18 July 2024

June 30, 2024: There are two types of politicians _ the chameleons who are exciting because they are constantly unpredictable, and those who are boring because they can never change.

Like him or hate him, Chuan Leekpai can be a model for, ironically, today’s exciting radicals who could remain radicals 30 years from now, in which case they will become boring.

The former prime minister and former Democrat leader is the type of politicians who, reporters know, would give as much substance in a 15-minute interview as he would give in a one-hour question&answer.  And it doesn’t matter whether it’s 15 minutes or one hour, because he would strive to be the father of elusiveness in both occasions.

That has been the case for three decades, and today’s Chuan is as, if not more, careful. He sticks with ideology, of course, but he is elusive all the same.

Take the latest interview, in which reporters wanted to know four things. 1) Will he leave politics now? 2) (In case he decides to stay on) What if the Democrat Party didn’t put his name in the party list? 3) Will his protégé Abhisit Vejjajiva come back as a rebranded good and resurrect the Democrat Party? 4) Will the Democrats possibly join the government?

On 1), he replied that if he gave the answer now, people would condemn him if things did not turn out the way he replied. Exact wordings: “I don’t want to talk about it yet because if I don’t do as I say, it will ruin my image.”

On 2), he said he didn’t think the party would do so, and that it would be acceptable to him if the party put his name near the end of the party list, in which case his long, continuous run as an MP might be over.

On 3), he said: “Considering his age, it’s possible.”

On 4), he said: “I’m just an MP of the Democrat Party, so I don’t know what its board is thinking. But if they want to ask MPs who among you don’t like the idea, I’ll show my hand.” This answer looks like he’s giving something, but Chuan in fact created more curiosity, because he didn’t say why. 

June 29, 2024: The American president’s election campaign team says he’s staying put. Jill Biden did not see what the world saw, and congratulated her husband wildly, becoming his one and only rabble-rouser in the process. 

But the above is not the reason why it is all but impossible to change the Democratic Party’s presidential candidate after Joe Biden’s dismal showing at the first face-to-face debate between him and Donald Trump just more than one day ago.

The reason why is that the midway replacement could make the Democrats look really bad, deceitful even.

If it took just 15 minutes or so for all of America and the world to see that something was seriously wrong with Joe Biden cognitively, replacing him would beg the question why the White House and the party did not see it months ago, during which there were plenty of red flags, opponents’ mocking videos, the government’s own insistence that everything was fine, that “cheap fake” clips were being churned out to mislead America about his age problems.

Fielding a new candidate would also almost definitely make many people feel that the Democratic Party did not really care about Biden and was just interested in winning to keep its own status quo. A lot of people would think that they wanted a new candidate not because they wanted to protect an old man, but because they feared they were going to lose the election.

The scariest question, which the Democrats surely don’t want to amplify, is who has been actually running America during the Biden presidency. Replacing Biden would make that question take centre stage.

How would it affect the White House’s foreign policies? How should the world react if Biden goes to Europe and insist that NATO must help Ukraine if he was not even his own party’s presidential candidate?

Having said all that, America’s ruling party is between a rock and a hard place now. There are months to go before the election, and if Biden is suffering from cognitive issues, he’s not getting any younger and conditions can deteriorate quickly. This is amid the certainty that what he does in public from now on will be under everyone’s microscope, and that Trump must have increased his lead after the fateful presidential debate (Post-debate polls clearly showed that).

June 28, 2024: After the first presidential debate between Joe Biden and Donald Trump, Americans have a tough choice to make in November, apparently. Should they go with a “liar”, or should they stick with someone who is apparently “too old” to continue?

That’s a painful democratic choice for voters in a country whose system is considered by much of the world as a “model” and supposed to underline the fact that the citizens deserve better.

When even pro-Biden media admit that the sitting president performed alarmingly poorly at the face-to-face debate with Donald Trump, the Democratic Party might feel the urge to go shopping for a new candidate. If that will really happen, it has to be soon, because time is running out.

Some commentators have stated that while Trump is old himself, he was looking incredibly young when standing close to Joe Biden at the studio. And while pro-Biden analysts pointed repeatedly to Trump’s “lies” that they said he spewed out on the stage, they could not escape the overwhelming perception that the highlight was the questionable performance of their own candidate.

Biden, it was said, failed to seize upon abortion, Trump’s court conviction, January “riot” or Trump being a threat to democracy. That was in addition to the general perception that the president momentarily lost his train of thought, not because of excitement but because of his age. Democratic sources told CNN that Biden’s performance was “Nothing good”, and that word kept coming back and lingering at the bottom of the CNN screen the whole time.

The Democrats were undoubtedly panicking, many commentators and reporters said during the immediate analyses after the “historic” debate. Biden, they said, could not claim he simply got too excited, because when Barack Obama used that excuse after his first presidential debate, he was young, inexperienced and overwhelmed by unprecedented circumstances.

Trump, meanwhile, looked comparatively energetic, and if he was lying as alleged, he was doing what most politicians do and his party and supporters would not care less. He was leaving CNN a much happier man.

“After watching the debate, even Jill Biden (the president’s wife) has decided to vote for Trump,” said one YouTube comment. It was a cruel joke which, however, may sum up the state the Democrats are in at the moment. 

Talks about replacing the Democratic candidate, which were considered nonsensical months ago and took place in whispers recently, are growing louder.

