Why Prayut, or any living PM, has not reached tenure limit

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“It is not really that complicated and I cannot see any particular legal issue to bar General Prayut Chan-o-cha from serving the country for another four-year term. He will complete his eight-year term limit according to the Constitution in 2027.” That was what I had said in an interview to an English news agency, which aired around the world a week ago.

Why Prayut, or any living PM, has not reached tenure limit

Amorn Wanichwiwatana

Special to The Nation

So, what if things will not go that way? Of course, I only have to be direct and sincere that my stance is simply a legal opinion shared by many other legal experts. It could either perfectly match the eventual court verdict or go the other way.

In our country, we used to mess up the one ballot system and its calculation method by which we elected both party-list and constituency representatives. This ended up with us having several representatives, especially from small parties, who won the seat despite getting lesser votes than the ideal vote numbers. For instance, the law prescribes 70,000 votes for one MP, but some small parties could have an MP despite getting less than 30,000 votes, due to the “every vote counted” principle.

I have already challenged in many forums that the Constitution allows the Election Commission to find the proper calculation method by interpreting the law’s intent. I, personally, have always support the principle of “every vote counted”, but once we have already made a short-list of all candidates, this means their votes had already been taken into account and counted! Thus, anyone who got votes less than the prescribed votes calculated by law, must be ousted with no questions asked. Then we need to recalculate the votes of parties that failed to reach the ideal vote numbers and pass on the votes to top-ranked parties on the short-list. Some might agree or disagree with this kind of thinking, but it is fair enough. It is very similar to the way a Constitutional Court recently ruled 5:4 to suspend General Prayut from duty. Does anyone think that the 5 votes are more correct than the other 4 votes? No, we are not doing things that way, for sure! This is not only about legal opinion as I earlier mentioned, it is also the importance of majority rule and minority rights concept.

The same thing happened when the US Supreme Court, in a 6:3 ruling, overturned Roe v Wade, ending the right to abortion guaranteed for decades. I do not think anyone will say “the three judges are weaker or less intelligent than the majority six”. These are all about legal matters, there is no absolute wrong or right, especially in dealing with socio-legal issues.

I still remember current Deputy Prime Minister Prof Wissanu Krea-ngam saying at the time he met the president of the Constitutional Drafting Commission (CDC), Prof Meechai Ruchuphand, me and other members on day one following the inception of the CDC in 2015. He said: “In the previous years, we have had too many lawyers assisting the country in drafting a number of laws. As of now, we do need some socio-legal experts to share societal viewpoints and perspectives on social and humanity domains. Otherwise, we will always see things from the same direction.”

Thailand is currently administered by code law but is also influenced by the common law in many areas. Civil law or code law mainly focuses on the written legal facts that appear in the law, unlike the common law which may vary at the discretion of judges or jurors.

I found it really difficult when I had to participate in a B.CL. reading class in Oxford due to the large number of “case laws”. I needed to read similar cases which might differ from one another in terms of the court ruling.

As a spokesperson and a former commissioner in the CDC, it seems to be boastful to say that I am confident in my knowledge of the Constitution and all organic laws in which I got involved. This includes “the constitutional intent” that I also participated in, sharing my views in the committee presided over by Prof Supachai Yavaprapas, the former dean of political science at Chulalongkorn Unversity. I also raised questions if need be and am very proud to have been a part of the CDC, and that its president, Prof Meechai, is a democratic leader, who is open-minded and patiently listened tirelessly to all members’ arguments.

In the case of General Prayut, he had to be suspended from duty because the court procedure allows judges to use their discretion to do so for the sake of the majority interest. The court has not yet ruled on whether Prayut has to step down or for how long he can remain in power. We need to wait and see. I disagree, however, with those who apply the temporary clause (Article 264) in the Constitution to convince us that he must be expelled on the 24th of August. This is due to the intent of that article simply wanting to have the former government, prior to the new Constitution coming into effect, officially have the same duties and responsibilities as the government under the newly written Constitution should do. We all know well that a general election was not held at the time. We cannot interpret the law that General Prayut, or for that matter any of the living former prime ministers, have reached their term limits. Nevertheless, the court will have the final say and we all have to respect the court’s verdict no matter what.

Amorn Wanichwiwatana, DPhil (Oxon), is a political scientist at Chulalongkorn University.

Published : September 03, 2022

By : Amorn Wanichwiwatana

How does ending poverty help Thai society?

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This question was raised by one of my students in an English course titled “Social diversity and justice in Thai society”. It came along with a promise by the Prayut government to eliminate poverty in all provinces in just a few years, under its 20-year strategy.

How does ending poverty help Thai society?

