinawatra was thought to be probably referring to her when he complained about someone leaving him. But Chiang Mai’s local politics is making things more complicated and intriguing than that.
It has been noted that while Thaksin’s sister is backing someone for the leadership of the Provincial Administrative Organization, Jatuporn Prompan, Thaksin’s top lieutenant who played the biggest role in the 2010 “red-shirted uprising”, is backing someone else.
Both favourite candidates for the PAO election are Pheu Thai men. Pichai Lertpongadisorn is backed by “Je Daeng”, or Yaowapa Wongsawat. Jatuporn is supporting Boonlert Buranupakorn.
In his Facebook post, Thaksin complained about being abandoned by someone and virtually urged voters to elect Pichai to prove that they did not abandon him, too. Since Thaksin was supposed to be neutral in this local showdown, the Facebook post would leave another scar in a roller-coaster relationship with Jatuporn, who has been making increasingly erratic remarks about political affairs, if not completely severe the ties.
Jatuporn has a few days ago reminded everyone that he once warned Pheu Thai against an amnesty bill supported by the Yingluck government. He said the other day the bill would turn a killer into a hero. And as Pheu Thai’s leading politicians were parading in Chiang Mai to campaign for Pichai, Jatuporn has said while seeking support for Boonlert: “I’m the one who went to jail and did not squeal one bit. I took it all.”
Today, Jatuporn even made ambiguous remarks about the long-standing Red Bull heir case, which began when Pheu Thai was in the government, suggesting “injustice” regarding the matter was everywhere, but investigators did not know where to look.
It has to be said that, in politics, people forget what they said all the time, and Jatuporn attacking his bosses is not quite unusual. Yet the local election this month is a must-watch. It may be local, but implications may be long-lasting and spread far beyond Chiang Mai.
December 3, 2020: Saying an unidentified “someone” has left him, Thaksin Shinawatra has sent a message from exile urging Chiang Mai voters not to do the same.
Chiang Mai must prove it is still sticking by him by electing a Pheu Thai candidate as head of the Provincial Administrative Organization.
“I and my sister don’t have a chance to use our experiences and knowledges to tackle national problems, so let us do so at the (provincial) level,” Thaksin said in a hand-written letter which was photographed and posted on his Facebook.
“I may have been abandoned by someone, but I’m fine about that. I won’t feel that way if my brothers and sisters in Chiang Mai, my birthplace, do the same. I will be very sad if that happens.”
He did not name names, but he must be wanting Sudarat Keyuraphan to read the letter.
December 2, 2020: “Prayut off the hook” may be the political buzzword of the day, but in many other circles it’s about face masks getting back on and the “guards” getting back up again, following reports about infected Thais sneaking back into the country from the western border and going places.
After a few months of relatively carefree lifestyles, many Thais are washing their hands obsessively again while mask-wearing is a lot more prevalent than a few days ago. This followed reports about the infected Thais traveling with others, going shopping and pubbing. Disclosed details of their tracks, in the words of a radio broadcaster, “are dizzying, let alone what we don’t know.” He said he was praying to God no taxi driver got infected by the returning Thais.
There have been no reports about infections from a local source for a long time, but COVID-19 news will be closely followed in the next few days after most Thais have had their eyes on other things. A jump in infection numbers, no matter how small, can cause a major panic.
December 1, 2020: A senior member of the Pheu Thai Party has expressed confidence that Sudarat Keyuraphan, who has resigned from the biggest opposition camp, would not join the government side.
“I think she and all others who have left the party still harbour the same ideology although the way they work may be different from ours,” said Sutin Klangsaeng, who represents Pheu Thai in leading opposition whips.
He insisted that the departures of key party members did not signal a switch of allegiance. However, he did raise one intriguing point: What will happen if Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha is stripped of his premiership by the Constitution Court, a situation that will underline the importance of big parties’ constitutional nominees for the top executive post who include Sudarat in Pheu Thai’s quota?
November 30, 2020: Big names leaving the biggest opposition party will not only cause “internal effects”, but also will possibly reshape a political landscape that is currently divided through the middle.
Sudarat Keyuraphan has long been one of the biggest names of the Pheu Thai Party, and joining her departure are also those known for their ideological influences, or logistical influences, or both. Pheu Thai, already seeing the Move Forward Party overtaking it in terms of ideological rebellion, will require a major shakeup.
Another thing to be closely watched is how Pheu Thai will make a decision on the Bangkok gubernatorial election, with Sudarat gone and Chadchart Sittipunt looking very tempted to run as a popular independent. In fact, conflicts over whether Pheu Thai should compete in the gubernatorial election and, if yes, who it should field, were said to be among major factors leading to her departure.
Pheu Thai, long under the shadows of the Shinawatras, has been at a crossroads for quite some time, but Sudarat’s decision to leave the party for good will hasten a clear-cut plan on its future. Will the party continue to advertise its ideological side, which has not been selling well lately due to the competition from Move Forward?
Where she will end up is another major matter. If she remains with the opposition bloc, the ultimate political landscape may not look so much different. If that is not a case, Thai politics may be entering another exciting phase.
November 29, 2020: On the one hand, legalising prostitution brings a semblance of equality by upgrading a profession that is an elephant in the Thai living room, and laws against prostitution can be hypocritical and encourage corruption. On the other hand, does prostitution demean human dignity by allowing the rich to take advantage of the poor?
The debate has been there forever, but has reared its ugly head again after calls for legalisation of prostitution were made on the rally stage of anti-establishment protesters. Deputy Democrat leader Pinit Intarasombat posted on his Facebook that he did not understand why a movement that has proclaimed it fights against the rich taking advantage of the poor is supporting legalising prostitution.
“Some past philosophers used to support the legalisation, but the world has got a lot more complexed ever since and opinions on the measure have changed quite significantly,” Pinit wrote.
His message: Prostitution demeans people sexually and even promotes human trafficking.
November 28, 2020: The answer to the question of who is leading in terms of global data flows yields a lot of big clues on who is going to dominate the world economically, politically and socially, and on why 5G is such a big deal diplomatically.
It’s China, by the way, and that’s a big change compared with two decades ago.
Back in 2001, America was the dominant country when it came to cross-border data flows, thanks to the internet boom, congregation of tech companies and tech-savvy consumers.
It’s now 23% against 12% in China’s favour when it comes to the data flows, thanks in no small parts to the bigger population, increasing wealth of the Chinese generally and greater interconnections with the rest of Asia. Data flows hugely enhance economic competitiveness, development of artificial intelligence and improvement of information technologies.
China surged past the United States a few years ago, but the yawning, previously-unexpected gap has only been revealed.
A closer race is on economic supremacy. With America rocked by a far bigger COVID-19 threat and China dominant on data flows, the situation may soon change.
November 27, 2020: Education Minister Nataphol Teepsuwan has said that students not wearing school uniforms “is not going to happen”, as a new collision course looms between him and rebellious young members of the anti-establishment movement.
He insisted that school rules are there for a good reason. While he said he agreed that reform of some regulations is needed, scrapping uniforms “is out of the question.”
Certain sectors in the protest movement have called on students to go to class dressing themselves freely to highlight demands for an educational revamp. Nataphol said some adjustments of the national educational policy are in order, but the uniform issue is not in the plan.
“I believe that all school administrators and teachers will be able to reach a good understanding with students. I don’t want to see punishment or breaking of the (uniform code),” he said.
November 26, 2020: Several opposition MPs have been showing off doll ducks which have become a symbol of street protests against the government, raising a question from “the other side” whether they support key content of the campaign.
Opposition parties have tried to steer clear of the protests, not least because certain content could land them in legal and constitutional trouble. However, news reports and pictures today have shown some opposition MPs carrying the dolls at Parliament, or placing them near their microphones. The lawmakers can argue, however, that they brought the objects to the assembly hall to show curious friends.
“Out of the closet”, one headline says.
Meanwhile, a relatively-minor bomb incident that took place when protesters were dispersing the day before has been largely reported as a case of youthful violence at the rally site. The suspected troublemaker, who was mobbed and injured, reportedly claimed he was one of the protesters’ “guards”. This claim was being disputed by certain people.
November 25, 2020: Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha said it was so far, so good regarding enforcement of normal legal measures, which he suggested were enough to cope with street protests and the possibility of untoward incidents.
Facing another major protest yet today, with demonstrators showing no signs of easing up on their controversial activities, some of which deemed confrontational when the Thai political culture is concerned, Prayut said street campaigns are normal in a democracy as long as no law is broken.
“When a law is breached, the police already have measures to deal with that and they don’t need additional orders from me,” Prayut said, addressing the issue of whether a martial law enforcement would eventually become necessary because symbolic or significant locations have been targeted by protesters.
Even continuous major protests, freshly announced by protest leaders, are allowed, provided the laws are respected, he said.
November 24, 2020: The only way to make speculation about a military coup go away is for the media to ignore or avoid the word at all costs, Army Commander-in-chief Narongphan Jitkaewthae has said.
He practically admitted he was helpless when coup rumours flew around Thailand just because helicopters hovered over important areas in preparation for royal travel. The rumours had been intense in the social media, with photos of the helicopters wildly shared.
Gen Narongphan said in an interview it was impossible for the military to keep informing the public of every helicopter assignment, so the onus is on consumers of “news” as well as those reporting it. The general public, he insisted, must be able to separate “fake news” from truth.
Again, he suggested a coup wouldn’t be good for Thailand. Asked why rumours keep resurfacing, he replied: “I don’t know. My questions is: Would it be good for the country, or would it help improve living conditions of the people?”
Reporters pressed on, asking him if there was “no other way-out”. He said: “Everything has a way-out. … (But) it doesn’t matter what I say because people still believe the media more than me.
“The media must not utter the word. They must leave it out of their front pages and social platforms.”
The interview took place just before another important day in Thai politics, when there are widespread fears that ideological clashes could turn physical.
November 23, 2020: In political context, “upscaling” of street protest is a word as ominous as it is belligerent. And it has been uttered by a leader of the anti-establishment movement following a series of dead ends and setbacks.
Last week, Parliament rejected a charter amendment bill favoured by the protesters, who also saw one of their controversial activities, paint throwing, triggering a public backlash. Earlier, efforts to besiege Government House led to nothing positive when their cause was concerned.
But Parit Chivarak, known more by his nickname “Penguin” and leading the protests, has promised that more is in-store and a “big surprise” would definitely come on November 25, when protesters are scheduled to gather again. All he said was the protests would definitely be “upscaled”.
So far, the protesters have come and go, sticking to the “flash mob” strategy that rules out long-term encampment or even staying overnight. Their pledge of non-violence has limited controversial activities to breaking through police barricades and paint throwing, which Penguin describes as a form of art, not violent act.
November 22, 2020: Whispers about potentially first police action against “masterminds” of anti-establishment protests are rumbling, with a news website reporting that warrants could come out as early as this week.
It is claimed that the Technology Crime Suppression Division was considering asking the court to approve warrants for the arrests of people allegedly behind the on-going protests, whose participants insisted they joined out of their own free wills.
Protests have increasingly divided opinions just like their purported targets. However, more arrests could further galvanise the movement, which relies heavily on numbers as it has renounced violence.
November 21, 2020: The throwing of paint was described by a protest leader as a non-violent show of frustration, an “art” even, but that was not enough to turn back a fresh tide of criticism against the anti-establishment movement.
The statement by protest leader Parit Chivarak, better known as “Penguin”, that the use of paint by the demonstrators in some places including near the police headquarters is a form of art triggered an outburst by famous sports columnist Bor Boo (Buranit Rattanawichien), who responded with a furious Facebook post, “I’m an art graduate. Splashing paint and writing rude words with it? Art my ….”
It became a showdown, actually, with Penguin hitting back by suggesting that Buranit was hypocritical in criticising “rudeness”. He said sarcastically that he just learned what Buranit had written was not rude.
Buranit was not the only critic, though, and pictures of paint throwing as well as official vehicles smeared with rude graffiti, tires punctured, have been circulated virally. Adding to that, opponents of the protesters formed volunteer groups to clean up painted walls, roads and other objects, concentrating their activities at the police headquarters.
Penguin insisted that the protest movement had been observing non-violence, “and if throwing paint is considered a violent act, I don’t know what peace is.”
November 20, 2020: Super Poll’s latest survey has yielded some intriguing results, with questioned Thais asked about their opinions on a neutral or non-partisan prime minister, incumbent Prayut Chan-o-cha, Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, Sudarat Keyuraphan and Abhisit Vejjajiva.
The poll, conducted over the past five days and sampling nearly 1,500 Thais, showed the nation is weary of the political trouble and a vast majority of those surveyed, more than 90 %, is receptive to the idea of having a non-partisan prime minister leading Thailand.
Yet when presented with names regarding a question “Who is the most fit to lead Thailand through this kind of situation?”, 59.3% said Prayut, 15% favoured Thanathorn, 14.7% wanted Abhisit, and 7.3% supported Sudarat. Move Forward leader Pita Limjaroenrat came next with 3.7% backing.
Super Poll is not anti-establishment protesters’ favourite, it has to be said. They always accuse it of being politically biased.
November 19, 2020: Amid fiery national confrontations over the relevance of the Senate, the importance of other institutions, and whether Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha should go, an executive of the Anti-Corruption Organisation of Thailand (ACT) has asked everyone not to drop his guards against one major scourge.
“For the sake of our nation, the new Constitution must not show respect to anyone when it comes to graft,” said ACT secretary-general Mana Nimitmongkol in an impassioned Facebook post.
“Corruption has not decreased as Thais expected. (Malicious) people have exploited loopholes, used biased interpretation of the laws or been simply hypocritical,” he said. “In other cases, there is no will to get things up to speed. We haven’t seen what we always wanted to see _ transparency (of public figures), whistleblowers, fast-paced justice that makes everyone equal and spares no-one.”
Bribery has still been rampant, he stressed. The ACT, which shall not be confused with the National Anti-Corruption Commission, was originally founded as the Anti-Corruption Network in 2011 amid concern about huge losses inflicted on Thailand regarding government projects in particular. Shortly after that, growing support from private and government sectors led the network to become an organisation with established members.
“We need a Constitution that is clear-cut on anti-corruption measures, no matter how the economic and political situations must have been,” Mana said.
November 18, 2020: Signs are all aplenty that when the dust settles down, Thailand can get back to Square One, and that is if luck is on its side.
What promised to be a campaign “for the better” in the beginning has faced resistance, not alarmingly volatile but strong enough to suggest what is around the corner. A likely scenario after violent clashes has the military out of the barracks again, sending the country back to the situation that the anti-establishment protesters vowed to die fighting against in the first place. But worse than that can be a scar that belittles the one left after October 6, 1976 and a national divide that makes the last few years look like a classroom brawl.
Who is to blame? Certainly, the protesters and their opponents are accusing each other of being responsible for the violence and threats of more. Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha is being frowned upon by some for refusing to resign but those calling for his head are also deemed by others as inflaming the situation with impossible demands. Parliament is considered helpless, if not big part of the problem itself.
Thailand’s state of affairs remains extremely fluid, but whatever transpires, it is very highly possible that everyone will emerge the loser.
November 17, 2020: The Americans may be unwilling guests, but, according to Forbes, they may be joining an exclusive club no matter what.
Donald Trump “is turning the United States into Thailand before our eyes,” Forbes said, referring to the president’s refusal to concede defeat in the race for the White House, and Bangkok’s long-standing trouble with political losers.
In an article, Forbes made a comparison with Thaksin Shinawatra, “the man whose long shadow has stretched across the nation.” The article mentioned similarities, like Thaksin’s successful businesses and wealth, the Thai tycoon’s proclaimed intention never to recede from the political scene as well as determination to make life difficult for rivals who succeeded him.
Is Trump an exception to the American rule, or is he an eventual product of the winner-takes-all democracy? The answer is not clear yet, but the question has become resounding.
November 16, 2020: Main constitutional amendment proposals of the Palang Pracharath and Pheu Thai parties are expected to primarily sail through Parliament this week, while the fates of other bills including the one drafted by controversial iLaw (Internet Law Reform Dialogue) seem hanging in the balance.
Palang Pracharath, the key coalition party, has decided to back its own bill and that of Pheu Thai, the biggest opposition camp. This could pave the way for the setting up of a drafting assembly.
Since there are six bills altogether, this leaves the fates of four other bills including the iLaw unpredictable, more so given the planned gatherings of anti-establishment protesters and their opponents.
After debate which is due to begin Tuesday, voting should start Wednesday afternoon and be completed by early Wednesday evening, according to Parliament President Chuan Leekpai. He urged demonstrators from both sides to avoid putting pressure on the legislature, which he said is doing its democratic duty.
November 15, 2020: Internet warriors have been engaged in a battle as intense as those confronting each other on the streets. In a rough review on online activities, messages with hashtags against the ideology of the protest movement have been trending, instead of a one-sided campaign prevalent months ago.
“Better late than never” is a key comment of those against the student-led movement. Trending tweets on Twitter used to be dominated by one side in Thailand’s political divide, but the other side is catching up, proven by numbers of likes, shares and retweets.
In another intriguing developments, activists with hard-hitting banners have been hounding Move Forward candidates in local elections.
November 14, 2020: Thailand’s fluid political situation can reach another climax yet in the next few days, with the country’s lawmakers expected to consider various charter amendment proposals and politician-turned-activist Warong Dechkitvigrom urging those opposed to the protest movement to gather at Parliament.
People wearing yellow shirts had came together before to show opposition to the student-led movement, but their gatherings were solemn and sporadic. Warong, in a Facebook post, said that the time had come for a show of force on November 17 in front of Parliament. His post ended with a “It’s time to leave your homes” hashtag.
The timing coincided with a highly-significant schedule of Parliament. Its president, Chuan Leekpai, has confirmed that constitutional amendment proposals would be up for consideration in the coming days. It is understood that all proposals, including controversial or divisive ones, would be sent to the floor.
November 13, 2020: Big, powerful countries near or far are not to be trusted, according to Thais surveyed by Super Poll earlier this month.