June 27, 2024: There is so much to read into the huge surprise of the senatorial election _ the failure of Somchai Wongsawat to make the final cut _ and the immediate analysis is that Pheu Thai’s declining popularity and clout in Thai politics are being underlined.

There could have been some back-stabbing going on. Yet if Pheu Thai has really been in control, it would have taken more than simple backstabbing to put Somchai away. He was even dubbed the next Senate speaker a few weeks ago.

So, it does not look like a usual disgruntlement accidentally affecting Somchai. He has been neutralized by a juxtaposition of shrinking Pheu Thai influences, the Red-Orange ongoing unsettled conflict and factional politics which is always normal.

It’s a big message to Pheu Thai (although on paper the Senate election has nothing to do with political parties). If someone who sat alongside Thaksin Shinawatra with Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin on the other side at a VIP table very recently can be dispatched so comfortably, this is definitely not a time to get cocky.  

June 26, 2024: What is the key, unspoken message of Euro 2024? It’s probably that globalisation has been tied to everything except the one thing that should have been without frontiers.

Teams like the Netherlands, France and England struggling makes big news. That is because they are crawling with players who have been performing brilliantly at the club level. In other words, players such as Virgil Van Dijk (the Netherlands), Kylian Mbappe (France), Phil Foden (England) have been perceived as underperforming although they are playing with their best compatriots in each position.

Some may argue that national teams have less time for practice, unlike club teams which happen to have multi-national composition. Another reason, however, is that, for example, Virgil Van Dijk at Liverpool has Mohamed Salah (Egypt) up front, Phil Foden’s striking partner at Manchester City is Erling Braut Haaland (Norway), Bukayo Saka (England) is helped out by Leandro Trossard (Belgium) at Arsenal and Kylian Mbappe often shines when he is surrounded by Spanish or Brazilian players.

In short, no one nation can or should monopolise talent. Nationalism rises or peaks during the World Cup, Euro or the Olympics, but truth is that talent in every single field can truly benefit when borders disappear.

Globalised infrastructures, finances and politics have to maximize the potentials of talent. That’s not happening as fast as it should, no matter how fast we think globalisation is at the moment. 

June 25, 2024: Julian Assange divides opinions, daring everyone proclaiming to be democratic to dig deep into his or her own soul. He is probably doing so, too, because current speculation is about some sort of a compromise.

When he did it, he and his supporters must have considered him to be a hero. Many others did not think so and regard him as a threat to national security. As we know, there are thin lines between the two; democracy (as we know it) and anarchy; government confidentiality and freedom of information; and what hidden truth should be called _ necessary secrets or cover-ups.

So, is authoritarianism necessary for democracy? Or must true democracy be absolute transparency? People going after Assange or his critics certainly think that there have to be secrets even in a democracy. Everybody knew he didn’t think so. What he is thinking now, or what will happen now, nobody knows.  

June 24, 2024: Move Forward will be dissolved, and allies will stab the prime minister in the back but they will be unable to kill him, the majority of Thais sampled in the latest NIDA opinion poll believe.

Also, the “secret deal” that put the Pheu Thai Party in the government with the conservatives exists, the survey has found.

Actually, the findings are no surprise. They are what most of us believe has happened, is happening, or will happen. It is clear as day that Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin and his government allies are strangers in the house, with the former travelling for fun and left to talk about controversial policies virtually alone. Move Forward, meanwhile, must be selecting a new name right now and thinking how it can turn a dissolution into a political advantage.

To recap the NIDA poll, more than 49% believe either wholeheartedly or fairly that Srettha’s allies are plotting something metaphorically like the Julius Caesar assassination, but over 56% do not think there will be a change of prime minister soon (28.7% do not think so “at all” while 28.02% do not quite think so).

When it comes to party dissolution, more than 21% think it will most likely happen, whereas over 31% think it may happen. 

“Secret deal” believers are numerous. Almost 40% believe it firmly, while more than 31% think it is quite likely. 

More than 1,300 Thais are surveyed in the poll.

If the allies’ alleged plotting is predictable, so is Srettha’s reaction. “We are fine, because we share the same goal of solving national problems,” he said when asked about the poll. 

June 23, 2024: Most American politicians try to ban TikTok, but their contribution to related content has gone beyond hostility towards the app and entered the realm of love-hate relationship.

You can’t win elections in new-age politics without considerable understanding of the social media. That’s why Donald Trump has gone from “ban TikTok at all costs” to competing with Joe Biden on who has more TikTok followers, and why the latter’s White House has invited TikTokers to a function intended to woo support from influencers.

The New York Time reported two days ago that the Biden camp was “working furiously” to build an army of social media supporters who will create pro-Biden content for social media.

The White House event, though, reportedly backfired because Biden appeared infuriated when a TikToker asked him about cruelty in Gaza.

“I know you’re a typical press guy, you’re grabbing me in front of all this … but I trust you about as far as I can throw your phone,” Biden was caught on phone camera as saying rather angrily. “I have a good arm man. I can throw a long way.”

News reports said presidential aides had to step in to preempt a possible political disaster, but they could not prevent the damaging footage from going viral later. For the Republicans, it was a godsend.

But will the Biden clip actually help his administration’s much-criticised attempt to ban TikTok, an agenda that Trump could not go all-in and slam? When the social media work for you, it’s great. When they turn against you, it’s ultra-bad.

If what happens to Biden is an irony, look at Trump. The former president joined TikTok only recently, never mind his earlier effort to ban it. The new account surpassed the Biden campaign’s followers in less than 24 hours. Trump’s first video featured him alongside Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) President Dana White at a UFC title fight in New Jersey.