Amorn Wanichwiwatana

Special to The Nation

I answered the student’s question by saying poverty is a real phenomenon whose eradication was very good news for Thailand and its ambition to become a developed nation. I still remember my high school teacher saying 30 years ago that our country was a major rice exporter and the majority of our citizens were farmers living in poverty and scarcity. This seemed like a status quo that we were programmed to believe and from which there was no escape. The riddle proved difficult to solve as successive governments battled a paradox: how can we reduce social diseases such as corruption while at the same time increasing the number of wealthy people.

It is very challenging to maintain prosperity while reducing social problems like corruption at the same time. This is very much like an equation where values always stand opposite to each other. Nevertheless, solving the equation is the task of government.

These days, it is common to see huge asset declarations by politicians and high-ranking officials. The average asset declaration is around 100 million baht (US$2.5 million). This might not compare with the huge riches owned by wealthy people in the developed world, but it brings a lifetime of luxury for well-to-do Thais.

A close friend of mine who happens to own a multibillion-baht company has been telling me for some time that Thailand is full of rich people on every corner. “Don’t overlook an old guy who walks by – he might have a trillion baht [a billion dollars!] in his bank account.”

I didn’t really grasp what she was saying until I noticed several unfamiliar names spending large sums for good causes. For instance, Komol Juengrungroengkit, owner of Aerosof footwear, paid over 300 million baht in a last-minute deal to ensure Thai football fans could watch the Euro 2020 tournament on TV. Komol is the elder brother of a more familiar name, Industry Minister Suriya Juengrungroengkit. Also, recently Joon Wanawith, the owner of Hatari – a well-known multinational electric fan manufacturer – donated 900 million baht to Ramathibodi Hospital.

How does ending poverty help Thai society?

Another friend of mine who leads a famous public rescue foundation confirmed that every year her foundation receives large donations from anonymous wealthy people. “There are a lot of them out there,” she remarked.

I believe the reason why Thailand now has so many rich and successful people is not due to the government alone. Many Thai-Chinese citizens send their kids for international education and, with their good connections, they can retain their wealth from one generation to the next without trouble. Elite universities like Chulalongkorn are full of well-heeled students who can afford to go overseas to gain international experience and practice their language skills during the summer holiday. Those who are filthy rich can even join exclusive private clubs such as the Royal Bangkok Sports Club (RBSC), the Polo Club, the British Club, you name it. A membership fee of around 1.6 million baht gets them access to these playgrounds of the rich, where business deals and high-powered romantic matches are made. Seemingly, these people build and maintain their wealth without any direct involvement by government.

Let’s go back to the original question of this article: What will Thailand gain by ending poverty and creating more wealthy people?

I am not saying that the wealth of all rich people should be scrutinised. But shouldn’t the government’s efforts to eradicate poverty focus more on the quality of the rich than the quantity?

Is it worth joining the developed world if white-collar crime is rampant and corrupt individuals still easily escape the long arm of the law?

The majority should not be left to bear the cost in a society where the cunning get richer while law-abiding citizens are left behind.

Amorn Wanichwiwatana, DPhil (Oxon), is a political scientist at Chulalongkorn University.

Published : August 20, 2022

By : Amorn Wanichwiwatana

US Chargé d’Affaires Michael Heath bids a fond farewell to Thailand

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CDA Farewell Op-ed by US Embassy Bangkok Chargé d’Affaires Michael Heath

US Chargé d’Affaires Michael Heath bids a fond farewell to Thailand

As I conclude my tour as Chargé d’Affaires of the United States of America in Thailand, I am proud of the tremendous progress made in Thai-U.S. relations as we navigated challenges and explored new opportunities.  My family and I have grown to love Thailand over our multiple tours here and will miss the warmth of the people, the richness of the culture, and the diversity of the food.

First assigned to Thailand as an entry-level diplomat in 1995, I have had the privilege to represent the United States in a country that I greatly admire.  Having traveled from Chiang Rai to Yala, from Mae Sot to Ubon Ratchathani, and many places in between, I have witnessed the extraordinary breadth and depth of the U.S. relationship with Thailand. 

In the economic sphere, the United States is Thailand’s largest export market, and our bilateral trade continues to grow rapidly— nearly 23% between 2020 and 2021 – and support the Thai economy during the stresses caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.  American firms have long been among the largest foreign investors in Thailand, and, now, more and more Thai firms are investing in the United States, deepening the economic ties between our countries.  Our nations signed the Memorandum of Understanding to Promote Supply Chain Resilience in July, which will ensure access to critical goods for both of our peoples in the global marketplace.   