“Thai people think the country has been taken advantage of all the time,” said Super Poll director Noppadon Kannika. “They said it happened in the past, is happening now, and will certainly happen in the future.”
What makes Thai worry are the use of nominees that are remote-controlled from abroad, and names becoming locally familiar despite the fact that those brands are foreign businesses, both online and offline, taking money from Thai consumers, aware or unaware, he said.
A lot of questions regarding superpowers’ deals and influences received negative responses from more than 1,700 Thais surveyed between November 5-12. Projects mentioned were overwhelmingly perceived (more than 80 % in most cases) as putting Thailand in disadvantages.
November 12, 2020: Former prime minister and former Democrat leader Abhisit Vejjajiva has proposed setting up some kind of a forum to discuss the monarchy respectfully and reasonably in order to ease or counter the aggressiveness of street protesters.
Speaking at a TV programme, he said such a forum must be constructive and respectful, and, he suggested, would throw the ball back into the protesters’ court because they have always insisted that they only wanted to “improve” Thailand’s political culture, not “destroy” it.
“When we have this kind of forum, the mockery or direct insults must stop,” said Abhisit, a staunch defender of the law protecting the monarchy from libels when he was prime minister. “Positive discussions must reinforce the institution. Those who continue to mock or insult will find themselves in a difficult position.”
Abhisit stressed that the Senate’s provisional power is a key source of national divide and must be addressed constitutionally. He was among top political leaders who voiced opposition to such power from the beginning.
On the proposed “reconciliation committee”, Abhisit apparently doubted it would work. He, however, said he understood why his mentor, Chuan Leekpai, the parliament president who is leading efforts to set up the panel, had to push for it. As virtual head of the legislature, the onus is on Chuan to prove that a national crisis can be solved through parliamentary means, Abhisit suggested.
November 11, 2020: Nation TV has been favoured by one side in the political divide but disliked by the other. Is that about to change, with familiar broadcasters leaving the channel and a new executive arriving?
NMG big boss Chai Bunnag has downplayed the “business effects” of the high-profile TV departures which include that of Kanok Ratwongsakul, saying there are only “sentimental” effects as some of those quitting Nation TV had been with the company for a long time. However, observers have been speculating about political stand of the channel, with an expected change at the top known to harbour a totally different ideology from Kanok’s.
Kanok is still working at the channel, but he has submitted his resignation. A key reason for his imminent departure? He said: “I want to be the same me.” It’s a statement that only fuelled wild speculation.
***Picture from Kanok’s Facebook
November 10, 2020: Pavin Chachavalpongpun, a self-exiled academic living in Japan, is wondering why some supposedly political leaders have been fighting peripherally instead of directly and alongside many Thai youngsters.
He aimed a dig at Thaksin and Yingluck Shinawatra in particular, after the two former prime ministers, both of whom are living in exile, congratulated Joe Biden who is set to be the next US president barring a successful legal challenge by the Republicans.
Pavin, in a Facebook post, said Biden was anything about a shining light for the Thai ideological struggles, and suggested Thaksin and Yingluck were only hoping to gain political benefits from the protesters with probably some help from America.
“The students are bravely at the front line but Thai democracy is not going to get anywhere if these people still have fans,” said Pavin, who himself is not in Thailand, obviously, but has been a top idol of the Thai protesters for his stand against the Thai political culture.
“If their fan clubs want to unfriend me for saying this, fine. I don’t care,” said the man known for fiery posts whose random targets include Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit.
November 9, 2020: News headlines may be saying Gen Narongphan Jitkaewtae, the new head of the Thai Army, has begun “hissing”. But, to be fair, a lot of what he said was forced out of him by reporters, especially regarding the political situation and how to handle anti-establishment protesters.
He said the possibility of a coup is not “zero” like it was before, but “minus” (below zero) now. He did warn against the use of flares by protesters, though, which he said could damage cultural or religious objects and hurt the public feelings in the process.
“My stand is that political problems must be solved by political means,” he said. “This requires everyone to be extremely aware of consequences of any action. People must think hard before doing anything.”
The formerly reticent Army chief said his forces would be the last line of defence against important places but would not interfere with what happens at the front lines, which is the duty of the police. As long as nothing breaks through police lines and threaten important properties, soldiers are just peaceful watchers, he said.
“When you see soldiers in clips, please understand that they were there just in case untoward incidents happen and the public need our help,” he said.
There were people who wanted violence, and the protest movement did not screen participants well, he insisted. The use of flares, for example, could be dangerous, he added.
“What if something was burned inside the City Pillar Shrine (Saan Lak Muang) or the Emerald Buddha Temple? How would that make the Thai public feel?” he said.
November 8, 2020: Pledging non-violence and facing increasing doubts and opponents, protesters demanding the prime minister’s immediate resignation, reform of the highest institution and a constitutional revamp have a big point to prove today, as all is set for another major gathering yet.
The protesters need to show that their strength has not waned. A massive turnout, therefore, is essential, not least because they have to keep their demands, some of which controversial, alive. A gathering that is less than impactful can affect the protest movement significantly.
The government, meanwhile, faces a tricky situation. A strong-handed measure can unwittingly boost the movement whereas a soft approach can allow activities that put it in a major disadvantage. It has to be something in between, but that “something” will be hard to find.
(Photo used is from a past gathering.)
November 7, 2020: Tension between two key government parties is now limited to mild verbal exchanges, but at the heart of the potential trouble is the controversial plan to set up a “reconciliation committee”.
Parliament President Chuan Leekpai, a senior veteran of the Democrat Party, is leading a move to form the panel, which the protest movement and the opposition bloc have threatened to boycott unless the prime minister steps down. The Democrats’ main government ally, the Palang Pracharath Party, does not look eager about the committee either, and some Palang Pracharath MPs have come out to criticise Chuan’s moves regarding the proposed setting up of the panel.
This has led to back-and-forth verbal exchanges, with Chuan taking a swipe at Palang Pracharath MP Sira Jenjaka on Friday and the Democrats rallying behind Chuan today, saying his seniority and widely-respected political records should have been respected more. Sira is the Democrats’ big target, prompting his party colleague, Pareena Kraikupt, to emerge to defend him today.
As of now, tension remains low, but Thai political circumstances mean seemingly insignificant issues can drastically escalate in a heartbeat.
November 6, 2020: Parliament President Chuan Leekpai wants to pursue the idea of setting a “reconciliation committee”. He has also taken a swipe at a government MP who does not seem keen about it. Problem is, Chuan’s comment today may have unintentionally hurt protesters more.
Chuan, leading efforts to set up the reconciliation panel, said Palang Pracharath MP Sira Jenjaka must watch it when criticising old-timers as unfit for the committee. Sira had voiced opposition to the possibility of former prime ministers being invited to join the panel.
Chuan said old or senior people should be listened to.
“Sira can say anything he likes but he should give senior people some respect,” Chuan said. “Old people have experiences and they have faced a lot of problems before.”
To add to the absurdity, Sira has been outspoken in criticising the protest movement, which he sees as giving senior people no respect.
November 5, 2020: Advocates of freedom of expression or equal access to information must think twice regarding the Thai government’s blocking of Pornhub, the world-renowned adult website, according to Digital Economy and Society Minister Puttipong Punnakanta.
The message is there are cases where you have to choose to be either a “freedom” advocate or protector of women’s and children’s rights, not something in between.
Porn websites are known to feature some hidden-camera clips or videos that those seen in them don’t want to publicise. Many “stars” have reportedly been forced to act or drugged before performing. Victims are mostly women and children.
Pornhub, whose blocking by the Thai authorities has sparked a major uproar, is one of those websites, Puttipong said.
November 4, 2020: Anyone who is able to name one person who is strictly neutral politically in Thailand who can chair the so-called Reconciliation Committee can be a genius. Argument can be made against any candidate, according to what looks like the only agreement of the two camps in the Thai political divide.
The chairperson is the utmost issue, because a disputed name can create a major credibility problem for the proposed committee, an idea that has been largely taunted as a waste of time.
The opposition bloc has threatened to boycott the panel, and the Palang Pracharath Party has today shown its reluctance to see former prime ministers in the committee, saying names mentioned like Anand Panyarachun, Abhisit Vejjajiva, Somchai Wongsawat and Chavalit Yongchaiyudh have all made their political partisanship clear, to different degrees at least. These names have been mentioned as possible members only, not as chairmanship candidates.
So, selecting members is a nightmare, but a bigger nightmare has to do with who will chair the committee. Moreover, public opposition to a chairmanship candidate is one thing, and a candidate’s unwillingness to be a sitting duck is another. In other words, there may be a willing candidate who is not acceptable, or there can be an acceptable candidate who is not willing.
November 3, 2020: According to Parliament President Chuan Leekpai, a proposed committee to be tasked with finding solutions to the Thai political divide can face a credibility problem if an important group boycotts it.
One idea is to have the “reconciliation committee” represented by the government, government parties, opposition parties, the protest movement, opponents of the protest movement, the Senate, and experts or academics. Another idea is to have the committee consist exclusively of, or dominated by, neutrals and headed by an acceptable, respected figure.
The two ideas have been proposed by the King Prajadhipok Institute. Chuan unintentionally suggested credibility might be a key issue.
“Both ideas have strong and weak points,” Chuan said. “For example, the first formula can go over agreed points very fast, but if the committee is viewed as leaning toward either side, or as being dominated by either side, talks can collapse easily.”
On issues deemed inappropriate or divisive, the reconciliation committee may not take them, Chuan suggested. This can alienate the protest movement, whose key demands have been bold and considered by many as improper. Additionally, the opposition bloc has indicated it might boycott the proposed committee.
Another potential problem is the Senate, whose key provisional roles have been strongly decried by the opposition and the protest movement and whose presence in the reconciliation committee is required under the first formula.
November 2, 2020: Insisting that Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha’s resignation is “the only way” to solve Thailand’s problems, opposition parties have poured cold water on an idea to set up a national reconciliation committee.
At a meeting today, representatives of opposition parties did not say if they would join the reconciliation panel, and remarkably pointed out failures of similar committees in the past.
They also repeated their calls for Prayut to resign, citing “deteriorating situations” on many national fronts. Additionally, the opposition stressed that it wouldn’t support a House dissolution or a new general election that would put the new Parliament under the existing rules of appointing the prime minister, a process that the Senate provisionally has a big say.
Forming a reconciliation panel bringing together all sides in the political conflict is one of the proposals mooted during last week’s extraordinary session of Parliament. The idea is not new, however, and proved futile in the past.
November 1, 2020: Barack Obama did not invite Prayut Chan-o-cha to visit Washington as Thai-American relations were strained during his presidency because of political issues, while Donald Trump invited the Bangkok leader to visit the White House and said the very strong ties would only get stronger.
That’s a strong clue as to what would happen to Thailand politically and diplomatically after this week, when Joe Biden, barring the mother of all political shockers, is expected to be elected the next leader of a superpower country desperate to restore its moral, economic and diplomatic standings in the scrutinising eyes of the world.
China will continue to be America’s main rival, politically and economically, but Biden’s Washington will be less gung-ho. Mobilisation of allies will return in a polite and subtle manner, but the endgame as far as the Republicans and Democrats are concerned remain very much the same: The Chinese shall be put in their place and must never overtake the Americans. That will keep Thailand on a tight spot in between the competing superpowers.
Economically, a less belligerent Washington should return to the global fold and much of the US-Sino trade tension should ease, benefiting Thailand and many countries.
Morally, though, the White House will find it harder to preach, as what happened on the streets in the United States during the Trump administration will have long-lasting effects.
As for one side in largely-divided Thailand, it is hoped that Biden’s America would not be too pre-occupied with COVID-19 because they need its political support. The other side will think that the more quiet the American politicians on Thai affairs, the better.
October 31, 2020: An opinion poll has unveiled an interesting impression the public have on street protests, with a majority of those surveyed think what Thailand really needs are better education, better justice systems, better social and political attitudes toward sexual issues and better economic life.
Super Poll’s most recent survey tells an intriguing public attitude toward the protests. On the one hand, protesters’ top demands are not considered urgent. On the other hand, the protests have kickstarted clamouring for a genuinely better society.
Various groups backing the protesters means various demands, some more sensitive than the others, have been voiced, Super Poll leaders said. In other words, what caused the continuous, massive gatherings are deep-rooted problems concerning education, bad justice systems, economic inequality and social/government attitudes toward diversified sexuality.
More than 94% of nearly 1,300 people surveyed said they wanted an educational reform more than anything else, while the rest wanted a reform of the highest institution.
More than 90% of those surveyed said the protests made them want to see Thailand with improved education, genuine respects for legal rights and protection of gay and lesbian rights. The rest said the protests made them want to see protesters’ top demands come true more than anything else.
October 30, 2020: Another potential landmark day in the Thai political turmoil can be Saturday, October 31, 2020, the day the protesters have promised that a “big surprise” would happen.
With the Thammasat University graduates scheduled to receive their degrees this weekend, the country’s political pulse must be quickening, not least because of the “big surprise” vow.
Key royal family members presenting certificates to university graduates has long been Thailand’s cherished mix of educational and monarchial cultures. Participants of street protests, however, have coincided their major-surprise pledge with the Thammasat graduates’ important day.
Security have been very tight, and political developments closely watched.
October 29, 2020: There are stark differences between public interests and political interests, and the latter are blocking national reconciliation, according to an academic, who himself has been accused of siding with one camp in the political divide.
Kaewsan Atibodhi said in an interview that political agendas are blocking efforts, if there are any, to cater to genuine public interests. For so long, he said, political games have created a misperception prioritising what should and should not be done.
According to Kaewsan, there are differences between what the people really want and what is wanted politically. The former is compromising, noble, and truly beneficial to the nation as a whole, while the latter is non-negotiable, at times malicious, promotes hatred and usually flirts with violence. “Reconciliation” is always attached to the latter, so much-talked-about “harmony” is made impossible by misguided and clashing interests as well as ideological prejudices.
If public interests are truly cherished, clashing political interests will not be very strong, which is not the case in Thailand, he said.
October 28, 2020: Only one lawmaker of the Move Forward Party has lost his parliamentary status as a result of the Constitutional Court’s rulings on 64 government and opposition MPs accused of holding shares in potential media-related businesses.
It had been expected that today’s court rulings might create big political ripples due to the large number of MPs involved. As it turns out, only Tanwarin Sukkhapisit of the Move Forward (Kao Klai) Party was disqualified. The former filmmaker held shares of two entertainment companies which the court said were in strong positions to seek registration for news media business.
The court said he could not be an MP from the beginning because of his shareholding in the two companies. Whether he will have to pay back his parliamentary salary that he received since last year will be the next issue.
October 27, 2020: As Parliament is set to wrap up its largely partisan debate on the political situation, the Constitutional Court may be coming in to steal the show.
Rulings are expected on Wednesday, October 28, on 64 government and opposition MPs accused of holding shares in businesses that could have been involved in media work. Guilty verdicts could significantly affect parliamentary numbers of the two blocs.
The accused are perfectly divided into 32 government MPs and 32 opposition MPs. They are involved in different businesses, of course, so court decisions are unlikely to be the same.
An accusation of holding media shares while competing in last year’s election caused leading opposition politician Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit to be disqualified by the court late last year.
For those standing to receive verdicts this Wednesday, 21 are from Palang Pracharath, 20 from Thanathorn’s party, 8 from the Democrat Party and 4 from the Pheu Thai Party.
October 26, 2020: As street tension shows little signs of abating, the special parliamentary debate on the volatile political situation was plagued with “same old, same old” partisanship although a few reasonable proposed solutions tried to force their ways in.
The following is among what has been said on the first of the two-day “discussion”:
- The prime minister must resign immediately because he has done “enough damage”. Then a new Constitution has to be written, after which parliamentary dissolution must ensue so a new election can be held.
- Opposition politicians are backing efforts to overthrow Thailand’s political culture.
- The social media distorted facts about royal activities last week.
- The government had underestimated the protest movement, and allowed the special debate because it could not think of anything else.
- The opposition, the Pheu Thai Party in particular, is a victim of the situation.
- Charter amendment proposals must be preliminarily accepted by Parliament to calm down the political situation.
- Instead of reforming high institutions, reforming of politicians is the most important, urgent thing.
- Regular and “legitimate” public forums, whose possible venues include sports stadiums, must be allowed to let people air their opinions, whatever they are, safely and meaningfully. A system has to be in place so what is expressed at the forums is seriously considered, followed up and even implemented.
- Referendums should be held on major questions.
October 25, 2020: The battle-line has seemingly been drawn for the extraordinary session of Parliament to discuss volatile street protests, with controversial MP Pareena Kraikupt among government lawmakers given big roles in what is expected to be a highly-partisan, two-day forum.
The government side is expected to portray itself as a protector of political culture, whereas the opposition, if it decides to finally take part, will likely decry “distortion of facts” and the administration’s “blame game” to divert attention from Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha’s alleged failings.
Pareena is among key government speakers who include outspoken Sira Jenjaka of the same Palang Pracharath Party, a news report said. They are expected to question the opposition’s ultimate allegiance, particularly if the special session, aimed at finding solutions to the current crisis, veered off tracks and turned into some kind of a censure debate against Prayut.
October 24, 2020: The biggest opposition party has practically said that if it shuns the extraordinary debate in Parliament on the political situation, the public would hear just one side of the story.
By saying so, the Pheu Thai Party has ended lingering speculation that the opposition bloc might boycott the special parliamentary debate, which many feared would inflame rather than calm down the volatile political situation.
A formal Pheu Thai decision is expected to be made on Sunday, but deputy party leader Anudith Nakornthap said today that without the opposition’s participation, the government “would blame everything on the protests, whereas the truth is that much has to do with the mismanagement of the Prayut government.”
Anudith did warn the protesters, though, that they must stick to their pledge of non-violence.