The video started with White telling the camera, “The President is now on TikTok,” and Trump following it up with, “It’s my honor.” 

As we can see, American politicians are not totally wrong in thinking that TikTok is being _ or can be _ used to do something affecting US politics, intentionally or else. They have refrained from the word “Brilliant”, though.

Is TikTok what American politicians love to hate or hate to love? You be the judge.

June 22, 2024: Weeks ago it was “persecution” of a popular political leader having a good chance of becoming president, and now it was an alleged attempt to restrict free expression. The United States is indeed struggling against a multi-pronged charge of authoritarianism.

Granted, TikTok is strongly associated with China, but general content is not overwhelmingly “Xi Jinping is the best in the world” kind of things. So, the app’s court filing has struck a chord with many, and the White House has no choice but to resort to the good old “national security” excuse.  

Imagine the former Prayut government banned X (Twitter) saying it threatened national security, and kicked western-related organisations out of Thailand. In several aspects, it’s similar to that.

On Thursday, TokTok fought back, against a looming law that could ban the popular app from the United States, arguing in its court filing as reported by CNN that US TikTok users could be forced to live on an “island” of content disconnected from the rest of the world if the platform is forced to find a new owner as Washington would like to see.

The legal filing also discussed the First Amendment which purportedly seeks to protect freedom of speech or expression. It marks TikTok’s opening salvo in what is looking increasingly like a monumental case that could not only determine the fate of an app used by 170 million Americans, but also how courts interpret the First Amendment and its relationship to all online speech. The ongoing episode may as well show the world exactly how America regards liberty.

There has been one irony after another. President Joe Biden and top challenger Donald Trump may agree on very few things, but a ban of the Beijing-based social network TikTok is one of them. Yet with the US presidential election is drawing near, the two are actively using the platform to woo voter.

The eventual winner will be unable to attribute the victory to TikTok. Which makes it quite confusing. But if the ban hypothetically materializes before the election, should the winner praise the ban for helping him? Again, it’s confusing.

The winner will thank the “voice from heaven” whereas the loser will condemn tools used to “brainwash” people. The loser will also decry “misleading” media outlets in complete disregard for the proclaimed democratic importance of “diversity” in the industry.

Trump criticizes “fake news” that attacks him. Biden slams “cheap fakes” that highlight his age problems. So much for “diversity”.

There is only one thing that is not confusing in the whole issue: Freedom of speech is defined by people with vested interests, not by freedom of speech itself.

June 22, 2024: The act in itself is not new, but the main reason is. The Move Forward-led opposition has an interesting culprit in explaining why it cannot approve the government’s 2025 fiscal budget.

Of course, it’s the digital wallet, a ghost that will never go away. Budget debate will revolve around the controversy, meaning Pheu Thai’s flagship policy will be attacked and scrutinised for the umpteenth time while the party’s reluctant allies can only sit and watch with something unfathomable in their minds.

Budget bills and the opposition are like oil and water. Yet, many times, attacks took place just for the sake of attacking. Disapproval is by no means headline news.

This time, disapproval can be extraordinary. Digital wallet and the government’s desperate search for funds that could make it happen have turned the state budget for the next fiscal year something to watch closely.

In other words, budget debate is usually boring, but cue digital wallet and the debate will stop being so.

A court injunction may even be sought, as the opposition warns the government that its “obsession” with digital wallet implementation is coming at the expense of other public services that can even be more important.

June 20, 2024: Years ago, Donald Trump claimed he was a target of “fake news”, and now it’s Joe Biden’s turn.

One of the biggest political issues in America right now is the White House’s extremely-odd assertion that the US president is being wrongly portrayed by right-wing media using “cheap fake” technology as being frail, confused and absolutely unfit to lead the United States, let alone one half of the world.

Recent footages of Biden actually made him look like an elder abuse victim, so much so that one may need to recheck who displayed the footages or where they came from. (Type “Biden” in the YouTube search for recommendation videos and everyone will be spoilt for choice.)

One such video has also been viral on X. It has to do with a skydiving demonstration in front of several world leaders in Italy that involved several parachutists landing near the group to welcome them. Video watchers can see that Biden was walking away, seemingly inexplicably, from the group and had to be pulled back by the Italian prime minister.

That made The New York Post front page with a “Meander in Chief” headline.

Government spokesperson Karine Jean-Pierre was asked about it the other day and her reply triggered an uproar.

“It tells you everything that we need to know about how desperate Republicans are here,” she said. “Instead of talking about the president’s performance in office, and what I mean by that is his legislative wins, what he’s been able to do for the American people across the country, we are seeing these deepfakes, these manipulated videos.”

The term “cheap fakes” was also thrown in, angering the mainstream anti-Biden media who insisted that their videos of Biden were never edited or retouched. To be fair, some moments were slowed down or repeated in videos in order to get the Biden-is-too-old message across.

In other words, the White House-criticised media are saying that what they got is what we see.

Attacking rival media is not new in America. When Trump was in power, he accused certain mainstream outlets of propagating “fake news”. Yet his camp and Biden’s hurling serious accusations against journalists has mocked the US-led preaching about “freedom of the press”. 

Age is playing a progressively important role in this on-going presidential election campaign. And it is one of the reasons why the first Biden-Trump debate next week is eagerly waited.