Further, our green-oriented economic ties through the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity and our roles as back-to-back hosts for APEC provide an opportunity for expanded climate-centered policies, investment, and leadership in the region.  As the first country to join the U.S.-led Clean Energy Demand Initiative, Thailand unlocked billions of dollars of potential U.S. investment and joined a forum that connects climate experts and establishes innovative public-private partnerships.  These are all essential components to realizing Thailand’s Bio-Circular-Green Economy Model and our shared goals toward net-zero carbon emissions.

US Chargé d’Affaires Michael Heath bids a fond farewell to Thailand

Public health is another area where our bilateral cooperation has global ramifications.  The United States and Thailand have worked together for 60 years to address critical public health issues, developing medicines to treat malaria and other infectious diseases.  Our partnership has saved countless lives through research, treatment breakthroughs and, most recently, through the public health response to Covid-19.  We were proud to have donated 2.5 million doses of safe and effective U.S. Covid-19 vaccines, which the Royal Thai Government distributed to all residents of Thailand on an equal basis.  

My time in Thailand has also shown me the critical importance of our security partnership.  This year, we reaffirmed the foundations of the U.S.-Thai treaty alliance and marked the 41st iteration of Cobra Gold, the longest-running and one of the largest multinational military exercises in the world.  Participants in Cobra Gold and other U.S.-Thai military exercises have been on the frontlines of disaster and humanitarian responses such as the 2004 tsunami and the 2018 Wild Boars cave rescue. 

This past year alone we had four U.S. Cabinet-level visits, which culminated with the historic signing of the Thailand-United States Communiqué by Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai.  Reflecting our mutual interests in an Indo-Pacific region that is free, open, sustainable, and inclusive, the Communiqué outlines the future of our relationship working together to promote free expression and democratic institutions and to cooperate in law enforcement, cybersecurity and technology, the digital economy, and people-to-people exchanges.  I am confident that many years from now, the next generation of Americans and Thais will continue to benefit from our special relationship. 

US Chargé d’Affaires Michael Heath bids a fond farewell to Thailand

The future of the U.S.-Thailand relationship is bright.  Thailand is a leader in the region, and I am confident it will continue to model— through action— our shared values of democracy, human rights, freedom of expression and transparency.  Together we will resist the threat of authoritarianism in the region and throughout the world.  

US Chargé d’Affaires Michael Heath bids a fond farewell to Thailand

My wife Michelle and I greatly enjoyed our personal engagements with the Thai people. We look forward to next year’s celebrations of our 190 years of friendship.  Looking further ahead to 2027, we also anticipate a grand commemoration of the 100th anniversary of His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej The Great’s birth in the State of Massachusetts. 

I am pleased to know that planning for these milestones will be led on our side by the distinguished diplomat Robert Godec, who was confirmed by the U.S. Senate last month as our Ambassador-designate to Thailand.  

US Chargé d’Affaires Michael Heath bids a fond farewell to Thailand

I leave the bilateral relationship in very good hands and am assured that the United States and Thailand will always remain great friends, partners, and allies.

US Embassy Bangkok Chargé d’Affaires Michael Heath

Published : August 10, 2022

For politicians, self-interest matters more than the collective good

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Politicians always act in ways that would gain them maximum benefit, often at the people’s expense.

For politicians, self-interest matters more than the collective good

Amorn Wanichwiwatana

Special to The Nation

Of course, they calculate the risks and the rewards all the time. It would be understandable if my opinions invite a lot of criticism from those who disagree with me, particularly the political class.

In a recent interaction Chuan Leekpai, the former PM and the current Speaker of the House, told me about his youth and his successful political career when participating as a guest in one of my special forums. I have met him several times and he has always said, “If all politicians are bad, our society might have been collapsed”. He cited himself as an example of one who was not born rich, but who struggled till he rose to power without any misconduct. “I eat, sleep and live in a temple to give myself opportunities to stand out as I am now and never yield to force or coercion from the powers-that-be,” he said. That is why people recognise him as a man of principles.

When talking about “risks” or other hazardous situations, it is not only politicians who have to weigh the pros and cons before making a decision; the rest of us also do the same thing. Frankly, my students are almost always checked and they ensure their grades would be satisfactory, otherwise they could choose to study with others. This does not mean they do not care for the quality of teaching, but they prefer to fulfil all targets they need at one time. In comparison with politicians, this is not a first come, first served system. Somehow it is a winner takes all game. “The more you take, the more you gain” might be the best policy for many politicians. So that they will not be left behind! That is why we often scold politicians as opportunists. In our society, we politely call them ‘career politicians’ who live their lives by working in the political arena without any other sources of income. I remember many of them did not have to file their personal income tax, as they did not receive any income during the military rule in previous years. This makes me wonder if they really depend on their political salary alone.