Anudith’s remarks, however, confirmed that the special debate would be a highly partisan showdown instead of a forum to find out solutions to the current problems. Similar partisan debates have taken place before, making many fear that the extraordinary session would “hurt” rather than “heal”, thus defeating the purpose of finding out solutions.
October 23, 2020: Gen Narongphan Jitkaewtae may be less outspoken than his predecessor, but people can be forgiven for being nervous about the new Army commander-in-chief’s silence on the current political situation.
He has replaced Gen Apirat Kongsompong as head of the Thai Army, basically inheriting everything except the latter’s outspokenness on national affairs. When asked today on various political matters, like what he thought about the newly-lifted state of emergency or the storms battling Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, all Gen Narongphan did was smile.
He had earlier ruled out a coup, but that’s what all Army chiefs did.
October 22, 2020: Fears are growing that the parliamentary divide, already disruptive, will get worse due to contrasting stands between the government and the opposition blocs toward street protests.
Putta-issara, a leader of another uprising, against the Yingluck government many years ago, has come out to attack opposition MPs, saying none of them has spoken against certain content of the current protests which is deemed by many Thais as improper, sensitive and unprecedented. The opposition, meanwhile, has not ruled out shunning next week’s extraordinary parliamentary session to discuss the political situation.
Both the government and the opposition are afraid of the special parliamentary debate, for different reasons. The government does not want to be softened up by opposition MPs who could just repeat what has been said on rally stages. The opposition, meanwhile, has its own wounds to cover, if the government asks the same question as Putta-issara.
In other words, the government and the opposition are betting most of their stakes on different horses. The opposition will most likely have to back the protesters all the way and attack “harsh” action against them, whereas the government will try to project themselves as a protector of political culture and justify measures against the protesters. It’s a situation that will last beyond next week’s parliamentary session. In fact, the battle-line for the next election may have been drawn already.
October 21, 2020: Some may say he is asking for the impossible, but Parliament president Chuan Leekpai has made his plea anyway, urging the government and opposition to use next week’s extraordinary session to find solutions, not inflame the situation.
Chuan admitted that many people were worried that the special session of Parliament would fuel the crisis on the streets, with government and opposition MPs facing off with rhetoric, tactics and impossible demands and counter-demands.
“A fair number of people think the forum will be useless because the government and opposition will only scold each other, boring the public in the process,” Chuan said. “I’d like to ask everyone to utilise the limited time as much as possible. The debate should calm down the situation, not make it worse.”
October 20, 2020: For months, what was trending on the social media had to do with anti-government messages. Starting this week, pro-government, anti-protester content began to make its way to such platforms as Twitter.
Hashtags supporting “Thai loyalty” have been popular on Twitter over the past two days, as the government, belatedly or not, started exploiting channels formerly occupied exclusively by its opponents.
That could be bad news, if the words of a man who helped kick off an uprising in Egypt many years ago were to be considered.
Even Wael Ghonim, one of the best known social media activist who became an entrepreneur after setting up a Facebook page that sparked the Egyptian revolution that helped demonstrators forced Hosni Mubarak out of office, has admitted that the world still needs a social media that can bring about truly beneficial and positive changes. The internet has good potentials, but the challenge is how to eradicate the bad ones, he said.
Social media wars have made social networks political havens of hate speeches and dangerous polarization. This has led to a contemptuous saying that if you want to be really free, free yourself from the internet first.
October 19, 2020: Parliamentary head Chuan Leekpai has sounded out government and opposition representatives and they all seem to want Parliament to convene a special meeting to discuss the current political crisis and possible solutions.
Chuan had a meeting with government and opposition key persons, after which he said he would send Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha an official letter informing him of their readiness for a special, urgent session.
Chuan also said he had informally talked about the political situation with Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam. He stopped short of saying how Wissanu thought about a special parliamentary session.
October 18, 2020: There are a lot of “mice” now and they are scattering all over the place. The “cat”, the Prayut government to be exact, is looking dazed, although it’s debatable whether too many mice in one place are scarier.
From Government House to Rajprasong to Pathumwan to Lardprao, protesters had been moving in one big group. Not anymore. Their social media communications seem to suggest that gathering spots will keep changing and, importantly, increasing.
Today, for example, BTS stations are congregation points. This is in response to the cat’s ordering of certain stations to be closed, which mean one main gathering spot is a difficult idea.
The “satellite” strategy will make crowd control involving barricading areas or the use of water-spraying trucks more ineffective, if possible at all. It also gives participation in protests more convenience. Additionally, the government will find keeping tracks a lot more gruelling.
Bad thing is the “satellite” strategy, fun as it may seems for the young generation, takes away the power of numbers. In other words, 20,000 people at the Democracy Monument can look more politically daunting than 2,000 people at each BTS stations.
It also remains to be seen whether the “leaderless” nature of protests will suit the satellite strategy and make life tougher for the movement.
October 17, 2020: Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit’s Facebook post indicating he had joined anti-government protesters must have been noted by his political opponents, but he apparently did not want to create any impression, or inflame allegations, that he had anything more significant to do with the movement.
Thanathorn’s Facebook posts have been in support of the “reform” as demanded by protesters, but the writing painted him as a sympathiser at best. Having been banned from parliamentary politics, charges of funding street protests seeking to drastically alter the Thai political culture would not be legally good for him.
His latest Facebook post confirmed he had joined the protesters, who continued to play cat and mouse against the authorities today. “It’s my honour to be a part of a human conveyor that provided hats, umbrellas, water and glasses to protesters,” he said. Again, he called for Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha’s resignation.
He said he joined the protesters “not as a leader, but as a concerned Thai citizen who wants to see a good future of the country.” With most protesters locked up, similar posts have been expected from Thanathorn and his top lieutenants in the now-dissolved Future Forward Party.
October 16, 2020: Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha seems to still have the support of his coalition allies, for now, with top coalition partners flanking him at a media interview in which he insisted the entire Cabinet backed the state of emergency.
He said the state of emergency would be lifted as soon as the situation returned to normal, but the whole interview appeared overshadowed by ominousness as he did not rule out continued searches and arrests targeting protest leaders or alleged “masterminds” of the “three-finger” movement.
A massive number of protesters, who have shifted back to demanding his resignation after a few days of decrying the entire political culture and system, converged at the Pathumwan intersection after the nearby Rajprasong area was made off-limits by the authorities. It was a scene that eerily was similar to the beginning of the street campaign against the Yingluck government, which was ousted by Prayut’s coup in 2014.
Prayut laughed off the protesters’ call for his resignation, saying he had done nothing wrong.
Asked what he wanted to tell the protesters the most, Prayut said: “I want to tell them I don’t want any legal action against anyone. Absolutely not. I want to ask them to love their motherland more.”
He also mentioned Hong Kong and its battered economy. “What’s happening there? What has the Hong Kong model (of protest) led to? The economy is in ruins. Everything is in ruins.”
He said government forces dealing with protesters had exercised restraint and in many cases “became victims”. “They were not aggressive. They were at the wrong end of aggressions. Things like this have never come out to the public,” he said.
Prayut suggested the current political problems were distracting the government in its efforts to concentrate on tackling the economic problems caused by COVID-19
October 15, 2020: If Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha needed unmistakable evidence that he is facing a long-stand trouble, one that could not go away with a state of emergency, he has got it today.
The arrests of protest leaders and the newly-announced state of emergency sent a large number of people to the Rajprasong intersection, the scene of an uprising about a decade ago that led to an early election and a change of political guard. He could take heart in the open and strong resistance against the resistance, which ex-prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva did not have during the Rajprasong “occupation” in 2010. But the situation now can be more fragile and unpredictable.
This time, the Rajprasong gathering does not look like turning into an encamped, massive defiance. But then again, observers have agreed that today’s protesters have adapted and probably done away with the old strategy of staying in one place, using it as a gathering point. The “flash mob” mentality is taking hold, meaning it will be more of a cat and mouse than in the past.
One thing is certain, today’s development confirms that this is far from over.
October 14, 2020: The crowd’s size is not a big cause for government concern, but tension is higher and the stake is apparently bigger. Today’s protest, aimed at the Prayut administration and Thailand’s political culture as a whole, has been full of close calls and generated jitters through the media circles, both in the country and abroad.
There are explanations why the number of protesters was not as high as initially thought. Firstly, the protest took place in the same week as the national remembrance of a much-revered monarch. Secondly, the red shirts have been apparently split over a protest that was so unprecedentedly blatant about the role of the monarchy. Thirdly, a lot of prospective participants who did not show up were not too sure whether it was a campaign against the Prayut government or whether it was something else entirely. Fourthly, there were changes of schedules and plans, not to mention the organisers’ “flash mob” strategy which is more focused on frequency, not numbers.
However, massive numbers of people wearing yellow shirts on various spots around the protest site and expected routes of protesters sent newsrooms into panic modes, although the protest was smaller in size than the one that took place last month. As of the late afternoon of October 14, there have been minor skirmishes but in all cases the potential fires were doused quickly.
Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, who appeared a big target of protesters a few weeks ago, somehow was more or less helped by the demonstrators’ high ambitions. Their demand for him to resign, as of now, does not look as politically daunting as before.
The immediate future remains highly unpredictable, though. Political confrontations often lead to desperate measures when the delicate balance is gone.
October 13, 2020: As the nation practically stops to remember the passing away of a great king, signs of what happens next are uneasy. The massive wearing of yellow shirts to mark the anniversary of King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s death did not totally hide the simmering political tension which many fear could reach a boiling point this week.
Late last month, feared violence did not materialise, with both sides in the political divide deserving compliment for exercising extreme restraint. October 14 poses a new acid test, with both the protesters and those against them becoming more galvanised, aggrieved and ready to take it up a notch or two.
A painful Thai history was apparently learnt and respected last month, but the challenge is to keep learning it the right way. Everyone is talking about the history of “October” at the moment, but if Thais are to really graduate, this month should not end the same way as in the past.
October 12, 2020: The newly-appointed head of the National Security Council has voiced concern that political tension could lead to a “wasted opportunity”, creating clashing images of a country that has fought the pandemic well but is rocked by unpredictable ideological turmoil.
Thailand’s ideological showdown is peaking, with consequences hard to predict. Gen Nattapol Nakpanich said while he was not too worried about the possibility of untoward incidents, the main concern of the government side was that the good COVID-19 work Thailand has been known for could be cancelled out by a political unrest.
“Everyone is afraid that what the country has done regarding COVID-19 will become a wasted opportunity,” he said. As a country heavily dependent on tourism, a national image is important.
Nattapol said intelligence information pointed toward activists coming from as many as 50 provinces to join the October 14 protest. His anticipated number for the overall crowd was still low, although he insisted that the situation can change at any minute.
October 11, 2020: Nobody knows what this week’s political protest would lead to, amid growing variables ahead of the big plan, not least a national occasion to remember a great, late and much-revered monarch.
The anniversary this week of beloved King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s passing away can complicate the political demonstration. But it’s only one of several variables. The others are the unpredictability of the Red Shirts, a flooding crisis outside Bangkok, the overall maverick weather and what ideological artist “Nga Caravan” suggests is extremism with little regards for valuable relationships.
Nga, or Surachai Jantimathorn, is a national artist whose songs and other work reflect ideological struggles of the underprivileged in Thailand throughout the decades, has written on his Facebook that ideology is important, but it’s not supposed to be more important than personal relationships.
“It’s not wrong to think (differently), but what I see is lack of human connections,” he said. “As for me, I consider personal relationships to be more important than any principle or theory.”
Many may disagree with Nga, but what he wrote may have struck a chord with a lot others, and it’s this very issue that could determine the success or failure of the protesters’ on-going campaign.
October 10, 2020: In a Facebook statement, people involved in organising the October 14 protest insisted that the event would be peaceful, and any nasty incident that might happen would certainly come from “those who want to create a (bad) situation.”
The planned protest at the Democracy Monument has caused all kinds of worries, not least because the demonstrators intend to criticize Thailand’s political culture of constitutional monarchy. The statement stressed that the protest was not aimed at upending the system, but rather intended to make it work more effectively.
“Every protest by us has been peaceful. If something untoward happens, the public should be aware that we are not responsible for it. It must have come from a third party or the powers-that-be intending to create a (bad) situation,” the statement said.
October 9, 2020: Police say they need more detailed information from leaders of the planned October 14 protest in order to safeguard against untoward incidents.
Political tension is rising again as October 14 draws near, and even red-shirted leader Jatuporn Prompan has warned that provocative protest content could open a can of worms with an outcome no-one will like.
“People think I have changed (become less belligerent), but truth is that I have to follow up with others’ changes,” Jatuporn said. He noted the differences between the student-led protests in October, 1973 and October, 1976. Attitudes of protesters regarding the Thai political culture during those two periods were in opposite, he said.
Jatuporn said he did not want to see next week’s protest, scheduled for October 14, to mark the October 6 incident, which is a lot more sensitive.
Fears of violence have risen, not least because the current protest leaders have made their stances known. Concern has been added by police claims that they still need crucial information from protest leaders in order to arrange effective security.
According to police, they still don’t know the approximate number of participants and activities related to the protest. There have been fears that unexpected protesters’ moves would not only catch police off guard, but also open the window of opportunities for malicious “third parties.”
October 8, 2020: Fears that her offer of free nude photos for people who can prove they vote for US presidential candidate Joe Biden might be considered a form of vote buying have prompted popular YouTube celebrity Tana Mongeau to apparently make a U-turn on her controversial way of supporting him.
Her tweet related to the offer has been deleted, but not after thousands of messages have flooded her inboxes last week in response to her “Booty for Biden” campaign.
It remains unclear who was or were behind the 22-year-old online celebrity’s U-turn, but concerns were rampant that she could have broken the electoral law regarding vote buying.
By asking for proof from nude photo seekers, she could also have made another electoral offence. Nobody is supposed to ask for evidence of how others voted.
Observers said she did what she did because she disliked Donald Trump very much. She has more than 2.4 million online followers but has never hesitated to ask any Trump supporter to unfollow her.
October 7, 2020: An imminent return of foreign tourists, who will be allowed back to Thailand in limited numbers provided they undergo a two-week quarantine first, is not favoured by the majority of Thais in one of the latest NIDA polls.
More than 40 % of those surveyed said they “absolutely don’t agree” with this week’s reopening of the tourism door, compared with over 21 % who “absolutely agree” with the return of foreign tourists, viewing it as a much-needed resuscitation of the tourism industry.
About 20.5% said they “rather agree” with the return, compared with 16.7 % who said they “rather disagree”.
Those not agreeing with the government’s measure pointed at the threat of a “Second Wave” of COVID-19.
The NIDA survey took place on October 1 and 2 and covered some 1,300 Thais.
October 6, 2020: The latest World Health Organisation’s COVID-19 projection means that if one is not infected, there will be a good chance his or her neighbour is.
The WHO’s scariest COVID-19 warnings to date should, of course, be applied based on each country’s exposure. India, the United States and Brazil, for example, should more worried than other countries. Yet the general message from WHO is that no country should let its guards down because the worst is yet to come.
The WHO’s top official on health emergencies, Michael Ryan, said one in ten of the world population could have been infected already. He based the estimate on WHO’s assumption and belief that the real infection numbers are more than 20 times higher than the officially confirmed cases.
The estimate amounts to more than 760 million people based on a current world population of about 7.6 billion. That far outstrips the number of official cases worldwide, 35 million, as tallied by both the WHO and the Johns Hopkins University.
This means if a family of 5 lives next to one with the same number of members, one person among them may be carrying the virus.
Ryan was not sneaking unverified information out to the media. He was speaking at an official WHO session and his ultimate boss, WHO’s chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus was flanking him.
Ryan was impressed by global responses, though, despite saying that the world was still “heading into a difficult period”.
October 5, 2020: Newly-appointed Finance Minister Arkhom Termpittayapaisith’s deputy, Santi Prompat, might have a big say on how long the former stays in the Cabinet hot seat, analysts say.
Arkhom, who has been announced in the royal gazette as the new finance minister, replaces Pridi Daochai, who has abruptly resigned from the position despite having taken it for just a few weeks. Rumours about Pridi’s disagreement with Santi and speculation that Pridi’s predecessor, Uttama Savanayana, also failed to eye to eye with Sani are ominous for Arkhom.
To add to that, Deputy Finance Minister Santi always declared himself ready to take one last step to the top of the prestigious and important ministry.
While Santi is somewhat an old-fashioned politician, Arkhom, a technocrat, is not. Analysts believe how well the two get along will be an important factor regarding how long Arkhom serves as the finance minister.
After Pridi’s sudden departure, speculation about Santi’s potential rise to the top of the Finance Ministry met considerable resistance. Santi was forced to defend his educational credentials after declaring himself fit and proper for the top post.
October 4, 2020: A NIDA survey has found that the majority of respondents did not want to see the Pheu Thai Party in a “national government”, although more people would accept that if Prayut Chan-o-cha is not prime minister.
About 49 % of 1,316 Thais surveyed said they “definitely don’t want Pheu Thai in a Prayut Cabinet”, compared with 37.5 % who said they “definitely don’t want Pheu Thai” in a Palang Pracharath Cabinet which is not led by Prayut.
Nearly 16 % said they “totally agree” with Pheu Thai being in a Prayut Cabinet. If Prayut does not lead that Cabinet but Palang Pracharath remains its core, the number increases to 24 %.
Those who “rather disagree” with the idea of Pheu Thai in a Prayut Cabinet amounted to 16.8 %. Those who “rather disagree” with Pheu Thai being in a non-Prayut, Palang Pracharath-led Cabinet numbered 14.5 %.
A simple reading of the NIDA poll results is that a Palang Pracharath-Pheu Thai union is not favoured by the majority of Thais surveyed, especially if Prayut is still there. To be fair to him, a prime ministerial nominee directly or indirectly associated with Pheu Thai will most likely stand in the way of a “national government”, too.
Despite repeated denials from both sides, the “national government” speculation has refused to go away. It has resurfaced strongly lately following unconfirmed, beneath-the-surface moves of Thaksin Shinawatra’s ex-wife Pojaman.