The age issue is affecting the Democrats a lot. Some Democrats fear _ and the Republicans hope _ that Trump could in fact benefit from public sympathy for Biden, meaning that those who loved the president in the way that they wanted him to now rest would abstain or even vote Republican.

Whatever the truth is, the world public now have another reason to watch the presidential debate. Some analyses said that Biden’s party would be as focused on the president as the Republicans on the debate day, which would go a long way toward enabling the ruling camp to assess his real chances of winning.

If Biden didn’t appear sharp or displayed signs of cognitive problems during the showdown, there is still time for the Democrats to look for another candidate, but the point of no return is getting nearer and nearer.

June 19, 2024: The issue of illegal immigrants is expected to feature in the US presidential debate between Joe Biden and Donald Trump about a week from now, with the Democrats and Republicans acrimoniously divided on the subject.

You either tolerate it, for humanitarian reasons, or you may think enough is enough, also for human reasons. It depends on who you are _ like having an immigrant being an unlawful yet inseparable part of your family or having a loved one killed by someone who had been let across the border because of too much leniency.

Trump wants to build a wall and send many back. Biden wants to widen the door and keep as many as he can on US soil. They will square up to each other over these clashing policies next week, a confrontation that requires eloquence as much as mathematic and legal memory. 

The Republicans believe that the stats concerning illegal crossings (which they say are increasingly overwhelming) and high-profile criminal cases are in their favour. To add to that, they think Biden’s age and his tendency to make gaffes in public will be their advantage.

The Biden camp hopes to use the subject to underline Trump’s “authoritarian” nature and promote the sitting president’s better “human rights” principle. The Democrats also hope to regain lost grounds in the presidential race by allowing the American public to simply see Trump talk directly. 

Wall or gaping door? It’s never an easy question. High political stakes are making it a lot harder.

Another presidential debate issue involves Ukraine that concerns massive American military aid, world peace and the growing significance of the BRICS grouping that is posing a big challenge to America-influenced political, diplomatic and economic world order. Yet an unspoken truth is that Biden and Trump may actually share an ultimate aim on US global supremacy, so the issues of Ukraine and Gaza may not be as glaring as the illegal immigration as far as their needs to appeal to voters are concerned.

June 18, 2024: The elephant in the room will continue to rampage. This is the exact opposite of more than a decade ago, when Thais burned down their own house in order to kill a rat.

Thaksin Shinawatra being granted bail is just a little more than time buying. It has some significance, because the “hostage situation” (if you will) remains unchanged, and Pheu Thai should find that it would help him more if the party sticks with the conservatives.

Move Forward (or its reincarnation) in power will not guarantee an eventual Not Guilty verdict. That being said, Thaksin and Pheu Thai can pin their hopes on the biggest party’s amnesty push.

The triangular game will just get more intense, with stakes higher for both the winner and loser. And the question of who is holding whom hostage will keep on testing your brain.

June 17, 2024: If you think reading, watching or listening to news is too depressing and you’d better be doing something else, you are far from being alone. A recent large-scale and global survey quoted by the BBC said that about four in ten (39%) of people worldwide often avoid mainstream reporting, up by about 10% from seven years ago.

The main reason cited by the big percentage of almost 95,000 people surveyed across 47 countries is depression caused by news, and the coverage of the humanitarian crisis in Gaza stands out as one of the biggest repellers.

Of the people surveyed, 46% were still generally or extremely interested in news, but that is down from 63% in 2017. Election news still held considerable public attention, the BBC quoted the findings of the surveyor, the Oxford University’s Reuters Institute, as saying.

The main author of the survey report, Nic Newman, told the BBC that news avoiders simply wanted to protect mental health and/or pay attention to other aspects of their lives. Some also felt powerless when it came to influencing key events.

One interesting finding is that print and TV mainstream news reports are continuously losing the usual impact, giving way to social media content. Another remarkable finding is that Facebook remains the biggest source of news on the social media in the United Kingdom, although the platform’s declining influence is also steady, while TikTok is on the rise globally.

Women and younger people are likelier to feel political fatigue. The latter group, however, has a big role in shifting news consumption. Short video clips are being more and more embraced whereas text-based content is struggling. 

June 16, 2024: Whatever happens to Thaksin Shinawatra this week, his globally divisive status will significantly lose its domestic and international impact, due primarily to one thing.

He has all but stopped being an ideological proxy. Until the emergence of the Future Forward Party which later reincarnated as the Move Forward Party, Thaksin was the ultimate anti-establishment figure perceived by his supporters to be politically persecuted. Some even called him a “champion of democracy”.

That proxy status granted him considerable convenience in seeking exile and building support among western academics, rights activists or media, as well as maintaining local backing and sympathy.

What happened to the Future Forward Party, Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit and Co, as well as what is threatening the future of the party’s reincarnation, Move Forward, has taken a lot away from the Thaksin-was-persecuted narrative.

Now, it does not really matter if he is jailed, or is released on bail, or slips into exile again. The shrinking narrative will not improve. Thaksin will not amount to much more than a legal defendant. He will receive more negativity than in the past, and not enjoy the same positivity in global news analyses as before.

Thaksin, an ultimate businessman who invested actively in stocks and was engaged in complicated tax schemes, simply got stuck in a prolonged ideological war between so-called “liberals” and “conservatives”. The former used to have nobody to turn to, so they propped him up as their hero.

