US TikTok action triggers charges of grand-scale hypocrisy

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.

Speculation about a ban has been rife over the past few weeks, after the State Department openly criticised the app. “As far as TikTok is concerned, we’re banning them from the United States,” Trump said to reporters while aboard Air Force One, shortly after former president Barack Obama virtually branded him a threat to democracy.
As to how a ban will occur, President Trump said he could use emergency economic powers or an executive order. It was not immediately clear what such an order would look like, and whether TikTok was commonly perceived as a threat by political rivals in America. Beyond attacking Trump, the app played a big role in discrediting the US system as a whole, not just the sitting president. Even some American analysts disliking Trump fear TikTok could help “outside interventions” of US presidential elections.
As for America’s allies, they would face varying degrees of pressure regarding the poplar app, which US critics say collecting personal information that could be abused by Chinese rulers but which is very popular among western and eastern youngsters.

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.”

TikTok, which is owned by Beijing-based startup ByteDanc, has been repeatedly criticized by US politicians who accused the short-form video app of being a threat to national security. They allege that the company could be compelled to “support and cooperate with intelligence work controlled by the Chinese Communist Party.”
Users have been virally guided to watch certain anti-US content including a controversial video on YouTube that makes a shocking claim that America has been using movies and its purportedly “pro-democracy” media to push its own agenda and brainwash the whole world. The video has recorded more than 20 million views and counting.
TikTok, which has not officially reacted to the latest high-level US criticism, had said previously that it operated separately from ByteDance. It was quoted by western media as saying that its data centers are located entirely outside of China, and that none of that data is subject to Chinese law.

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.

 

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