A national government would take the opposition out of the equation, making legislative work easy. In the Thai context, a national government is believed by many to be a way of reducing the sometimes violent political divide.
October 3, 2020: Even before the US president was infected with the coronavirus, America’s relations with Beijing were at their lowest in modern history. Now, the ties are about to plunge deeper and get nastier, analysts say.
Even when he was well, Donald Trump openly and on several occasions blamed China for the COVID-19 pandemic. Now that he has been infected and hospitalised himself, the anti-China stance will only get worse.
After a series of harsh trade and diplomatic measures against Beijing that have thrown technology-dependent industries into uncertainties, the Trump administration will very likely take a harder line, with some of his political support already drumming up claims that “China gave this virus to our president.” If more White House cases reach a “crippling” point, seriously disrupting work from the highest command, such claims would gain a lot more weight.
Beijing has sent a polite get-well-soon message, joining several world governments, but, according to CNN, the Chinese leaders must be very “nervous” now.
The unpredictable bilateral ties have been dictating world progresses and politics, and to a large degree affecting the global fight against the deadly virus. The two countries’ conflict over Tiktok has also remained unsolved.
Due to Trump’s age, weight, and the fact that he will have the best treatment a US president can get, the range of possibilities regarding his well-being is wide. He can be as good as new in a few days, or become incapacitated requiring transfers of powers, or he might totally succumb to the virus, like many old, overweight patients.
For America’s domestic politics, the future of the presidential election scheduled for early next month is unknown and summed up by CNN: “We are at a historic moment for which there is no blueprint or even the beginnings of one. We are all flying totally blind.”
October 2, 2020: The world’s political future has been thrown into more great uncertainties although reports that Donald Trump has been infected COVID-19 have not even totally sunk in yet.
The pandemic has upended economies and swallowed up major industries. Even before reports about Trump’s and the first lady’s infections, American politics, strongly-linked to that of the world as a whole, has been already tied to the viral disease.
How is it going to affect America’s November presidential election? Will Trump’s age and weight make him much more vulnerable than infected famous athletes and younger celebrities? (His wife Melania is a lot younger and thus exposed to much less danger.) And he has been in close contact with a lot of high-profile people, including his main political rival, Joe Biden.
This is one of the biggest COVID-19 news, which is still developing.
October 1, 2020: Until very recently, Kanokwan Wilawan was among the least known members of the Prayut Cabinet, according to surveys. Not anymore, after close-circuit TV clips went viral showing teachers and baby-sitters at a famous school treated small students and kindergarten kids badly, sparking one of the biggest outcries this year.
The deputy education minister of the Bhumjaithai Party is now the most familiar face among the Thai public after the prime minister, and in a good way. She has overseen sometimes-vociferous meetings among parents, or between them and teachers of the Sarnsart Vithet Ratchapruek School, a branch of a very famous school franchise, and appeared in TV programmes covering the on-going controversy, making hard-hitting comments.
Much of Thailand must have seen the clips by now. In them, some teachers and baby-sitters pinched, smacked, shoved, yelled at, grabbed hair of, used inhalant to rub the eyes of, kids as young as three years old. There was no doubt it was a case of abuse that can leave long-lasting mental trauma. Parents claimed their children went home hungry because meal time was, according to a clip, as short as seven minutes. An unusual number of kindergarten kids told their parents they did not want to go to school anymore, which the adults said they mistook as the normal kid behaviour. Some kids allegedly cried in their sleep. Others, allegedly locked up occasionally at school, were afraid of toilet rooms at home.
Close-circuit TV clips are being looked at regarding nursery (pre-kindergarten) kids and elementary students at the school.
Kanokwan has been seen lashing out at school administrators or their representatives or trying to calm down angry or hysterical parents. The former member of the dissolved Thai Rak Thai Party, who almost missed out on Parliament in last year’s election because her name was not even at the top ten of Bhumjaithai’s party list, has children of her own and the concerned parents obviously liked her.
The handling of this case of school abuse will “go all the way”, she promised. The media, which seemed to like her, too, have sought her guarantee that it won’t turn out to be a usual political “match-fixing” when the fervour dies down.
***Photo from her Facebook
September 30, 2020: What was unimaginable a few weeks ago may materialise after all. According to today’s reports, the prime minister did not object to the idea of setting up a Constitution drafting assembly to take over from Parliament in writing the country’s new highest law of the land.
There may be political reasons behind it. Electing a drafting assembly and having it come up with yet another charter of Thailand will take more time than the usual parliamentary route and get some pressure off the government. Prayut Chan-o-cha may also find it easier to fight off pressure for him to immediate resign as he could always say he could not control or influence the drafting assembly.
Today’s reports claim Prayut had seen and studied all charter amendment proposals submitted to Parliament and he gave a virtual green light to the proposed setting up of a drafting assembly. From the reports, tt remains to be seen how much of the formula that gave birth to the 1997 “People’s Constitution” will be maintained or followed.
September 29, 2020: The biggest opposition party will hold a meeting on October 1 to elect a new executive board, and Sompong Amornwiwat is widely tipped to return as its leader. However, analysts and some party insiders think he will work under a more intense shadow of Pojaman Shinawatra.
The Pheu Thai Party, according to some reports, will be guided by a “Super Board” which is not necessarily fully represented by the new executive board. Analysts believe this Super Board, whose status will be unofficial, would have final says on important political matters and its meetings could be chaired or observed by Pojaman from time to time.
Key members of the “CARE” group, an informal gathering of ideological leaders of Pheu Thai, are likely to be in the Super Board, meaning the CARE group’s activities which have been somewhat independent of the party will be less so.
All of this is pointing toward Pojaman’s increased political role, amid Thailand’s extremely sensitive political situation, it’s said.
September 28, 2020: Speculation regarding the immediate future of Pheu Thai is revolving around what one woman in particular is thinking. Pojaman Na Pombejra has literally been out of public views all through the years, but one recent and rare picture of her, in which she and other donors to a royal project lined up before the portrait of the King Rama X, was enough to trigger wild imaginations.
Is it a signal of her allegiance? Is it a message to whoever is receiving her alleged political funding that the money is no longer there? Is it a bold reminder to Pheu Thai of who’s who in a fluid political climate where the biggest opposition party is ambivalently involving in a campaign that could change Thailand’s political culture? Is Thai politics entering a “Star Wars” phase where family members go in opposite ideological directions? Is a big change in the Thai political landscape coming up?
Those are the on-going questions, amplified by the shocking resignations from key party posts of Sudarat Keyuraphan, Sompong Amornwiwat and some Pheu Thai executives. The recent formation of the “CARE” group that is made up of the ideological wing of Thaksin Shinawatra has added to the Pojaman speculation.
Thaksin himself used to say Pojaman divorced him as she did not like politics that much, particularly when businesses were concerned. How the ex-couple split their massive assets was not known, but many analysts insist that the political significance of Pojaman’s money shall never be underestimated. The analysts believe it can sustain or alter the course of Thai politics, and a planned big demonstration in October will be closely watched, not least because there are those who believe in an opposite Pojaman theory.
In this second theory, things aren’t moving as effectively as she expected, hence the need to lead the charge herself.
September 27, 2020: Good news for Prayut Chan-o-cha is that among names mentioned, his is the most favourite among Thais when it comes to who deserves to be prime minister, the latest NIDA poll has found out. Bad news is that only 18.6% think so, and it was less than the last survey.
A clear majority, or 54.13%, think no-one deserves to be prime minister, according to the poll in which 2,527 Thais were surveyed over the past few days.
Pheu Thai’s Sudarat Keyuraphan got 10.57 % and Pita Limjaroenrat of the Move Forward Party was favoured by 5.7 %. Seripisut Temiyavet of the Seri Ruam Thai Party was voted by 3.92% while 1.54% liked Korn Chatikavanij of the Kla Party.
About 4% said “others”, who include Chuan Leekpai, Abhisit Vejjajiva, Anutin Charnvirakul, Jurin Laksanavisit and Anand Panyarachun.
More bad news for Prayut is that his rating has been down compared with a June survey. The same went for Seripisut and Korn. Sudarat’s and Pita’s ratings have actually improved. A marked increase was, however, the number of Thais who thought nobody is fit to be the prime minister of Thailand.
The name of Sompong Amornwiwat has attracted a small number of voters in the latest NIDA survey (1.07%). However, the polling was conducted before Saturday’s stunning developments that saw Sudarat and Sompong quitting their senior positions in the Pheu Thai Party, causing all kinds of speculation.
September 26, 2020: The Pheu Thai leader, Sompong Amornwiwat, did not rule out the possibility of his resignation to facilitate reorganizing the party’s leadership in the face of problems caused by Sudarat Keyuraphan’s latest moves.
Sudarat has resigned as chief of the biggest opposition party’s strategic committee and some executive members have quit their positions, leaving Pheu Thai in turmoil.
“If the party leader stepped down, it would yield a clean slate allowing the appointment of a new executive committee and everyone would be able to start anew,” Sompong said.
High-level conflicts involving Sudarat have caused Pheu Thai problems lately. She is said to be at odds with many high-ranking party members, not least veteran Chalerm Yoobamrung. The Bangkok gubernatorial election is also a major source of conflict, with senior party members unable to agree on whether they should try to convince Chadchart Sittipunt to rejoin the party and represent it in the race.
The party’s loss of much of Bangkok support to the Move Forward Party has also caused volatile finger-pointing within Pheu Thai.
Sompong said he had been unable to contact Sudarat after news of her resignation broke out.
September 25, 2020: In a lengthy question-and-answer session with the media, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha sent out a big clue on how he thought about the proposed setting up of a charter-drafting assembly to take over from Parliament in writing Thailand’s new Constitution.
“How much do we have to change the charter, partly or entirely? We have to honour Parliament,” he said.
He still can mean that if Parliament voted to set up an elected drafting assembly, then so be it. However, much of his talk focused on the “importance” of Parliament, of senators, and of the need to maintain and protect the country’s current political system.
On senators, he said their role was not about keeping him in power, and the majority of them did not know him in person. On his own status, he said he did not want to be prime minister forever. On the current anti-government protest, he said he had been exercising patience and restraint.
However, he said that he found some aspects of the on-going protest “unacceptable.” This part of his talk could become prevalent headlines.
“If the media and the general public find it acceptable, I shall find it acceptable too. But today I find (some aspects) unacceptable,” he said.
September 24, 2020: The harsh punishment handed down by the Supreme Court on former minister Watana Muangsook, who was given heavy prison time today in connection with a bribery scandal related to the Thaksin government’s cheap housing project, was not totally unexpected. But it has come at a time of high political tension.
Watana’s Pheu Thai Party had been hesitant about supporting, openly or covertly, the on-going, student-led protest and charter amendment proposals that could be deemed hostile towards Thailand’s system of constitutional monarchy. Pheu Thai is familiar with party dissolution and had wanted to move cautiously this time.
But the Watana case, which is nearing a conclusion as the man is given about a month to launch one final appeal, may change Pheu Thai’s approach regarding the protest and charter amendment. He was found guilty of several offences and sentenced to 99 years, but legal limits mean he would serve 50 years if his appeal failed.
Pheu Thai can mobilize massive numbers of supporters, as shown during the downtown, weeks-long encampment in downtown Bangkok in 2010.
Watana put on a brave face today and insisted that he had handled the Ua-arthorn housing project carefully and honestly when he was minister of social development and human security in the Thaksin government. He voiced strong support for charter amendment during in a Facebook post the day before.
He served as commerce minister and industry minister before being moved to the Social Development and Human Security Ministry. He held all the three positions when Thaksin was in power.
The bribery case involved 14 defendants, some of whom had escaped underground. Heavy penalties were handed down but Watana’s was the harshest. His accumulated “offences”, of which he was found guilty, totalled 99 years in jail but legal limits mean he faces 50 years.
September 23, 2020: The United Nations is seeing what is coming. As the international focus may be on what the Chinese and American leaders said at the UN General Assembly, hitting each other with rhetoric or pure accusations, what the UN secretary-general said may have summed up the world’s future the best.
The world is “moving in a very dangerous direction,” said Antonio Guterres. “Our world cannot afford a future where the two largest economies split the globe in a Great Fracture. …”
He was spot-on when saying that the technological and economic conflicts between Washington and Beijing “risk inevitably turning into a geo-strategic and military divide”, which he insisted the rest of the world must strive to avoid at all costs.
It was against a backdrop of a China-US diplomatic showdown at the highest level.
At the assembly, Chinese President Xi Jinping urged the world to “join hands to uphold the values of peace, development, equity, justice, democracy and freedom shared by all of us.”
That should have been delivered by the United States. Instead, Trump ditched usual rhetoric and told the assembly China was unleashing a plague onto the world.
The backdrop outside the UN, however, consists of 5G, Hong Kong, increasing Chinese innovative capability and the rising possibility that the economic superpower rankings may soon change at the very top.
September 22, 2020: If the previous Thai lockdown was very bad, a new one could be twice as miserable, if not more, according to a respected Thai health expert and epidemiologist.
Thira Woratanarat of the Chulalongkorn University’s Faculty of Medicine has said a government decision to allow a limited return of foreign tourists should be seriously reviewed and, better still, delayed for now.
Writing on his Facebook, the doctor whose COVID-19 opinions were widely heeded, said world statistics showed the “second wave”, experienced in many countries already, was “quick, devastating, hard to control and lasts for a longer time.”
Lockdown periods in the “second wave” have been or would be longer than the first-wave ones, he said. Situations or would-be situations in various countries can be as bad as three times more serious than before, Assoc Prof Thira said. He listed countries where the second wave was wreaking havoc, many of which are Thailand’s tourism “customers” or very close to the nation.
Thailand must be very, very careful, he concluded.
September 21, 2020: As Thailand has coped reasonably well with the global COVID-19 pandemic, its heated politics is distracting many from the real issue at hand. Warnings of a “second wave” are increasingly louder in Europe whereas the virus is prompting a new lockdown in Myanmar, a country where a large amount of workers in Thailand have come from. Meanwhile, a major economic crisis is forcing the Thai government to allow entry of limited numbers of foreign tourists.
All COVID-19-related measures risk detrimental politicisation, which can block good policies or worsen effects of bad ones. In other words, Thailand’s political situation and COVID-19 can be the worst possible mix.
A fresh stay-at-home order is taking effect from today across Yangon, Myanmar’s biggest city, after the country reported a record-high number of new cases. The measure requires most private-sector workers to work from home while government employees will rotate between home and their offices. Schools had been closed under previous measures.
Around Thailand, situations related to COVID-19 and its economic impact are not good at all. Myanmar, with its close proximity to India, would have caused more alarms in Thailand but for the prevailing sense of safety and distractions of other affairs.
September 20, 2020: Politicians have kept largely away from the student-led movement protesting for a drastic political change, and even those showing up at the protest site this weekend claimed they were there just to “collect information.”
Some Pheu Thai members and those associated with the Move Forward Party said they were only observing the situation and gathering crucial information that could be presented to the government and Parliament. The politicians were nowhere to be seen as protesters moved towards the headquarters of the Privy Council on Sunday morning.
Although the protest ended peacefully later on Sunday, the protesters’ bold activities regarding Thailand’s high institution made conventional politicians very cautious, with a tent being set up with a word “Observation” outstanding. That is understandable, though, as the politicians can risk the futures of their political parties if they openly support calls that would seriously affect the country’s system of constitutional monarchy.
A certain mainstream media headline mocked the politicians. “Ship jumpers”, they were called.
September 19, 2020: There are people who think there is no way to effect political changes, except through violence. There are those who think the opposite.
Thailand has gone through decades of political divide and has seen its fair share of bloodletting. Today, hopes and fears are mixing, not least because what started off as “peaceful” was often cursed. The nation experienced it on October 14, 1973; October 6, 1976; in May, 1992; during the turbulence days of rulers associated with Thaksin Shinawatra; in May, 2010, before Yingluck Shinawatra’s rise to power; and in 2013-2014, when anti-Yingluck government protests led to shootings, bombings and killings.
Those modern-day incidents showcased anything but modern or civilised. They only confirmed one thing, which is that people would do anything to gain, or regain, or keep power.
No matter how idealistic or dreamful protesters are, they are not the only factor at play during all major political moments. This is why there are fears that anything bad can happen again, as today’s big gathering is political, ideological and brings about or threatens to bring about all the unpredictable factors.
Thais must learn from their painful history. We have been there before, and the onus is on everyone to make sure it doesn’t happen again.
September 18, 2020: Politically, it can be way too late. Legally, it is bad news for Vorayuth Yoovidhya no matter what.
The prosecutors have decided to revive the infamous fatal hit-and-run incident in 2012, charging the heir of the Red Bull business empire with reckless driving leading to death, and cocaine abuse.
Reviving the case is perfectly legal, the prosecutors said, insisting that an earlier high-level decision to drop Vorayuth’s case is reversible.
Dropping the case was believed to be a major political factor inflaming public resentment against the Prayut administration, in addition to the Palang Pracharath Party’s infighting causing major disruptions to the government’s work, and the COVID-19-reated “VIP” scandal.
With anti-government protests expected to peak this Saturday, September 19, it’s safe to say that the Vorayuth reversal would do little to help the administration politically.
September 17, 2020: A decision to temporarily cordon off the Thammasat University’s Tha Prachan campus, the supposed location of Saturday’s anti-government protest, will likely raise political temperature instead of reducing it, analysts believe.
The campus will strictly screen people entering the venue through the only open gate on Saturday and Sunday, while two other gates will be shut down, following an order signed by the dean of the law faculty, which cancels all faculty classes on that day. The order mentioned safety concern.
Protesters are expected to adapt their plan or implement an emergency one. The protest is likely to go on, with the closure used to add grievance and determination, it is said. The question of “where” should be answered soon.
Comments for and against the protest are threatening to reach fever pitch. Fears have been prevalent on “third party” causing incidents that could lead to nasty consequences.