That is almost certainly no longer the case and Move Forward is the new darling now. Even if Thaksin and the Pheu Thai Party, both facing intertwined major crises, come out on top, it will not be regarded as a “triumph of democracy”. The unlikely scenario will just be considered a political triumph. It’s as simple as that. 

June 15, 2024: There are only two types of conditions: Acceptable ones and those never meant to be accepted.

The rest are the details. Acceptable conditions may need to be tweaked. Unacceptable conditions may be understandable, or, in the case of Russian leader Vladimir Putin’s regarding his country’s war with Ukraine, taunted.

Admittedly, his conditions for ending the war _ Ukraine surrendering four regions and abandoning any attempt to join NATO _ are impossible. Kyiv calling the terms a “complete sham” and describing them as “offensive to common sense” is debatable depending on who you are.

But no matter what you think, the war will continue. 

June 14, 2024: It used to be that when the contenders of the American presidency square up on the podium before the election, it could swing a substantial number of voters. Two weeks from now, the world will see that it is no longer the case.

The United States’ deep political divide means Americans will watch the presidential debates, the first of which about to take place on June 27, from totally different viewpoints. A good Donald Trump performance will be scorned by the Democrats, and if sitting President Joe Biden does well, the Republicans will say he has been medicinally doped, and that unprecedented conditions may have helped him.

Very few, if at all, Americans will watch the debate with really neutral eyes. It will be like watching Prayut Chan-o-cha and Pita Limjaroenrat debating. One camp will never say Prayut had a good point on education, while the other camp cannot compliment Pita if he lashed out at rampant political injustice.

No barbeque party or any Super Bowl-type Republican-Democrat get-together will take place. The debates will not reconcile. Instead, they will just deepen the divide.

The Joe Biden camp is wanting to ease doubts on his much-scrutinised cognitive conditions and use new debate rules to prevent Trump’s tendency to play with the crowd and frequently interrupt his opponent. The challenger’s side is hoping the “Sleepy Joe” or “Biden the Gaffes Machine” will show up and thus self-destruct.

Some analysts also believe that the Democratic Party will scrutinise Biden as much as Trump on June 27, as no final and formal decision has been made yet on who is going to be its presidential candidate. Biden’s slump in popularity polls has much to do with his age and suspect demeanor, although the economy and ideology are also coming into play.

The usual debate organizer, a respectable national committee, will not host the June 27 event. CNN will instead hold the debate, a development initially frowned upon by some Republicans but the Trump camp eventually agreed with the arrangement anyway.

The whole world will tune in anyhow, possibly not to learn a good example but because American democracy is one unusual development away from turning into a major cautionary tale. The presidential debate, a proud tradition, can become anything but.

June 13, 2024: Bangkok Governor Chadchart Sittipunt’s apparent love affair with exercise equipment continues, with the latest controversy involving human-powered watercraft known as “the duckling”.

The Bangkok Metropolitan Administration has bought the exercise and recreation vehicle at a price higher than it’s generally sold in the market, it has been alleged. This claim quickly followed an accusation that the BMA was overspending on treadmills purchased for public use.

“Chadchart is not slowing down”, says a mainstream media headline. The duckling pedal boat was bought at allegedly several thousands of baht more expensive than the market price.

The information came from a Facebook page of the “Strong” club which has a sizeable following on the social media due to its perceived anti-corruption campaign. Accompanying the page’s scrutiny was a BMA own announcement on the duckling boat bidding.

“Wherever you dig, you seem to find something,” the same news article said. 

June 12, 2024: Don’t quickly assume that the Trump-is-persecuted narrative has been shattered now that the sitting US president’s son is convicted. In politics, anything can happen, like a politician in Thailand bombing his own home to court sympathy vote decades ago.

Hunter Biden has been convicted for lying during his gun application, with a possible yet unlikely jail term as punishment. Prison time is a very long shot according to many legal analysts, who point to the fact that he is a first-time offender.

Hunter Biden was convicted under a law seeking to prevent drug users from owning firearms. While we await the tell-tale sentence, the political apparatus of Joe Biden is saying that Donald Trump, the president’s direct challenger in the November election if things don’t dramatically change, can no longer claim he is a victim of the White House’s “weaponisation of justice”.

Look at what’s happening to the president’s son, the pro-Biden mechanisms say.

Trump’s conviction backfired badly against the US government. The Democrats are apparently hoping that the “straightforward” process of Hunter Biden’s case would repair the damage. However, people are comparing the enormity of his crime against the president’s son’s.

On the surface, it looks like serious legal violations of someone who was in high office and should have known better against illegal yet trivial oversight that, if at all, could cause less harm. 

June 11, 2024: Is what’s happening in one of democratic western countries virtually a monarchial coup carried out by an elected politician who considers himself a king?

Piyabutr Saengkanokkul, one of Thailand’s biggest anti-establishment figures, thinks so. And the fact that it comes from him is a jaw-dropper.

“It’s likely that France may now get a leader from the far right,” he posted on his Facebook. The angry tone made an apparent pro-democracy stand of his more perplexing, since an election is generally thought as a democratic exercise.

He said developments in France showed the country was creeping toward a system in which one “who is not accountable to Parliament can control Parliament.”

He said Macron was becoming an elected politician who wanted to be king, exercising power in the way that only monarchs in the absolute monarchy system would do. 

The former political big gun and France go back a long way. His knowledge and ideology were formed and accumulated during his study in the European country.

For him to turn against France vehemently used to be unthinkable. But all it takes is Macron’s dissolution of the lower house of Parliament this week that bewildered much of the world and angered Piyabutr.

Rightist surge in France is a big deal and can be a direct problem for the European Union. When that is coupled with signs in America where the Democrats are being on the back foot, the “liberals” have a genuine cause for worries.

Earlier, Macron confounded both liberals and conservatives alike. Months ago, in a perceived bid to make himself more appealing to traditionalist right-wing people, he suggested he wanted the French to produce more babies, perform mandatory national service and go back to wearing school uniforms.

That was the first time “progressive” eyes in Thailand popped.

But hold your horses if you are about to come to a conclusion that he is an absolute conservative inside someone who happens to be young. The man is a politician facing an increasingly tough popularity contest against far-right leaders. His “arrogance” is coming into play as everyone analyses his possible motives. So, it remains to be seen if it’s ego, or ideology, or a combination of the two. 

Macron is reportedly loved by many retirees despite being the youngest president in French history. More than once he politely dismissed the idea that he was pushing an “old-fashioned” agenda, although he insisted on the importance of “order” and “symbols” to restore common values in a “fluid society.”

As they say, today’s “liberals” can be tomorrow’s “conservatives”, and vice versa.

June 10, 2024: It’s the same as when your girlfriend says “I’m fine” and you know immediately that you are in serious trouble.

Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin, in his latest interview dealing with his relationship with coalition allies and the Palang Pracharath Party in particular, insisted he was not seeing any problem. If dissected, his comment reflects a major trouble that he tries to play down publicly.

The biggest evidence of big problems was his insistence that there was no need to sort things out with Palang Pracharath leader Prawit Wongsuwan because anything could be discussed through the latter’s representatives.

If you are holding stocks that depend on government stability, sell. Common sense calls for anyone in Srettha’s position to talk to Prawit directly on serious matters, or serious speculation, or serious rumours. When you heard that a friend was betraying you, you dial the friend instantly. You don’t talk to the friend’s friend or any other person.

Srettha said this: “I don’t (usually) meet Gen Prawit. Every time it was a discussion through coalition representatives, be it Pol Gen Patcharawat Wongsuwan or Thammanat Prompao.”

So, if that’s true, Thais are having a coalition government whose leaders are not talking directly on important matters. It’s a wonder what kind of discussions have been talking place on serious issues like digital wallet or the cannabis or proposed constitutional amendment.

“We are seeing increasingly weird signs,” said a mainstream media analysis on Thaksin Shinawatra’s statement which many believed was directed Prawit and which led to questions bombarding Srettha.

June 9, 2024: He has done the expected things of condemning Myanmar’s military junta and emphasizing the urgency of climate action, but United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres has sent chills down everyone’s spine with another subject.

This is not to belittle the issues that he was addressing. This is to say that his warning of a nuclear war is the most impassioned and serious statement yet by a UN chief since the Cold War. And he gave strong reasons to back up his fear that it might actually happen in the near future.

The reasons include the weakening of global mechanisms supervising and preventing the use, testing and proliferation of nuclear weapons; increasing application of AI and its growing unpredictability; accumulating world flash-points that are direct confrontational grounds of nuclear powers; and mounting excuses for activating doomsday tools for “self defence”. 

“Humanity is on a knife’s edge; the risk of a nuclear weapon being used has reached heights not seen since the Cold War,” Guterres warned everyone during what was supposed to be a routine, annual arms-control conference. “States are engaged in a qualitative arms race. Technologies like artificial intelligence are multiplying the danger.”

The following is debatable, however. He said: “All countries must agree that any decision on nuclear use is made by humans, not machines or algorithms.”

He might have watched too many Terminator movies and thus given humans too much credit. If AI algorithms are written for goodness’ sake, there should be nothing for us to worry about. If the algorithms are military oriented, whose fault is that? Aren’t humans the writers?

In other words, if well-meaning AI made military decisions, it would try its best to avoid Armageddon. If AI is not so well-meaning, we should blame the ones who planted the ideas. 

June 8, 2024: Whatever happens to Thaksin Shinawatra 10 days from now, it may impact Thai politics more than if Move Forward is dissolved or even if Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin loses his job.

Potential Move Forward dissolution could be just perceived as a formality, one which confirms what Thais and people around the world already know _ a deeply-divided politics of Thailand.

Srettha, no offence to him, is just a proxy. Late Samak Sundaravej is a testament to the painful fact that we all have been there before. Big turmoil it will be if the worst happens to the prime minister, but there are possibilities that he could be let off the hook in the Prayut-esque manner. In other words, a scenario exists in which the Pitchit Chuenban case will just fade away.  

But if Thaksin is put in jail, or if he is granted bail, or if he slips into exile again, it will be a totally new treacherous territory. It does not really matter what happens. There is no possibility that the problem will fade. The danger which has been lurking in the waters will loom a lot larger.

Some may say a bail should postpone a sudden earthquake. That might be true, but what will it mean for Thailand in the big picture and in the long run? Thaksin and Pheu Thai will try to hold on to political power over the next few years for his sake. They would do whatever necessary and it would be at the expense of many things including its already-estranged relationship with Move Forward.

The bail will just buy time. He will continue to be the biggest thorn in the conservatives’ side, or the entire government’s side if you will. Proposed amnesty will be potentially explosive. When an election draws near or if Move Forward (we don’t know if it will function under a new name in the next election) gain government power, the thorn will be in its flesh, too.