Thammasat was the scene of one of the darkest political moments in Thailand more than four decades ago, with extremists storming the compound where anti-government students were encamping. Several students were killed or injured.
September 16, 2020: In a letter addressed to American President Donald Trump and submitted through the US Embassy, a group of Thais ask his government not to interfere with Thailand’s political affairs amid looming tension on Bangkok’s streets.
The group said that it “thanked” the embassy for recently vowing to keep away from Thai politics, but it wanted to underline Thailand’s need to tackle the problem by itself anyway.
It said that it hoped the long-standing and good relationship between the two countries would make Trump ensure that what the embassy had promised would be honoured.
Another letter was submitted by the group to the embassy exclusively, thanking the mission for its vow and, again, expressing hope that the promise would be kept.
September 15, 2020: In a largely gloomy prediction that goes along with that of the International Monetary Fund, the Asian Development Bank has said the COVID-19 pandemic is pulling Asia into a recession of a continental scale never seen in 60 years.
Apart from predicting a rebound next year, the ADB’s assessment is ominous for most of Asia except China.
About three quarters of the Asian economies are forecast to slump this year, according to the bank’s newly-released report. A 0.1% continental growth has been revised down further, meaning much of Asia’s population or those who are younger than 60 have never experienced the hardships before.
India’s economy may contract 9% this year, whereas China can achieve a 1.8% growth.
Southeast Asia is likely to see a regional drop of 3.8 %, whereas Asian countries dependent on tourism will end the year especially miserably.
Good news is that next year’s growth for Asia could be 6.8%, with China achieving 7.7% and India 8%.
The ADB’s prediction ends with a scary caution that a second wave could render all of the above a good-case scenario. If further containment measures are required, that is.
September 14, 2020: The Democrat Party has suggested it would not back any charter amendment that would reduce the power of the Constitutional Court, whose party dissolution orders have affected and antagonised the opposition bloc.
The Pheu Thai and Move Forward parties have been dealt heavy blows by the Constitutional Court, and an idea has been floated on ending its existence.
However, the Democrat Party’s spokesman, Rames Rattanachaveng, said all cases that affected the opposition camp had “established origins” and the court’s decisions “were backed by solid legal principles.” He said the country’s politics would be in turmoil without the court having final says on important matters.
The Democrat Party’s stand makes the whole charter amendment picture look more complicated, with alliances already appearing confusing and fractured.
After the Senate, the Constitutional Court is the next divisive issue in the charter amendment debate. The court has been playing a role in major political developments in Thailand over the past few decades.
September 13, 2020: Senators’ provisional authority in the appointment of the prime minister is clearly not favourable among Thais, an opinion poll has shown.
A NIDA poll, conducted over the past few days among more than 1,300 people, showed about 61 % of respondents “totally agree” with the idea of stripping the Senate of the prime ministerial election power, while more than 16 % “rather agree”.
Only about 9 % said they “rather disagree” while slightly over 13 % said they “totally disagree”.
The poll will put more pressure on the Senate, which also has considerable powers over charter amendment.
September 12, 2020: As US presidential rivals took part in the routine remembrance of the worst terrorist attack on American soil 19 years ago, those not believing in the official story kept digging in, with a defiant activity of their own.
Donald Trump and Joe Biden travelled to Pennsylvania, where the official story said a plane went down amid a struggle between patriotic Americans and hijackers. Both delivered touching speeches on domestic sacrifices and heroism. Ceremonies marking the anniversary across America this year were somewhat subdued due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Trump said America’s response to 9/11 was a proof that his country would always “rise up, stand tall and fight back” when threatened with great animosity. Biden said America was not supposed to talk about anything else but 9/11, and that he would not say anything but the tragedy.
But even nineteen years later, what was called in the beginning the most unpatriotic, obnoxious and probably insane movement in America is still fighting on. In fact, it is growing and even making a louder noise than American officials who it does not agree with on what caused the 9/11 terror attack on the United States in 2001.
A three-day online conference, titled “Justice Rising”, is being held to mark the globally fateful day, call for a new, independent and transparent investigation, and sell the explosive idea that the three buildings that came down at the World Trade Center, the explosion at the Pentagon and the crash in Pennsylvania were anything but what the official narrative would have the world believe.
The flagship of the movement is a group that brings together thousands of American architects and engineers, some relatives of the people killed on that day and some other professionals. Its website, www.ae911truth.org, showcases what is said to be shocking evidence and details of the on-going “Justice Rising” conference.
September 11, 2020: In a sign that another major eruption of long-standing ideological showdown is around the corner in Thailand, tens of thousands of people have signed a petition against drafting a new charter, despite the fact that the campaign has only just begun.
The campaign is led by former Democrat leadership contender Warong Dechgitvigrom who has become a full-time political activist. It has come amid growing youngsters’ protests against the Prayut government and military intervention in politics, which the protesters describe as political ills requiring charter amendment as a cure.
Warong was quoted by a news website as saying that as of today, September 11, more than 80,000 Thais had signed their names. The list is to be submitted to Parliament, although House Speaker Chuan Leekpai suggested that the 50,000-name requirement for proposing constitutional changes is apparently not applicable for a no-change call.
Warong’s signature campaign has begun to go viral on the social media. Older social media users are sharing his video in which three main arguments are made. One is that the protesters’ submarine uproar opposes the Bt3 billion of annual state budget needed whereas no protester said anything about Bt15 billion needed in one go for an “independent process” of writing a new charter. Another is essentially the campaign’s “Have you asked the people?” hashtag, with Warong noting that the current Constitution had gone through a referendum and accepted by 16.8 million Thais. The other is that the Senate’s power to join the House of Representatives in electing the prime minister is only provisional, and that even this Senate would not back anyone with a minority support among MPs.
September 10, 2020: Using miscalculated measures against COVID-19 is one thing, but concealing its formidability from the beginning is another. In what will likely put the final nail on Donald Trump’s political coffin, he has been said to be hiding truth about the coronavirus when America was still able to deal with it much more effectively.
A new book by “legendary” journalist Bob Woodward carries a bombshell disclosure that Trump knew weeks before the first confirmed US COVID-19 death that the coronavirus was extremely dangerous, airborne, highly contagious and deadlier than strenuous flus but the president chose to repeatedly play it down publicly.
“This is deadly stuff,” Trump told Woodward on February 7. He reportedly told Woodward the coronavirus was five times “more deadly” than the common flu.
The book, “Rage”, then jumped to another Trump’s talks with Woodward in March, in which the president said: “I wanted to always play it down. I still like playing it down, because I don’t want to create a panic.”
The proclaimed caution has been blamed, by Trump’s political rivals at least, for America’s high death and infection numbers. With the US presidential race entering its home stretch and Trump already trailing his rival Joe Biden by a long distance, the book may serve as a political dynamite that blows Trump’s second-term aspiration out of the water.
September 9, 2020: Governments all over the world will be looking closely at what is set to happen in England in the next few days, enforcement of new measures that would bar more than six people from coming together socially, indoors or outdoors.
The exemptions are schools, weddings with approved anti-COVID-19 measures, organised team sports, funerals and workplaces. Anywhere else and police will come and break gatherings that breach the new rules. Violators face fines and repeated offences are entitled to progressive fines.
Currently, police have no powers to stop a gathering unless it exceeds 30 people. But Prime Minister Boris Johnson will be addressing the public any moment on the drastic changes, to be enforced from Monday, September 14.
The new measures follow new fears of a second COVID-19 wave, which are widespread in Europe. It is still unclear how the new rules will affect plans to allow limited numbers of fans back into sport stadiums.
September 8, 2020: Ninety-nine MPs have endorsed a Move Forward Party proposal seeking to strip the Senate of its power to join the House of Representatives in appointing the prime minister, and no Pheu Thai member is among them.
The proposal has been officially submitted to House Speaker Chuan Leekpai today, conspicuously by Move Forward leader Pita Limcharoenrat and Democrat MP Sathit Wongnongtoey.
The development has come against a confusing political backdrop of shifting and fractured alliances when it comes to charter amendment.
Pheu Thai, the biggest opposition party, had indicated it was reconsidering its intention to totally empower a charter-drafting assembly to come up with any change to the current Constitution. But Move Forward, the second biggest opposition party, apparently did not intend to wait for Pheu Thai, at least for the Senate proposal, which is endorsed by MPs from 13 parties excluding those from Palang Pracharath and Pheu Thai.
The Senate proposal has a mountain to climb, but the charter-drafting assembly idea faces big obstacles itself because it also requires amending a key clause of the existing charter so the conventional power of changing the Constitution can shift from Parliament to an elected new body.
Pita said he was confident that his party’s proposal would provide a “way out” for Thailand and would not be opposed by senators. He said Bhumjaithai, a government party, agreed with his party’s proposal.
September 7, 2020: If an opinion poll is to be believed, the prime minister will dig himself out of the deepening political trouble by improving the economy and seriously tackling corruption.
Anti-government sentiment which has been gathering momentum and taking the form of street protests was identified by Dusit Poll as the third biggest problem (63.79%), after a bad economy (77.49%) and administrative problems (67%).
What should the government, particularly Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, do? Nearly 84% of the 1,768 people surveyed said “Fix the economy”. About 70% said corruption must be effectively dealt with without political bias. About 66% calls for reaching out and listening to opinions of all sides.
On the government’s strength, the surveyed people attributed it to four major factors _ Senate’s support (64.74%), summary powers (on certain matters) (54.62%), majority support in the House of Representatives (51.52%), and Prayut as prime minister (36.81%).
September 6, 2020: Online political messages about Thailand certainly do not come from inside Thailand alone, but a polling agency has made a shocking assertion that a vast majority of them has come from outside the country.
Super Poll claimed it has done a research over two popular hashtags _ “If you don’t fight, stay enslaved then” and “Fighting is Thai, Retreating is Slave”. The former, introduced first and peaked in early August, involved 12.4 million users and about 11.3% of online users applying the hashtag were in Thailand, it said. Twitter was a key platform of the “If you don’t fight, stay enslaved then” hashtag (77.3%).
The latter has involved 1.68 million online users, an apparently significant drop from the former hashtag, and 11.6% of those using this latter hashtag were in Thailand, according to Super Poll. Facebook was a key platform of this hashtag (39.4% against Twitter’s 37%).
The polling agency also surveyed over 1,700 Thais last week. Findings were also a surprise. Over 72 % think a “national government” is the most stable of all administrations, whereas more than 67 % think a “national government” will be prosperous, in other words lead the nation to prosperity. However, more than 64% of people surveyed say they don’t want a national government to lead Thailand.
“It’s such a paradox,” Super Poll’s director Noppadon Kannika commented on the national government findings.
September 5, 2020: The biggest opposition party is contemplating moving immediately against the Senate, effectively saying it does not want to buck the trend.
The party had earlier backed the idea that charter amendment should be made through an elected Constitution drafting assembly, copying all or much of the process of the creation of the 1997 “People’s Charter.” The camp refused to back a proposal by its key opposition ally, the Move Forward Party, to immediately amend the current Constitution through the normal process to curtail the Senate powers.
Now, Pheu Thai is considering endorsing the Move Forward Party’s proposal, a Pheu Thai whip declared today, saying even the Democrat Party, a key government partner, wanted to change constitutional clauses on senatorial powers.
“Politics can change every week, and we have to show we can adapt,” said Pheu Thai’s Somkid Chuakong. He added a party meeting on Tuesday would consider officially backing Move Forward.
The Senate is currently empowered provisionally to elect and safeguard the prime minister. Anti-Senate sentiment is strong among anti-government protesters, so much so that when Pheu Thai steered clear of Move Forward’s senatorial proposal, the biggest opposition party came under harsh criticism online.
Pheu Thai’s U-turn, however, could complicate the charter-drafting assembly idea, which is also gaining momentum itself, even among many government MPs. Reducing the Senate’s powers first before setting up a charter drafting assembly later would be considered by the government side as too big a retreat. Moreover, Parliament debating the Senate issue directly and immediately would heighten political tension, much more than passing the buck to a charter drafting assembly.
(Photo from a past Pheu Thai event)
September 4, 2020: Red-shirted leader Jatuporn Prompan said the resignation of Finance Minister Pridi Daochai was threatening to doom the Prayut government, but he cautioned that Thailand’s political situation was more complicated than the issue of whether the prime minister would stay, or go, or be forced to go.
Having warned that the current political stand-off could lead to a new round of military intervention, Jatuporn now said the threat of a superpower coming in to exploit resource-rich Thailand was also growing.
He said while a big local tragedy like “October 6” event in 1976 was unlikely to be repeated “because there is no place to go in the jungles”, a weak Thailand would be susceptible to another kind of foreign intervention. He described the threat of such intervention as scarily real and “everyone must be very careful.”
The man who led the bloody red-shirted uprising in 2010 said the present situation was very fluid, with the monarchy cited by both sides of the conflict to back their own agendas. Another big protest against the government is planned for September 19, with organizers buoyed by another setback of the government, Pridi’s resignation, Jatuporn said. A lot of people will be watching what transpires on and after September 19, he added.
“The scariest side effect of all this is the superpowers,” he wrote in his Facebook. “Everyone must be very careful. Our natural resources are more abundant than many countries.”
September 3, 2020: The chairman of a high-level government committee reviewing the controversial dropping of the Red Bull heir’s hit-and-run case has said unequivocally that efforts will be revived to “restore” justice.
Vicha Mahakhun gave the affirmation shortly after submitting his panel’s findings to the prime minister. In the findings, signs of injustice and hints of corruption were detected.
The panel’s report was sent to Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha earlier this week and he said he would “definitely act on” the findings, Vicha said. In other words, no efforts will be spared in bringing Vorayuth Voovidhya back to face justice, according to Vicha.
The prosecutors’ bombshell dropping of the case triggered a public outrage and was said to be one of the key factors giving momentum to street protests against the Prayut administration.
Reviving Vorayuth’s case requires a new police report on the incident which took place some 12 years ago. Vicha said that this particular case could also lead to major changes in the Thai justice process, details of which are being worked out.
September 2, 2020: Is the “Black Lives Matter” campaign around the globe having any impact on the alleged trigger-happy habit of American police? The latest shooting incident in Los Angeles is preventing anyone from jumping to a quick conclusion.
Dijon Kizzee, a 29-year-old black man, was shot dead Monday while he reportedly attempted to escape arrest. He was allegedly having a firearm wrapped in clothes while fleeing, but there was no report of him trying to use it, and a lawyer insisted he was “no harm” at the time of the shooting. A video of his final moment went viral and triggered more street protests against police violence.
Incidents in which African Americans were alleged victims of US police have continued to happen since the death of George Floyd, who was suffocated on the street while under arrest. The prevalence is so much so that recent incidents appeared in mainstream American media in flashes, not thorough manners.
Top athletes, especially coloured ones, have featured in symbolic gestures around the world against what is perceived as racial injustice in the United States. The biggest-paid female tennis player, Naomi Osaka, has worn a mask at the on-going US Open to remind everyone of a female victim and has been active online in criticising the situation in America. She described the problem as “Continued Genocide of Black People.”
The “Black Lives Matter” situation is threatening to drastically change the United States’ global status as champion or preacher of human rights.
(Photo seen is from a George Floyd protest in May)
September 1, 2020: Finance Minister Pridi Daochai’s reported plan to resign with immediate effects will shake everything economically and politically to its core and test Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha’s ability to handle “democratic politics” in which “outsiders” often clash with conventional politicians.
Wildfire reports about Pridi came hot on the heels of rumoured conflicts with a powerful deputy finance minister, Santi Promphat. The latter jumped from the pro-Shinawatra camp to Palang Pracharath following the fall of the Yingluck government. He carried with him an unfavourable reputation regarding transfers of senior officials.
His conflicts with Pridi broke into the open very shortly before the latter reportedly stated his intention to resign, less than a month after quitting his job as a senior banker to join the Prayut Cabinet, and they involved high-profile transfers of top Finance Ministry officials.
At this hour, Prayut is said to be trying to block the reported resignation plan.
August 31, 2020: Bad news for Donald Trump is that an incumbent US president trailing his challenger by 9 points in a reliable poll just over two months before an election is decidedly ominous.
Good news, or so it seems, is that poll and all others indicate he could not go any lower. Even CNN, a vehemently and blatantly anti-Trump news outlet, admits that Trump hitting a rock bottom may be a matter for his rivals’ concern.
Trump can narrow the gap and still not win, analysts say. But he can get started now, as opposed to weeks ago when his camp was worried that the “free fall” was far from over.
A look at various seemingly credible polls shows that the biggest gap between Trump and Joe Biden is 10 points and the smallest is 4 points. CNN’s “Poll of Polls” shows a 9-point distance.
Recently, the race, which analysts say will define not only American politics but the world’s politics as a whole, looked to be over before it even began. But it is getting somewhat interesting now.
August 30, 2020: Another controversial police shooting yet of an African-American in the United States has received less US media coverage than the death of actor Chadwick Boseman, but that probably represents the ironic reality in America.
The “Black Panther”, the character that Boseman played in films, inspired children and adults around the world, but truth remains that he was the only Marvel Studio black superhero among countless white peers. That says a lot of things.
Tweets hailed his inspirational impact, mentioning the fact that Black Panther’s mask and outfit have been worn by African-American kids who could now play a hero without feeling awkward. But many tweets noted the painful reality in which Africans were mostly victims.
“For many black children, he was the first major superhero they could identify with,” a mother tweeted. “He was a black pride,” said another. “Never in life has any other film, franchise, etc got me to participate in cosplay,” an African-American woman said.
Many tweets mentioned that in death, the “superhero” would help raise the already-high racial awareness, which has been caused by several incidents in which black Americans were said to be unfairly treated, not least the latest shooting a few days ago of 29-year-old Jacob Blake, who was seriously injured and whose father said was considered by overreacting American police “an animal.”
August 29, 2020: By virtually telling the Move Forward Party and some anti-government protesters to avoid becoming their own worst enemy, or a “new breed of dictators”, red-shirted leader Jatuporn Prompan has shedded more light on the increasingly curious relationship between the new political camp and the Pheu Thai Party.