So, of all politically-important dates this month, watch June 18, the day he is scheduled to be formally charged, the closest.

June 7, 2024: It was a clever message to the Thai public. The biggest party’s declaration that it will not join hands with its former ally Pheu Thai is an apparent conclusion that it’s better to have a hen tomorrow than an egg today.

Pheu Thai would be stunned, but the message was actually meant for the voting populace. Pheu Thai with the conservatives is a freak, and Pheu Thai with the conservatives plus Thaksin Shinawatra and potentially his sister Yingluck is much more than a freak, and definitely a lot more than Move Forward can chew.

So, it’s absolutely wise for Move Forward to steer clear of all that and wait for the next election, which it will very likely win again.

Pheu Thai is in a more difficult situation now. An early House dissolution might hand government power to Move Forward on a plate. Trying to hang on could see others have more bargaining power while the party could shed its own.

June 6, 2024: Although there is no Constitutional Court injunction, the Move Forward Party’s leader is worried about potential, indefinite delay in the formation of a new “elected” Senate following the judges’ acceptance of petitions against the electoral process.

Chaithawat Tulathon said he was afraid that an endless stream of problems, complaints, debate, periods of vacuum could postpone the election, formal setting up and functioning of the new Senate again and again.

Already dubbed one of the world’s most complicated elections (or selections), the petitions accepted by the court might open the floodgates for similar complaints.

According to Chaithawat, it is not clear in the Constitution exactly when the Election Commission has to formally bestow the winners, unlike the House of Representatives election.

“There can be interruptions preventing the EC from announcing the winners, and there is a possibility that the current Senate will carry on with its acting status, something I believe a lot of people will not want to see,” he said.

June 5, 2024: How much the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration spent on exercise equipment may get scrutinised by the biggest political party.

Move Forward MP Suphanat Minchaiyanunt posted in his Facebook that costs of gym buys particularly ones concerning treadmills have “scarily” ballooned under Chadchart Sittipunt compared with the time when the BMA was under Aswin Kwanmuang.

It’s not that Aswin’s BMA was buying things at cheap prices, but it appears that Chadchart’s BMA was spending more suspiciously, he suggested.

Between 2019 and this year, the BMA has spent about Bt110 million on gym equipment, and Bt25 million of that was Aswin’s BMA’s spending, although the former governor stayed in the post longer, according to Suphanat’s information. 

Cost estimates for treadmills seem to have jumped remarkably under Chadchart’s BMA. At the moment, some have been set at several hundreds of thousands of baht more than previously per each unit, Bangkok MP Suphanat wrote.

It seems that purchases have been made based on the curious appraisals. Suphanat said the BMA has not replied to inquiries which he initiated and were sent through the House committee monitoring budget spending.

There are tables of pricing and purchase information in his hands and several figures were indeed eye-popping. The BMA, he concluded, must be prepared for visits by top-level inspectors.

June 4, 2024: One political rule is “NEVER EVER weaponise” (or never court the perception of weaponising) the justice system against political enemies unless you are 100 % sure. Whatever the case with Donald Trump is (justice served or conspiracy attempted), the Democrats are seeing his court conviction backfiring badly against them.

In the mid of a Republican “uproar” after Trump was convicted of felony charges last week, we could almost hear champagne corks popping within the same camp at the same time. Reportedly leading in recent popularity polls with the presidential election only months away, all Trump needed in order to hammer the final nail into Joe Biden’s coffin was a general belief that he (Trump) was being persecuted.

Valuable lessons are all over the globe with great examples being here in Thailand. Mind you, Washington was even accused of throwing its weight behind some “victims” in certain countries. (Which makes some conspiracy lovers scratch their heads because they thought the US government should have known better.)

It looks like such lessons are just starting to be learned in the US anyway. Trump’s campaign reportedly raised a whopping $34.8 million in small dollar donations after the conviction. The campaign said the Thursday haul was “the biggest day ever recorded” for Trump’s small-dollar fundraising operation on the WinRed platform, nearly doubling the previous high. The WinRed website, according to the USA Today, crashed briefly due to an overwhelming traffic.

More money is on the way. In the hours following the verdict last week, a number of wealthy billionaires posted messages of support for Trump, BBC reported. Among them was Silicon Valley investor David Sacks, who tweeted America was becoming a Banana Republic unless voters change that in November.

Sacks and fellow investors were said to be planning to host a fundraiser for Trump in San Francisco, with attendees reportedly expected to be asked to contribute as much as $300,000.

Another potential donor, hedge fund manager Bill Ackman, is expected to make an announcement on X in the coming days about supporting Trump. Although he had criticised the former president, the court verdict changed everything.

Israeli-American casino billionaire Miriam Adelson was reportedly poised to announce a multi-million dollar boost to Trump’s campaign this week, BBC said. (Or she could have done that already.)

US media reports speculated that while it was unclear how much she was planning to spend, the amount was expected to make jaws drop, amounting to tens of millions of dollars.

Here’s one TV opinion which is becoming viral: All US presidents more or less are guilty of big or unspeakable crimes, allegedly being responsible for secret tortures, deaths or destruction, mostly overseas, yet none has been convicted of extreme, malicious offences, so you have to be naïve if you treat allegations hurled against Trump seriously.

YouTube comments, some of which are claimed to belong to American Democratic voters, said after the verdict that they were swinging towards Trump now. Several Hollywood actors have come out against Biden, too.