Both opposition parties agree that the charter must be amended, but serious disagreement over “how” has seemed to be simmering. In addition to that, Move Forward and Pheu Thai are fighting for the same popular base and the competition could turn explosive when the Bangkok gubernatorial election is underway.
Pheu Thai wants the Constitution to be amended through a drafting assembly, a process that would take Parliament out of the equation in the initial stages where proposals, sensitive or not, are put forward and deliberated over. The party has not endorsed Move Forward’s orthodox motion to reduce the power of the Senate, and has also vowed to leave the Thai political culture of constitutional monarchy intact. Pheu Thai’s stand has been strongly criticised or condemned outright by some leading anti-government protesters and Move Forward members.
Jatuporn in his Facebook has virtually asked Move Forward and the critical protesters to respect Pheu Thai’s stand, insisting that tolerating different opinions is the most important part of genuine democracy, something those scolding Pheu Thai claim to be fighting for.
August 28, 2020: Many anti-government protesters are zooming in on film stars and other personalities in the movie industry “who side with the elites”, and one big target at the moment is an actor/screenplay writer and his famous, long-running TV series, Pentor.
Kitti Chiewwongsakul is known for his stand against the Yingluck government, and showed open support for street demonstrations against it before the administration was overthrown by Prayut Chan-o-cha’s coup. Pentor, however, is a pure comedy that keeps away from politics, and Kitti, who co-writes the screenplay, has been largely recognised for his artistic talent.
However, some anti-government protesters and their supporters now view Pentor as promoting womanising and contempt for transsexuality. The series should be banned totally, they said.
It is unlikely that Pentor will be off the air soon, but the protesters’ campaign or threatened boycott against products that commercially support media content they don’t like has proven intimidating to a certain degree. Hashtags against Kitti and Pentor have been prevalent lately.
Over the past few days, Kitti was asked online if he was ready “to apologise to the people” now. “I don’t see why I have to” was his reported reply. “You (the one who posted the question) had better watch out yourself, because the one who may need to apologise could finally be you.”
August 27, 2020: In a lengthy press conference detailing its misery and ideology, the Pheu Thai Party sought to convince the student-led anti-government protesters that it was not trying to have the best of both worlds politically.
One day after being deemed a coward by protesters and their sympathisers, Pheu Thai leaders lined up at the press conference at Parliament to explain why it did not officially endorse anti-Senate charter amendment proposals by its opposition ally, the Move Forward Party.
Pheu Thai said today that how the charter should be amended should be entirely up to the charter-drafting assembly, which should be formed thanks to growing support both inside and outside Parliament. Move Forward seems to support the drafting assembly idea, but it had also come up with its own plan to “shut down the Senate permanently” through the normal parliamentary process.
Pheu Thai today pointed out that anyone thinking it supported the Senate forgot the fact that the biggest opposition party would have been a government core without the Senate’s existence. The party also said that because of its ideological activities, it had gone through the pain of party dissolution, “more than anyone else”.
August 26, 2020: The biggest opposition party’s on-and-off relationship with anti-government demonstrators has entered a low point once again, with its apparently ambiguous stand on the Senate a new thorny issue.
The protesters’ Facebook campaign has targeted the Pheu Thai Party for “refusing to permanently switch off” the Senate, unlike its opposition partner Move Forward. Pheu Thai is supporting the idea of forming a charter drafting assembly independent of Parliament but has been vague to say the least on the idea of erasing the Senate from existence.
The Facebook page supporting the protesters has been flooded with anti-Pheu Thai comments accusing the party of “failing to listen to the people.”
The page described the Senate as one of the greatest stumbling blocks against “genuine democracy.”
Pheu Thai is walking a tightrope over the on-going anti-government street protests, which have touched upon sensitive matters that could lead political parties to dissolution if they get too involved in them. A recent Pheu Thai warning to the protesters led to their outcry that forced the party to issue an apology.
August 25, 2020: The United States is unhappy with TikTok. The Thai government and Facebook are upset with each other. YouTube has been accused of “burying” or “suppressing” anti-US content. Welcome to the brave new world.
Many comments today by Digital Economy and Society Minister Puttipong Punnakanta may be debatable, but he was spot-on on one thing: “It doesn’t happen in Thailand alone. Even in America, lawsuits (protesting violations of freedom of expression) are abundant.”
Facebook’s reported crying foul over alleged Thai suppression of opinions flies in the face of Washington’s on-going war against TikTok. YouTube and Google, meanwhile, have been accused of trying to hide certain information that would put the American political system as a whole in a very bad light.
Puttipong said Facebook was cooperative over previous Thai government demands, adding that he had not seen details of the platform’s stand regarding the latest issue involving an anti-establishment page. But he insisted that every country has its own law regarding content on the social media and Thailand has only sought to enforce its own rules.
The issue has brought the previously little-known page to a big spotlight, increasing its popularity in the process.
August 24, 2020: Red-shirted leader Jatuporn Prompan said he wondered what possible changes the Move Forward Party wants to Articles 1 and 2 of the Constitution, which simply state that Thailand is an indivisible Kingdom and has a system of constitutional monarchy.
“For matters like the Senate’s powers, I think most people agree that there should be changes,” Jatuporn said during a Facebook Live. “My question is, what can you possibly change Articles 1 and 2? Please educate me.”
All Thai charters have stipulated very shortly yet clearly in Articles 1 and 2 that Thailand is indivisible Kingdom and the monarch is head of state, exercising people’s powers through Parliament, the Cabinet and the judiciary. The monarchial role is generally and virtually regarded as nominal, as political rivals take turn to the corridors of power.
Calling for a “more open society”, Move Forward, the reincarnation of the dissolved Future Forward Party, has suggested that key much-needed changes down the line would not be possible without certain “unlocking”. Only amending the top two articles could unlock what the party perceives as key elements blocking major changes, it said.
Jatuporn, who led a tumultuous red-shirted uprising about a decade ago that ended violently, is sounding pro-peace now. While asking Move Forward to be “clear-cut”, he said he wanted the charter to really represent the needs of the people, and he voiced support for the setting up of an elected drafting assembly to take away much charter-amending power from the orthodox Parliament. But he insisted that Articles 1 and 2 shall not be touched.
Earlier, he had warned against nasty incidents that could return power fully to the military.
August 23, 2020: Dusit Poll has sampled more than 197,000 Thais and 53.7% said they supported the on-going protests against the government while 42.1% disagreed.
The poll, conducted over the past few days, overwhelmingly supported charter amendment, however. Nearly 63% agreed with amending the Constitution, against 24.8%.
More than 59% thought the protests were a democratic exercise. Over 41%, however, insisted that they did not want to see demonstrations touching the subjects like the monarchy.
More than 40% were concerned about malicious people taking advantage of the situation. About the same percentage said the demands were worth considering.
August 22, 2020: Even the mainstream media have been divided over the World Health Organisation’s prediction that the coronavirus will wreak havoc for two more years. Some celebrate the “imminent” human victory, while others have lamented the fact that lockdowns and shattered economies would continue for at least 24 more months.
WHO head Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has said it took the world two years to defeat the 1918 Spanish flu and he hoped the coronavirus would be overcome in the same amount of, if not less, time, thanks to the on-going technological advance.
Russia, which has claimed it has produced an effective vaccine, certainly won’t like what he said, which appeared to rule out immediate cure. Some mainstream media outlets don’t like it either. “Another two years!” The Sun reported, with a picture of the WHO chief with his head in one hand. The story was accompanied by a related development in which a second British lockdown seemed to loom.
Many other media outlets have sounded more hopeful, with the WHO prediction reported with welcoming tones.
August 21, 2020: Kids have the rights to protest, and their opinions shall be respected, goes the mainstream thinking at the moment. But what if some are unknowingly dragged into politics by shrewd puppet masters? Should that be called a violation of children’s rights?
The questions have been asked by Suphanat Aphinyan, a Thai academic working abroad. In a Facebook post, he said that it was all right for children who willingly or knowingly took part in political protests, but he voiced concern that others might have been manipulated and in the process have their innocence tainted.
“To some, certain information might have been planted (which is incomplete at best and twisted at worst) in their heads so they can be dragged into political conflict and become political tools,” he said. He added that true democracy and genuine respect for children rights should be against that kind of abuse.
August 20, 2020: The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has pleaded for restraint and reasons on both sides of the Thai political conflict, which is being exacerbated by on-going protests by youngsters.
In a 10-point statement, the NHRC issued strong warnings against hate speech, “monopoly of right and wrong” and called for respect for human and children rights and law and order.
It calls for measures to guarantee safety for protesters and respect for expression of opinions. At the same time, the NHRC said demands must be “clear cut and not vague”.
“All parties must open their hearts to opinions, beliefs and faiths that are different from their own,” the commission said. The current situation, it insists, must be free from provocation, violence and contempt.
August 19, 2020: In what could be seen as a major political concession, government whips have today suggested they were open to changing Article 256 in the present Constitution to pave the way for the setting up of a charter drafting assembly.
One condition, as stated by the whips, is that the the drafting assembly similar to the one that drafted the 1997 “People’s Constitution” shall not touch Article 1 and Article 2 that deal with the country’s high institution and the indivisibility of the Thai political culture of system.
Under the current charter, Parliament proposes and approves amendment to the highest law of the land, with the appointed Senate holding considerable vetoing power. Amending article 256 would allow the setting up of an elected drafting assembly that would propose amendment. Suggestions by the drafting assembly would carry a lot of political backing, making it a lot harder for the House of Representatives and Senate to oppose them.
This formula would possibly and virtually take the power to block any proposal alway from the Senate or reduce such authority. The government had balked repeating the 1997 Constitution model but coalition whips have apparently yielded to on-going pressure from university protests and parliamentary opposition.
However, it must be noted that amending Article 256 may still need considerable support from the Senate. Yet the Senate needs to be strongly united with government parties to flex its muscles.
If the Senate and coalition parties go different ways, the opposition will have a good chance of having its way. Today’s development suggests government politicians may be open to constitutional changes that would eventually reduce the power of senators.
August 18, 2020: Should Thais be asked in a simple “Yes” or “No” referendum first whether they want the much-criticised Constitution to be subjected to amendment? That is an intriguing question raised amid the growing calls for political changes.
The logic behind the question is simple: The current Constitution was “approved” by 16,820,402 Thais, or 61.35 per cent of eligible voters in 2016, so, to change it, shouldn’t those who supported it back then be taken into account?
Critics said the 2016 referendum was not totally democratic, simply because it was carried out following a coup when the military was in much control throughout the country.
Yet according to those seeking a referendum before the existing charter can be amended, Parliament deciding to amend the charter was not totally democratic either. The argument is debatable, but what is undebatable is that having this Parliament having a final say is paradoxical. That’s because the “empowerment” could equal “acknowledgement” of this Parliament’s “legitimacy”, which those clamouring for changes insist this Parliament does not have in the first place.
August 17, 2020: Democrat leader Jurin Laksanawisit has vowed to back the most contentious charter amendment issue for now _ the proposed setting up of a drafting assembly that would leave senators out of it.
It is quite a bombshell. Apart from strongly hinting that the Democrats would back the drafting formula that led to the “People’s Charter” in 1997, Jurin also suggested the election system and provisional clauses of the present Constitution should be reviewed.
In an interview at a northeastern airport, the deputy prime minister admitted, however, that all the Democrat ideas needed support from other coalition parties and his party’s parliamentary whips “are working on that.”
“This is the right time to amend the charter, but the Democrat Party does not have enough votes to push proposals through,” he said.
According to Jurin, the Democrat Party either supports or seriously studies the following:
- The drafting assembly model
- More freedom and liberty to the people
- More decentralisation of power
- Cancellation of the one-ballot voting system and return to the two-ballot system (one ballot for constituency election and the other ballot for popular vote to decide numbers of party-list MPs)
- Review of certain provisional clauses
August 16, 2020: In Thailand, the term “political peace” is subjective, so many people may have heaved a sigh of relief at the end of today when a possibility of bloody confrontation was apparently averted.
This is despite the fact that the current political tension is far from over, and the fragile “peace” can be broken any time.
The Democracy Monument invited congregations of people with clashing ideologies today, although it had been supposed to be a unilateral show of force of anti-government protesters led by university students.
Reports about those against the protesters’ extreme demands and activities also going to the monument triggered fears of clashes, which thankfully did not occur as of early evening.
Weeks ago, “political peace” must have meant the absence of street protests. Today, the same term means the absence of violence at protest sites.
August 15, 2020: A signature campaign condemning “aggression” and “distortions” by protesters seeking political changes has begun, as national divide, tension and calls for everyone to take a step back keep on growing.
Many academics and ordinary citizens have signed the so-called “First Statement” of the group calling itself a “silent power” who felt that protesters’ activities against key national establishments were getting out of hand. More have been urged to send an email to support the group.
Some analysts see the developing situation as eerily similar to the political climate in the 70s, when extremism finally prevailed resulting in a big and bloody political tragedy. Calls for understanding, sympathy and restraint have abounded.
August 14, 2020: Sudarat Keyuraphan has virtually issued a public apology to protesting students as her Pheu Thai Party struggles to control apparent damage from her previous “warnings” to demonstrators.
She is among several senior Pheu Thai figures who have called for government leniency toward the students and who repeated the protesters’ call for a House dissolution and charter amendment. Pheu Thai’s Wattana Muangsook said he supported freedom of speeches, although there were some demands he did not agree with.
Pheu Thai’s cautious approach, probably influenced by fears of party dissolution as protests lambasted the present political system and the charter stipulates harsh punishment for political parties seeking to overthrow it, triggered widespread and harsh criticism from the student movement and its fervent supporters on the social media.
In a Facebook post, Sudarat said she had warned protesting students against reckless moves out of genuine worries. “If my intention was misinterpreted, I’m sorry,” she said.
August 13, 2020: Police were said to be monitoring activities of anti-government protest leaders who are university students, some of whom suggested “something may happen” to them.
Many political figures have also voiced concerns that, with protest speeches unprecedentedly showing audacity and defiance against key establishments, incidents involving any of the leaders can trigger widespread, unwanted or even tragic consequences. The warnings have flooded mainstream media’s opinion sections and social media platforms.
The current political situation is so fluid that anti-government content on the social media has attacked one of the unlikeliest targets, the Pheu Thai Party. The biggest opposition camp has been accused of trying to steer clear of bold moves of the protesters, if not trying to abandon them entirely.
August 12, 2020: Scepticism abounds over what Russia claims to be the world’s first vaccine to fight the coronavirus, but President Vladimir Putin is ready to take all potential risks.
Critics, particularly those in the west, are warning that the Russian trial was far from substantial and saying that safety is being sacrificed for national pride. But Putin insists that “Sputnik V” was safe and effective.
Some scientists are among the critics. The rest of the world is both excited and cautious at the same time. Putin can’t care less, and his country is ready to use Sputnik V.
News from Russia was received rather nonchalantly in America, where infections and death tolls are the highest in the world, and whose political circles view vaccine discovery as extremely politically significant. Yet stock investors in America have reportedly jumped in on shares of potential beneficiaries of Russia’s proclaimed early success like medical companies, airlines and hotel chains.
The United States is making deals of its own with vaccine developers, whose possible achievement can also be touted as an American success.
August 11, 2020: The prime minister said he was “uncomfortable”. A senator said the “line” is being crossed. Even some usual critics of the military have been alarmed.
Youngsters’ anti-government protests have increased in frequency and audacity. The progressive mentioning of Thailand’s revered institutions has even prompted red-shirted leader Jatuporn Prompan to warn of ugly incidents that could open the door for another military intervention.
Jatuporn’s warning was made before Sunday, the day when what was said regarding “sensitive matters” at a university protest was described as publicly strongest in years. Senior journalist Pravit Rojanapruk, a well-known critic of the military, did not criticise Sunday’s content, but he expressed scepticism about the manner the protest event was organised, saying it could trigger the question of who was funding the protest.
Another big demonstration is being planned for the coming weekend.
August 10, 2020: The mother of all ironies can begin this week, with the Chinese poised to sue the Americans virtually for violating freedom of information under the guise of national security protection.
Here’s a recap of the developing issue: US President Donald Trump is banning the short, video-sharing app, TikTok, whose parent Chinese company he claims could supply Beijing with information threatening US national security. TikTok will not go down without a fight and is reportedly planning to sue the Trump administration on American soil as early as this week for its “unilateral action” and “groundless” accusations. Trump’s move was unconstitutional, TikTok insists.
TikTok says the national security claims were groundless and that the company was never given a chance to explain itself.
It should have been the other way round, shouldn’t it?
A lesser irony, perhaps, concerns whether TikTok’s US operations will be bought by either Microsoft or Twitter, or the Chinese would rather choose being banned and shifting the legal, moral, ethical and constitutional fire to the Trump administration. Such a purchase would allow TikTok to continue operations in the US in some form but the question of monopoly can be loud and clear.
August 9, 2020: Correcting or reversing the decision to drop the fatal hit-and-run case against Vorayuth Yoovidhya is by no means enough to fix Thailand’s twisted justice system, maverick politician turned political commentator Chuwit Kamolvisit said, citing an observation of late King Bhumibol Adulyadej.
The king once said errors or wrongdoings took place all the time, but those who committed them escaped scot-free unless they made a “mistake”. In other words, a wrongdoing or error only became an issue because the ones responsible were not careful enough.
The late monarch said something along the line of: “A person can do wrong 100 times but one mistake and he or she is finished.”
The king was effectively telling Thais that to tackle a social problem, cases not seen are as important as the spotted ones, Chuwit said. Therefore, the government “must go all the way” beyond the Red Bull heir case if it is to really solve the problem of injustice, he stated.
August 8, 2020: The Trump administration’s on-going move against popular video-sharing app TikTok has been described as something that would only benefit democracy’s greatest enemy _ dictatorial censorship.
In trying to stifle TikTok, President Donald Trump and his high-ranking officials have used terms like “danger to national security”, a popular pretext among leaders of “less-democratic” or downright dictatorial nations. This will weaken the American hand diplomatically when Washington has to deal with similar, albeit lesser, action of other countries, critics say.
Nanjala Nyabola, an author, activist and political analyst specializing in digital-age politics, noted that Trump’s move will have great global ramifications because new politics involved sharing of a lot of user-generated content through platforms like TikTok. What Trump is doing “is not unprecedented on a global scale”, the African analyst said, citing India, Iran and many parts of Africa.
What the world is struggling to come to terms with is “the fact that it’s happening in the United States”, Nyabola said. It was added that when Washington takes action against freedom of expression, it erodes the idea of democracy and opens the door for other countries to do the same.
Unless TikTok operations in the US are sold to American buyers in the next few weeks, a total TikTok blackout can happen in the land of the free.
August 7, 2020: Thammasat University’s advocates of political changes and Liverpool Football Club apparently cannot walk together, so to speak.
The “You Will Never Walk Alone” mantra of the LFC was supposed to play a big part in the Thammasat political activists’ campaign, but the club’s representatives have informed them that Liverpool considered the action illegal, and demanded that club symbols or logos shall not be used in any activity.
Some T-shirts which featured the Thai Democracy Monument and Liverpool’s newly-won Premier League trophy had to be remade, with the makers having to remove any Liverpool-related element. An apology has been issued for those pre-ordering the original T-shirts.
The initial use of Liverpool-related slogans, logos or symbols had drawn criticism from many.
August 6, 2020: The business community’s initial reaction to the government’s new economic figures following the Cabinet reshuffle was extremely cautious to say the least, but a high-level call has been made for the Prayut administration to manage the embattled economy like the way it tackles COVID-19.
In other words, it has been suggested that a special grouping of senior technocrats, expert politicians and leading members of the business community be formed and empowered to initiate and implement necessary measures. Thailand has been among countries winning praises for topping the COVID-19 survival rankings, due in no small part to involvement of people at the forefront of the problems.
“What we need urgently is a working team like the one fighting COVID-19,” said Suphan Mongkolsuthree, chairman of the Federation of Thai Industries. “We have had in the government people who worked in the private sector before and understand its problems but the task of economic restoration requires a continuous joint-venture between the government and current members of the private sector. They should work in the same style as those fighting COVID-19.”
August 5, 2020: The Pheu Thai Party is seeking constitutional amendment through the formation of a special drafting assembly like when the 1997 “People’s Charter” was created.
Pheu Thai’s proposal is unlikely to be accepted by government MPs and the Senate, but the biggest opposition party’s move will add strength to its ally’s push for drastic amendment. The Move Forward Party wants to remove all of what it deems “undemocratic” elements from the current Constitution.
Pheu Thai is submitting its own amendment proposal to Parliament this week, demanding the 1997 drafting model. The party will also have its name on the entire opposition bloc’s motion next week.
Pheu Thai’s Suthin Klangsaeng, the opposition’s chief whip, described Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha’s signal toward charter amendment as “good, but not enough”. Asked to comment on the Senate, Suthin said: “I think whatever is its stand, senators will have to listen to the people.”
August 4, 2020: Although the public prosecutors insisted today that the decision to drop fatal hit-and-run charges against Red Bull heir Vorayuth Yoovidhya was made in appropriate accordance with established procedures, the case is far from over.
Many people will still be sweating, not least the police investigators and prosecutors involved in the eight-year-old case’s initial stage, which looked like a solid incident of deadly, careless driving under influences of alcohol.
While today’s statement by the prosecutors seemed like insistence that the dropping of the case was justified, it apparently opened the door for a review. Some issues were cited, like the alleged use of drugs and opinions of speed calculation experts.
The prosecutors at the press conference today have no influential role in other government and legislative committees, set up following the public outcry over the decision to drop the case and closely watched by the whole Thai society. Today’s statement is likely to trigger a new wave of uproar, though.
August 3, 2020: The government needs to win to bounce back from sporadic but significant protests. The opposition needs to win to prevent the government from bouncing back. The Samut Prakan by-election on August 9 is not just a normal test of strength; it can be a huge moral booster for the winner.
Senior government officials are visiting Samut Prakan’s Constituency 5, as part of proclaimed “work observation” but critics say the visits smelled hidden agendas. However, anyone taking legal issue with that should also consider the fact that some politically-banned figures in the opposition bloc led by Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit and his top lieutenants have been curiously present in Samut Prakan over the weekend.
The visiting officials insisted they were not seeking to help Palang Pracharath’s candidate Krungsrivilai Suthinpuek, a former actor. Thanathorn, Piyabutr Sangkakookul and Pannikar Wanich claimed they were roaming the province to see how the provincial residents lived, and the tour absolutely had nothing to do with Move Forward candidate Issaravudh na Na, so there was nothing wrong with that.
Krungsrivilai won the general election in the constituency last year, but the court ordered a new contest after ruling that his Bt1,000 financial support for a funeral violated electoral rules. There are more than 172,000 eligible voters in the constituency.
August 2, 2020: An opinion poll has proposed a common-sense way of tackling a major political problem battling Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha. He was asked to sit down and sincerely talk with the young protesters wanting his ouster.
Such meetings have been rare in Thai political history, at least in open-minded ways. Former prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva tried to meet protest leaders seeking to overthrow him but talks failed because they were too much politicised and belligerence prevailed on both sides. In other words, egos and hidden agendas often got in the way.
However, the situation is different now but it is also more sensitive, with many youngsters involved in anti-government protests. NIDA poll surveyed 1,250 Thais a few days ago, and 42.7% of them wanted the prime minister to reach out to the young protesters, listening to what they wanted and explaining his situation. Those who wanted him to dissolve the House of Representatives amounted to 20.4%. Those wanting charter amendment and then House dissolution totalled 13.6%.
August 1, 2020: President Donald Trump’s confirmation that his government would ban the popular short-form video app TikTok from operating in the United States would send shock waves around the world, raising political, ideological and moral questions, fuelling a trade war with China and compounding the presidential race’s trouble in his own country.
It also put into spotlight a potential deal for Microsoft to buy the app from TikTok’s Chinese-owned parent company.
July 31, 2020: US presidential races have seen much mudslinging and eye-popping accusations, but never like this. A former US leader has suggested that not only America will badly suffer if it re-elects Donald Trump, but world democracy itself.
CNN calls Obama’s open criticism “one of the most jolting moments in modern political history”. To be fair to the US president, the network has been one of Trump’s strongest critics, lashing out at him daily and virtually calling him the worst leader for modern-days America.
Politicians claiming that a country will suffer if it elects their enemies is common. American politicians accusing rivals of fundamental human rights flaws is not. US voters are being told that democracy is at stake in the November election, and that Trump is opposite to freedom, responsibility, transparency and equality.
Trump’s suggestion that the November presidential election should be delayed has sparked fresh outrage against a president who critics say has politicised the coronavirus to the point of sacrificing countless American lives. He wouldn’t be able to delay the election, though, but fears have arisen of the possibility of a massive fraud.
Obama took serious issue with human rights, which are a foundation of democracy and which he said are taking a nosedive in America. “Today we witness with our own eyes police officers kneeling on the necks on Black Americans,” he said in a fiery eulogy at a funeral service in Atlanta for civil rights leader John Lewis as Trump kept public attacks on mail-in voting.
“We can witness our federal government sending agents to use tear gams and batons against peaceful demonstrators,” the former president said.
July 30, 2020: Whether Sudarat Keyuraphan will definitely be Pheu Thai’s Bangkok gubernatorial candidate or not remains to be seen, and it is not as important as the fact that the biggest opposition party has decided to compete in the city election, thus possibly facing contestants it does not want to face.
Sudarat strongly denied that Thaksin Shinawatra was influential in Pheu Thai’s gubernatorial decisions, saying such a “wrong assumption” could have the party dissolved on grounds of “outside influences”.
News reports had a split focus on Sudarat and Chadchart Sittipunt, who was certain to run in the election under Pheu Thai’s banner until recently, when he confirmed his decision to compete but left the question of which party he would run for wide open.
Pheu Thai leader Sompong Amornwiwat refused to confirm if Sudarat would be the party’s final choice, saying only that she would lead the party’s quest for a suitable candidate. It looks like the party would approach Chadchart first and ask him outright whether he would want to run under its banner.
Pheu Thai’s decision to compete put a glaring spotlight on its key opposition ally, the Move Forward Party, which is popular in Bangkok but has not announced anything regarding the poll.
July 29, 2020: Spying allegations. Warnings against incomplete vaccine trials. Russia cutting in front of everyone in the race. World news in the next few weeks will possibly focus on the biggest question on everyone’s mind _ when will we get permanent immunity against COVID-19?
Russia claims it’s on track to be the first in the world to approve a vaccine, more specifically in the next two weeks. Concerns have been voiced from America about its safety, effectiveness and over whether Russia has cut essential corners in development. Scientific comments from the United States have focused on the dangers of trials that are cut short.
The whole situation has been compounded by allegations that hackers have stolen crucial vaccine development from scientists working for the West.
Russian officials told CNN they are working toward a date of August 10 or earlier for approval of the vaccine, which has been created by the Moscow-based Gamaleya Institute.
The world order will very much be affected by the question of who produces the first COVID-19 vaccine, analysts say.
July 28, 2020: New-era political demonstrations need no strong, outspoken leaders who can attract crowds, and that is probably what the embattled Prayut government is having to deal with, a former senior security official, whose political fortunes were disrupted after the 2014 coup, has warned.
“Protesters are not bound by leaders, but just the sharing of thet same ideology,” said Paradorn Pattanatabutr, former secretary-general of the National Security Council. He served during the Yingluck government but his bureaucratic career was affected by Prayut Chan-o-cha’s coup.
He noted the “satellite pattern” of the on-going anti-government protests which have spread to dozens of provinces. They were triggered by the “VIP scandal” related to COVID-19 and have been amplified by the Red Bull heir controversy.
July 27, 2020: The fatal hit-and-run incident by the heir of the Red Bull empire took place in 2012. Let that sink in for a minute.
It was a crime much simpler than, say, the rice pledging case of the Yingluck government, or the crackdown on protests at Ratchaprasong by the Abhisit administration. There were no complexities of the ballot boxes’ “legitimacy” or controversial question of how much a government leader should be held accountable for a policy or its implementation that goes wrong. A cop was fatally knocked down by a Ferrari that Vorayuth Yoovidhya allegedly drove. It was as simple as that.
Yet through all periods of “democracy”, “military dictatorship” and “semi or half-baked democracy”, Vorayuth has remained a “free” man. Having fled the country, he has not been living in any secret or fortified hideout. In fact, through the years, Thai law-enforcement officers have known where he was, is, or has been. Those officers have been working under all kinds of government.
It’s easy to target outrage at a political system. Truth is, all systems are responsible for the twisted justice that, as the present punchline goes, “puts only the poor in prisons.” Blaming a particular political ideology in fact encourages the type of double standard that helps men or suspects like Vorayuth in the first place.
July 26, 2020: Politician and activist Warong Dechgitvigrom is urging the “new” old generation to rise up and be counted as the Prayut government faces street protests by students.
In a Facebook post, the well-known politician who has suggested he is becoming a full-time activist said today’s adults are different from their counterparts in the 70s, who relied on university students to guide them intellectually and ideologically.
“The age argument might have sounded all right during the 70s because adults at the time, it can be said, did not have equally-high education. Not so many people had gone to university,” Warong said. “That is no longer the case. Today’s adults are nothing inferior. They have high education. They have high incomes. They have a lot of experiences.”
It’s up to today’s adults to give the new generation love and seasoned viewpoints, Warong said. “I would like to urge every father, mother, uncle and aunt out there to give the youngsters love, understanding and facts,” he wrote.
July 25, 2020: Can you handle it? A Thai-language political analysis ends with this question for Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, who is skating on thin ice amid continued Palang Pracharath problems, the highly-hostile opposition, and anti-government moves outside Parliament.
The yet-to-be-announced Cabinet reshuffle will certainly irk many in the Palang Pracharath Party, although it might please the public more than past shake-ups where conventional appointments of controversial politicians were the highlights. The same analysis sees the strengthening of Prayut’s ties with Prawit Wongsuwan as a positive for the prime minister but notes a political negative involving increasing unpredictability of resentful politicians in the government bloc.
The opposition has lost some cutting edge but remains more than ready to pounce, and can join hands with disgruntled government politicians on important matters like the budget. The government, however, certainly is more worried about what is happening outside Parliament, with youngsters gathering here and there to demand Prayut’s ouster, occasionally with very sensitive messages pasted on banners.
July 24, 2020: Sports and politics may be mixing badly on the international level, with English Premier League appearing to be the first to bear the brunt in China, amid its rising tension with the West.
Chinese state television appears to have demoted broadcasts of Premier League matches to lesser watched channels amid deepening Huawei-related hostilities with the UK.
Bloomberg initially reported that CCTV, China’s state terrestrial broadcaster, would not be showing the final round of Premier League games, before later issuing a correction saying that the games had been relegated to another channel. The development was linked to the growing hostilities between Britain and China over Huawei.
The games are usually broadcast on CCTV’s sport channel, but Wednesday’s significant game between Liverpool and Chelsea was broadcasted on CCTV 5+, a much less watched channel. Another highly significant match, Sunday’s game between Leicester and Manchester United, is also scheduled for CCTV 5+, according to the broadcaster’s website.
Huawei is facing a UK ban, and the deterioration of the Sino-British ties has been compounded by the Hong Kong affair. This week has also seen the closure of a Chinese consulate in America. Now, China’s diplomatic tensions with the US and UK have risen remarkably with the European Union an extremely nervous onlooker.
July 23, 2020: Whether former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra is guilty as charged will have to be proved, but she has made a very good point here. In a Facebook complaint, she basically said that the National Anti-Corruption Commission must move on and focus on things that really matter.
She, former PM’s Office minister Niwatthamrong Boonsongpaisarn, and Suranand Vejjajiva, former Secretary-General to the Prime Minister, have been faulted a few days ago by the NACC for malfeasance in office, for allegedly wasting 240 million baht of taxpayers’ money in hiring two media firms for the promotion of the “Thailand 2020” roadshow project in 2013.
The two media companies, Matichon and Siam Sports Syndicate, and well as their top executives, Thakoon Boonpan and Ravee Lowthong, were also faulted for aiding and abetting the alleged offences.
Yingluck also referred to another recent NACC action against her. The agency had ruled that her government’s transfer of Tawil Pliensri from the National Security Council to the prime minister’s advisory team was abuse of power.
“Instead of monitoring the government’s action and spending during the COVID-19 crisis, the NACC has sped up action against people perceived as political rivals,” she wrote from her exile abroad.
Her cases are serious _ one concerning alleged corruption and the other involving alleged nepotism and abuse of power _ but her Facebook post did bring up a major shortfall in Thailand’s fight against political ills: The country has never lacked anti-graft action, but all of the time it is politicians who have lost power who are targeted. Nobody in power has ever been punished for corruption or shown responsibility when scandals emerge. Anti-graft mechanisms’ rare focus on people in power has never amounted to anything.
It’s fair to say that every government, Yingluck’s included, has benefited from the twisted system.
July 22, 2020: Donald Trump opening up to mask wearing has amplified the following question: How many lives could he have saved if he hadn’t let the slippery concept of “freedom” get in the way for so long?
The US president had just publicly and unequivocally advocated mask wearing a few days ago, although his country has for months topped the world’s unenviable rankings of infections and deaths. He cited “freedom” as the main reason for his anti-mask stand. Following Trump’s U-turn, masks went up on the faces of many people who had not worn them before.
Masks were not a political question in many places else. In fact, COVID-19 has challenged the traditional concept of freedom or liberty in many countries. In Thailand, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha has endorsed another extension yet of the state of emergency, although it was made clear the special powers would only be used to enforce quarantine and not stifle political gatherings. It was a move that has both political and public health implications, and came on the back of the biggest street protest against him in months.
Prayut was among the first world leaders to wear masks, long before British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, although the latter tested positive himself. Maybe the Thai prime minister, in daring to extend the state of emergency, was buoyed by the World Health Organization’s praises for Thailand’s handling of the coronavirus. WHO was said to be preparing to do a documentary on how Thailand did it.
Conventional politics has tried to fight the virus, with many famous world political leaders a prime example. Trump’s about-face signals who’s having the upper hand.
July 21, 2020: To begin with, it may be no longer a one-day affair, when the whole world knows the results of the US presidential race hours after Americans cast their ballots. That, however, is the easy part, according to experts.
That it can take days for the winner to be officially declared is not a major cause for concern, no matter how troubling that might be. Real worries are being whispered now but they can grow louder soon, and have to do with the feared possibility that the November 3rd voting can be challenged and lead to a legal or constitutional crisis.
COVID-19 has guaranteed that ballots mailed in or decisions made outside the traditional polling stations would be a lot more widespread this time. Problems can ensue, especially if Donald Trump loses by a slim margin, the American election and constitutional experts have been quoted as saying. They fear that even Trump lost by a landslide, he can still drag the whole process through challenges and disputes.
The fears are based on Trump’s overall attitudes and his glaring failure to state openly that he would accept the results come what may.
July 20, 2020: As police meet to discuss possible legal action against protest leaders and public opinions are divided over strongly-worded messages against national figures or even institutions, the government has been reminded that Thailand had been tragically there before.
Senator Kamnoon Sittisamarn said in Parliament that the current situation where anti-government demonstrations have started to resume was sensitive and could go out of hand without short- and long-term solutions. He stressed that at present, protests don’t need to take place on streets, meaning the government could never assume everything was all right when the streets were quiet.
He warned that strongly-worded banners “that can upset many Thais” have begun to emerge at anti-government protests, let alone rude messages online, so the administration and security forces must be prepared to cope with the situation in a patient and considerate manner.