June 3, 2024: It does not matter that a legislative amnesty campaign led to the downfall of a government led by the current ruling party about a decade ago, because valuable lessons are hardly learned in politics.

It looks like the Pheu Thai Party will try another crusade for a general amnesty, purportedly for everyone with unorthodox ideological belief for the sake of “national reconciliation”. Like in the previous campaign that led to massive street protests in Bangkok, some violence, closures of key locations and eventually a coup, the name of Thaksin Shinawatra will loom large.

The new push could be made through an ad hoc House committee studying reconciliatory amnesty legislation which Pheu Thai chairs. A committee member, Cherdchai Tantisirin, also a Pheu Thai MP, has confirmed that the panel believed a law was needed to bring Thailand out of a vicious circle of ideological fights.

Such a legislative draft could be sponsored by either the entire government or the Pheu Thai Party exclusively, he said. The ad hoc House committee will meet this week and final recommendations will be sent to the House of Representatives.

Cherdchai insisted Pheu Thai would be doing it for everyone including young political protesters facing charges, but he, when asked, admitted that there was concern the move would be perceived as an attempt to help Thaksin.

Cherdchai mentioned Article 112 a lot, although Pheu Thai’s apparent stance earlier seemed to be that this sensitive matter shall not be touched. He suggested that an Article 112-related amnesty campaign should take place at an “auspicious” moment so advocates or critics will not make noises that could allow emotions to reign over reasons.

“We will have to discuss in detail how the sensitive law can be written,” he said. “For example, should we put a firm condition that offences shall never be repeated after an amnesty? Or shall we say straight away that Article 112 cases that are pending are covered? Or should a committee be set up to screen individual cases?”

Apparently, Pheu Thai is expecting help from Move Forward, which, like the ruling party, has some great lessons in front of it.

June 2, 2024: While Bangkokians are generally “happy” with him, the city governor is unlikely to be completely happy with what they think.

If the latest NIDA poll surveying some 2,000 residents of the Thai capital is any indication, that is.

The devil is in the details. Anyone can be totally satisfied with the NIDA findings, but not a man who scored the biggest Bangkok gubernatorial election landslide in history.

In other words, if you edged other runners to the finish line on the election day, 40.75% of people surveyed saying they would vote for you next time, against 21.35% saying “No”, should make you proud. But if you got close to 1.4 million votes and your closest rival won just above 254,000 votes, 40% against 21% gives you a whole new perspective.

There are other uneasy signs as well. For example, more than 37% thought the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration was “apparently good” in tackling city traffic, against 34.4% who thought it’s “rather bad” and 17.6% who said it was “absolutely bad”.

On the surface, the “apparently good” is top, but if we combined “rather bad” with “absolutely bad”, it would be more than 50%.

Figures like these were all over the survey. Almost 31% thought the corruption problem was handled well at the BMA, against 27.3% who said it did not seem to be handled well and 18.3% who gave it an absolute thumb down. Again, 31% was top, but it would not be if 27.3 was combined with 18.3.

An exact 36% thought development of youth and solving their problems under Chadchart Sittipunt was rather good. More than 28% said it was not so good and 12.4% said it was not good at all. Obviously, 36% came first, on condition that 28% and 12.4% stayed away from each other.

It’s more or less the same on handling of the homeless and tackling of the flood problems.

Chadchart scored well on mass transport and organisation/management of Bangkok communities with the percentages of people who were “very” satisfied and “rather” satisfied clearly outnumbering detractors.

For example, more than 41% were fairly pleased with mass transport and over 13% were very happy. More than 29% did not quite like it, while almost 9% did not like it at all.

June 1, 2024: Will convicted Donald Trump become vindictive? It does not really matter much. What does is that many Americans think he will, and many of them think he even should, while his enemies will try a lot harder to pre-empt a scenario they fear.

The Trump-is-persecuted sentiment is also getting more prevalent among the Republicans, both in the Congress and on the street. In a country where there are just two political parties fighting for power, and where national divide is serious and expanding, this can be the worst environment possible.

The following independent voter was quoted by the BBC: I’m not a big Trump fan and I’m not a lawyer, but – based on what I was reading – this seemed like a very clumsy case. I feel like the jury was led to a foregone conclusion. And I do think this judge had a bias. What stood out to me was how they really hemmed in Donald Trump, keeping him under wraps with gag orders.

There are those who used to be pro-Trump but have been swayed by the court ruling as well. This group, however, is believed to be a lot smaller than the obvious-conspiracy-against-Trump population who, regardless of what the court says and how hard the evidence is, will vent anger on prospective Democratic presidential candidate and sitting President Joe Biden in November.

Pro-Trump clips are all over YouTube, attracting massive views. They have been there for quite some time but the court ruling has boosted viewing even further. It’s obvious that many Trump American supporters have been galvanised, saying they couldn’t wait for the voting day.

The deeply-polarised US media are upping the ante, apparently throwing more gasoline into the fire, with some openly discussing “revenge”. Even an article in a pro-Biden network says the court “victory” is coming at a very big cost.

It is very much the same when court verdicts dealt blows to Thaksin Shinawatra or Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit. It mattered little whether wrongdoings actually had taken place or not. What caused a vicious loop is what their supporters and haters believed, and how far they could go to enforce their thinking.

In fact, it is pretty much the same as politics anywhere else. Unless, of course, it remains America as we know it in the next few months and after the election. 

Daily updates of local and global events by Tulsathit Taptim