Most political protests in Thailand did not end well, no matter how “peaceful” they were in the beginning. Factors such as “third party”, evil propaganda for or against any side in conflicts, belligerent agendas, overreacting security forces often came into play.
July 19, 2020: Due to several factors including the state of emergency and continued fears of COVID-19, a political gathering at the Democracy Monument this weekend did not amount to something major. Yet.
But an unmistakable message sent to Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha is that while certain circumstances may be helping him politically at the moment, the slightest mistake by the government can end all the advantages and lead to huge consequences.
To him, the protest would not have looked scary without the “VIP” scandal. To be fair, it might have been a low-level oversight which caused the cases of the Egyptian soldier and diplomat’s child, but in a period where every Thai is edgy and suffering from anti-COVID-19 state measures, any slip by the government can turn into a political disaster.
With Palang Pracharath fighting among themselves, the Democrats starting to make noises about charter amendment, bad news continuing to plague the economy, and the formation of a new economic team pending, Prayut’s path seems to be narrowing into a tightrope.
July 18, 2020: With just over 100 days to go before America’s presidential election, the country is preparing itself for a new leader. The poll will be just a formality, a no contest. The gap between the two runners is too big, in fact so big that Joe Biden can do virtually nothing from today and he will still comfortably win.
That is the conclusion of all American analysts, and most analysts outside the United States. The signs are everywhere, it is said, including COVID-19 numbers that continue to soar in the US, clear-cut opinion polls showing Biden to have a double-digit lead at the moment, the huge difference between both parties in money earned from recent fund-raising, and Donald Trump’s own increasingly odd behaviour that is typical of someone who knows for a fact that he is going to lose.
Trump is doing so bad in projections that many in his party have cut him loose and told their constituencies to keep them so they can “check and balance” the future government, it was reported.
His campaign is saying it’s not over until it’s over, and that he achieved a miraculous win four years ago. But naysayers are saying that the miracle was before COVID-19 and, perhaps more importantly, Donald Trump as president.
July 17, 2020: COVID-19 has posed quite a few moral, political and diplomatic challenges, and here’s a new one: If intellectual rights violations mean the world can get a faster, and probably cheaper, vaccine, is that acceptable?
Western reports quoting US, UK and Canadian security officials claim Russian cyber actors are targeting organizations involved in coronavirus vaccine development. To cut a long story short, vaccine development information was being allegedly stolen.
That has raised concern about the possibility of intellectual property theft. But it has also raised an intriguing question. What’s wrong if stealing and outright copying can give the world a much-needed help faster and at cheaper prices?
The reports identified the Russian hacking group as APT29, which also goes by the name “the Dukes” or “Cozy Bear.”
According to CNN, Cozy Bear is one of two hacking groups with alleged links to Russian intelligence that is believed to have accessed the Democratic National Committee’s internal systems in the lead-up to the 2016 US election. Latest claims were the first time this group has been named in connection to cyberattacks related to the coronavirus pandemic.
The Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said Thursday that Russia “has nothing to do” with the hacking attacks targeting organizations involved in coronavirus vaccine development, according to the state-run news agency TASS.
July 16, 2020: In a remark that can be seen as going against the flow, leading academic and former political activist Thirayuth Boonmee said COVID-19 is opening the door for something that is much harder to achieve during normal times _ the end of national divide.
As the “VIP” incidents and the resignations of the government’s economic team have revitalised the opposition and threatened to deepen the political conflict, Thirayuth said he had seen positive signs of increasing “trust” among key political players.
He made the statement earlier this week as the government was reeling from the “VIP” treatment of “imported” COVID-19 carriers and the economic team’s departure which was prompted by infighting in the Palang Pracharath Party.
Thirayuth said he understood public anger related to the “VIP” issue, but he said what the government had done so far was acknowledged by the international community. He insisted that the mammoth threat of the virus would still be around for at least the next two years, and political stability and unity were required to deal with the situation.
He said at a public forum at the Rangsit University that “new normal” would be nothing without a new political paradigm, which can be achieved through serious reconciliation efforts.
“I have seen a promising sign, which is increased trust among people who matter,” Thirayuth said. “The question is how we take advantage of that.”
He voiced support for a legislative reconciliation plan, but admits that its scope must be carefully thought through to prevent fresh and serious disagreement. “The time has come for it to really happen, on conditions acceptable to all sides,” he said.
July 15, 2020: How much damage can be repaired with the prime minister’s visit to Rayong today remains to be seen, but already in great jeopardy following the “VIP treatment” of some COVID-19 carriers is the state of emergency, which Thais apparently accepted with clenched jaws.
A key opposition figure, Pheu Thai’s Sudarat Keyuraphan, has been leading predictable attacks on the state of emergency, which gives the government special powers in dealing with the virus, by pointing out that leniency for “privileged” people meant the administration was only hiding behind Thais’ fears of the outbreak.
According to Sudarat, the state of emergency “is only used to control” the political situation, not the COVID-19 spread. Opposition leaders had admitted before that political activities such as big gatherings have been rendered impossible by fears of the virus and the government’s special powers, but public anger over the “VIP” cases has opened the door for another attack on the state of emergency, which had been extended time and again amid the government’s insistence that everyone’s guards “must not be lowered”.
The opposition is smelling blood, and Sudarat’s comments will be massively echoed in the next few days as the government ponders what to do with the months-long state of emergency.
July 14, 2020: Government figures left and right have started to come out to say they are sorry. However, political damage will remain and everyone is holding his breath for the real damage of letting “VIP” carriers of COVID-19 have undeserved privileges to go places.
As the issue of “VIP infections” on the loose threatens to politically undo all the positives of the government’s handling of the virus crisis, the real damage will not be known for at least a few more days. As everyone must have known by now, one infected person can cause a disaster if allowed to roam unchecked.
Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha has publicly apologised for the “VIP” incident, but he will have to join other officials concerned in biting their nails for the next two weeks.
July 13, 2020: What was never controversial about “red-shirted villages” was who created them. Not any more. According to a red-shirted leader, albeit an inactive one, his dormant movement from the very beginning never advocated founding what were perceived by many as extremist ideological communities.
Jatuporn Prompan, leader of the National United Front of Democracy Against Dictatorship, has insisted that the highest level of the UDD was never involved in the setting up of the villages, which were politically associated with Thaksin Shinawatra and commonly alleged to prefer a revamp of the Thai political system and culture.
Jatuporn also declared that there was only one political system in his heart _ constitutional monarchy. In other words, he insisted that his UDD movement was never bent on upending Thailand’s political culture and system.
Jatuporn was unclear, though, on whether any lower-ranked UDD members were involved in the setting up of the villages.
“The UDD leaders never advocated the setting up of the villages from the very beginning,” he said. “But they had to go with the flow and have had to swallow blood (pain) when serious accusations (like attempts to undermine the monarchy) were hurled against the village plan.”
Now that some creators of the villages have made a U-turn, there was nothing the existing UDD leaders could do, he explained. “It’s not my duty to come out and say what a pity (that the red-shirted villages are no more.”
Jatuporn’s puzzling comments have come against a backdrop of some UDD members involved with the villages joining or backing the government’s plan to “dilute the colours”, which has resulted in villagers disavowing their red-shirt community logo. UDD senior members have also faced serious legal action, much of which stemming from the founding and activities of the red-shirted villages.
July 12, 2020: What do the United States, Brazil, and England _ the three countries reeling badly from COVID-19 _ have in common? They have defiant political leaders or politicians who balk at or used to balk at mask wearing.
Donald Trump and Boris Johnson have only started to don masks in public, despite their countries being ravaged by the deadly virus. Their previous stance on mask wearing apparently had to do with political reasons, which seemed to override health care concerns. It’s more or less the same in Brazil, which is ranked unenviably second on the COVID-19 table.
Thailand’s political leaders left and right have been wearing masks for months, although the country has gone almost 50 days without cases originating locally.
Are political leaders responsible for their countries’ COVID-19 numbers? In other words, can irresponsible politicians put people’s lives in danger? Studies are saying “Yes”, as the majority of infections had to do with asymptomatic people harbouring the virus. Face masks could significantly reduce transmission from such “silent” carriers.
July 11, 2020: Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha must not gamble with the country’s fragile economic and political future when adjusting his Cabinet in the face of problems in government coalition parties, former House speaker Arthit Urairat insisted.
Turmoil in the ruling Palang Pracharath Party might require forming a new economic team of the government, but Arthit warned that if vested interests overshadow national ones, the country, battered economically by COVID-19 like the rest of the world, will be doomed.
Opinion polls, influenced largely by the Palang Pracharath problems, have shown the majority of Thais losing faith in political parties, rapidly and across the board.
“Thailand is facing a big economic war, and if the (Cabinet) cake is divided just to please the eaters, the country will certainly be doomed,” Rangsit University Rector Arthit said on his Facebook.
July 10, 2020: Deputy prime ministers Prawit Wongsuwan and Somkid Jatusripitak both say it’s up to the biggest boss, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, to decide whether the government’s economic team will be changed a bit, or changed a lot, or revamped. But Prawit was too vague for comfort and Somkid sounded all but provocative.
The “Four Boys” camp’s decision to leave the Palang Pracharath Party has apparently made a Cabinet reshuffle almost unavoidable, and, traditionally, Prawit, the party’s new leader, will have to send new nominations to the prime minister. But Prawit, also traditionally, has refused to say if he would propose any ministerial change to Prayut. “The prime minister will have a final say,” Prawit said, reiterating that his own task is to make Palang Pracharath members “love one another.”
Somkid, in a separate interview, addressed the question about a Cabinet reshuffle with intriguing remarks, not least because he has been overseeing the current economic team of the Prayut administration. Whether he intended it or not, comments such as “I’ve been prepared since last year” and “I’m old” could serve to inflame speculation that the government’s economic supervision is about to undergo a wholesale change.
When he was asked if his heart was still in it, Somkid said something to the effect of he had learned not to get too attached to anything a long time ago.
He did repeat Prawit’s line regarding the prime minister’s final decision, however. National interests, not personal interests, are what Prayut would look at, he said.
July 9, 2020: On one side is a very senior military man, without whom Prayut Chan-o-cha’s post-coup situation would have been a lot rockier, and on the other are those who arguably made the prime minister’s transition to a “civil rule” less stormy.
The latter have resigned from the party that was instrumental in helping Prayut maintain political power, while the former has officially taken the Palang Pracharath helm.
Prawit Wongsuwan and the “Four Boys” camp are far from perfect, but both have been influential in how Prayut managed to rule through political storms after the 2014 military takeover and transit from a coup leader to a post-election prime minister. The two sides are drifting apart, and Prayut is now a leader torn between two sides he probably could not live without.
The “Four Boys” camp, despite quitting Palang Pracharath, will want to see how Prayut handles a Cabinet reshuffle. But so will Prawit and his backers. Prayut must be hoping he does not have to choose, but politics usually requires otherwise.
July 8, 2020: Donald Trump’s haters may shrug at a new book describing him as a dangerous man with a twisted mind and ask “What’s news?”, and his supporters may see Mary Trump as merely a resentful niece of the US president.
Her book, “Too much and never enough: How my family created the world’s most dangerous man”, will very likely become a best seller though, especially with the looming presidential race and the incumbent reeling from COVID-19, stormy and curious relationship with China and racial and human rights issues.
The newly-released book, the content of which is being publicised by various mainstream media outlets, depicts him as a university cheater, womaniser, narcissist and impulsive bully. She voted for Hillary Clinton last time and avoided showing up at Trump’s parties because she feared her intense hate for him would show all over her face. She claims he is a bad uncle who destroyed her father.
July 7, 2020: The United States is “looking at” banning Chinese social media apps, including highly-popular TikTok, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has said.
Pompeo suggested the possible move during an interview with Fox News’ Laura Ingraham, saying that “we’re taking (the issue with Chinese social media apps) very seriously.” TikTok has drawn its users, a massive number of youngsters worldwide, to some anti-US content online.
Amid growing tension between the two countries due to the Hong Hong issue and COVID-19, Pompeo was asked by Ingraham whether the United States should be considering a ban on Chinese social media apps, “especially TikTok.”
“With respect to Chinese apps on people’s cell phones, I can assure you the United States will get this one right too, Laura,” he said. “I don’t want to get out in front of the President [Donald Trump], but it’s something we’re looking at.”
Washington’s top diplomat added that people should only download the app “if you want your private information in the hands of the Chinese Communist Party.”
July 6, 2020: What about horses, circus animals and competition birds or pigeons? This is one key argument in the rising controversy over the Thai use of monkeys to collect coconuts, a practice decried by some Europeans seeking to ban Thai coconuts.
Even key Thai opposition figures, who usually make critical comments when it comes to basic “rights” in Thailand, have been tongue-tied. The use of monkeys has been a way of life in Thailand, not different from the uses of horses to pull carriages or elephants in the logging business. There are also zoos or maritime zoos all over the world where animals or fish are more or less “abused”. Many Muslim people raise pigeons for contests, so should products from their communities or countries be banned too?
And to stretch it a little bit, should the Christmas tale be rewritten a little bit because the part about Santa Claus and his reindeers subtly put it in children’s heads that animal labour is perfectly all right?
In a world where exports from America, where black lives allegedly matter less than white lives, are doing fine in Europe, the European fuss about Thai monkeys sounds quite curious.
July 5, 2020: The latest NIDA poll appears not encouraging for both sides in the power struggle in the ruling Palang Pracharath Party when it comes to the key question of who should handle the economy.
Incumbent Finance Minister Uttama Savanayana and Energy Minister Sontirat Sontijirawong should be replaced in a Cabinet reshuffle, 44.7% and 41.1% of 1,251 Thais surveyed said respectively. A little over 38% still supported Uttama while Sontirat’s fans amounted to 36%.
But when asked about Narumon Pinyosinwat, a Palang Pracharath figure tipped to head the government’s economic team if there is a reshuffle, over 44% thought she was not ready due to a lack of experience. However, 32.45% wanted to give her a chance.
Opinions on the entire Cabinet were split. About 43% wanted a Cabinet revamp, but 39% would be satisfied with selective changes.
July 4, 2020: You will not see this everyday. Thailand’s Army has pleaded with critics for understanding so that senior members of its American counterpart can visit the country without controversy.
Earlier rumours had it that the 10 US delegates had sought to forgo COVID-19 testing for the July 9-10 visit, causing widespread criticism on the social media. The Thai Army has labelled that “fake news”, saying testing would take place as usual, only at a private venue.
On its Facebook page, the Thai Army said the visitors were willing to comply with every Thai measure and will have been guaranteed in the United States as virus-free 72 hours before leaving for Thailand. The page said the delegates would land at the military airport to avoid disrupting routines at the commercial airports.
The high-level delegation is scheduled to meet Army chief Apirat Kongsompong and Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha.
In an unrelated development, the Move Forward Party has decided to name Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, who is under a political ban, as a member of the House budget vetting committee despite slim chances of the nomination passing the final hurdle. A similar nomination created a big controversy last year, prompting Thanathorn to say “If they don’t want me here, I will be with the people” before bowing out. What will happen this time remains to be seen.
Thanathorn has defended the fresh nomination saying examining the annual budget was not a “political” work, but what ordinary Thai citizens have to right to do.
July 3, 2020: Two curious cases of donated money are disturbing Thai politics at the moment, with signs the controversies could escalate. The first one involves an online celebrity who first sparked an uproar with a post admiring Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan. The second one concerns Pannika Wanich of the now-dissolved Future Forward Party.
Sean Hiranburana, who called Prawit a very nice guy unlike what the media tried to portray him, is having to answer questions about money donated to fight forest fire. While this controversy is not favourable to the government, the other one is threatening one of Thailand’s most popular political camps.
Pannika had vowed to sue “within 24 hours” a government politician who implied that not all money donated for people affected economically by COVID-19 through her political group as part of its “May Day” event reached deserved recipients. Four days have passed and there is no sign of Pannika’s lawsuit, the accuser, Boonkua Pussathevo, said, prompting sarcastic calls from pro-government figures for her to make good her threat.
Pro- and anti-government social media users, politicians and activists have called for serious action on both cases, and charges of hypocrisy have been furiously traded.
July 2, 2020: A red-shirted leader is the latest to join the House dissolution debate, sparked by a curious remark by Deputy Prime Minister Somkid Jatusripitak.
Jatuporn Prompan viewed Somkid’s remark as highly unusual, but the activist warned that people who believe a House dissolution would definitely lead to an election should think carefully.
“We are not Singapore, whose politics has been virtually uninterrupted,” Jatuporn said in a Facebook Live programme. “Their House dissolution is an adjustment strategy (aimed at coping with economic problems). As for us, never assume that a new election will surely follow a House dissolution.”
Instead of pushing for a House dissolution, warring Thai politicians should cooperate more during this hard time, he said. Jatuporn also noted that Somkid’s mention of Singapore’s political development was “unusual” because the latter was always careful about what he said.
July 1, 2020: Whether Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam is trying to put the cat back into the bag is up for debate. He has said today that another deputy prime minister, Somkid Jatusripitak, publicly mentioned Singapore’s House dissolution just because it was relevant to his talks with the media, not because the Thai government was thinking about the same thing.
Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has dissolved parliament for snap elections months before they are due and even as the city-state battles the coronavirus pandemic. In a statement reported widely by the media, Somkid said while overseeing a government SME-supporting event that all nations were struggling with bad economies, and Singapore’s solution was to call for a snap election to start afresh and be extremely prepared.
With continued problems in the ruling Palang Pracharath Party threatening his Cabinet role, which focuses on the economy, Somkid’s remark has been picked up left and right and created considerable ripples.
Wissanu repeated what Somkid apparently had told the Cabinet, that the latter mentioned Singapore as an example of how countries prepared themselves for economic storms. “The deputy prime minister was talking to reporters only,” Wissanu said, and suggested that Somkid’s remark was being overly politicised.
Wissanu was also asked by reporters outright if the Cabinet had discussed the possibility of a House dissolution. “No” was his reply.