Without a doubt, I absolutely agree with the Speaker of the House that we live along with “the good, the bad and the ugly”. However, for many politicians, be they our own or those abroad, things are very much the same in terms of their hearts and minds. We do not know for sure what US President Joe Biden felt while he watched the killing of al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahari in Kabul, which was seen live in the White House. A similar incident happened a decade ago when then secretary of state Hillary Clinton was agitated and watched nervously in the White House live footage of the killing of Osama bin Laden. And later, after the killing of Libyan dictator Mu’ammar Gadhafi, she uttered the words “We came, we saw, he died”. This is not a joke but derived from Julius Caesar’s famous Latin phrase “Veni, Vedi, Veci”, a swift and conclusive victory!

For politicians, self-interest matters more than the collective good

Our contemporary iron lady, US House speaker Nancy Pelosi, has managed to kick up a storm. Her visit to Taiwan ratcheted up tensions in the region and infuriated China, which announced live fire of missiles over Taiwan in a four-day military drill to blockade Taiwan island. I am sure these politicians had already calculated the risks but they decided to go ahead on their trusted information and most of all focus on the popularity they might gain. It’s hard to imagine the violent fallout if those intimidated countries reacted and responded with fierce measures. Who cares? The Chinese regime did not have too much choice to maintain the status quo but both the Taiwanese president and Pelosi might know very well the atrocities and calamity that would befall the Taiwanese people, not themselves. This is not fair and it’s not right that the innocent pay the price for actions they did not really initiate. It is simply a grandstanding of someone who wants to show the world they are really great and always number one on the world stage. Everyone realised something like this might occur at the time Hillary dreamed of becoming the first US woman president. What is Pelosi eyeing? And maybe Biden would like to prolong his tenure for the second term to celebrate and go down in US history as the oldest president, a record that would certainly be hard to better.

Back to Thailand, our beloved country. In the recent censure debate, the blame game between the opposition and government factions followed the usual script. As expected, politicians from both sides did not care about their dignity or even the people of the constituency they represent. Following rumours of vote buying, we saw a politician prostrate himself on the floor to pay his respects to a senior political leader. This picture was disseminated throughout the world not because people liked it but because they questioned our politicians as well as the political institution of our country. Was it for real or just a fantasy? Many wonder how come such a drama could take place and be so very effective here. Our politicians could vote against someone and simply bow or pay deep respects to clear up the mess once and for all. This means that they don’t have to carry the dignity and pride of their supporters. They have to only be preoccupied with survival, and their benefits matter more than anything else. Do the ends justify the means or is it the other way around?

(Amorn Wanichwiwatana, D.Phil. (Oxon), is a political scientist at Chulalongkorn University)

Published : August 06, 2022

The cannabis genie is out of the bottle; what now?

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This article has no intention to the lay the blame on any political faction that supports the legalisation of cannabis. Somehow I am left wondering if the government policy on cannabis has gone too far. They are even promoting a policy to provide citizens with free plants to 1 million households to start commercial cultivation for medical purposes.

The cannabis genie is out of the bottle; what now?

Amorn Wanichwiwatana

Special to The Nation

Recently, a newspaper headline said that a Thai politician had confirmed that cannabis had been removed from Schedule IV of UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND). I could not wait to find out what the truth really was. Many readers might recognise that some weeks ago I had written about marijuana, or cannabis, and asked the concerned parties to ensure there were adequate measures as well as CBD (cannabidiol) and THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) testing devices on hand to enforce the law effectively. But there were no clear responses from any of them.

Recently I did a personal survey regarding the policy on cannabis use when I was admitted to a hospital for nearly a month. The result was very interesting. My query was an open-ended question that sought public opinion about our government’s policy on cannabis. A hundred per cent of those who came to visit me daily, namely doctors, nurses, caretakers and so forth, all disagreed with the policy but totally supported the idea of medical research and healthcare use. These are people working in the medical field in a private hospital that is not under the influence of or controlled by their masters or politicians unlike those in the civil service. So their responses should be more reliable in many ways.

It sounds rather boastful to say that as a university lecturer who taught and did a number of researches for almost 30 years, I am confident that my English is good enough to quickly grasp the fundamental issue and find the words or sentences that must be used to get a response on the Google search engine. When I saw that news headline, the first thought that crossed my mind was, ‘“Is it true or fake news”? I immediately typed a sentence “UN legalises cannabis”. A newsletter from UN news (UN news ‘Law and Crime Prevention’, December 2, 2020), showed up. It stated clearly that the “UN commission reclassifies cannabis, yet still considers it harmful”. The report also detailed the outcome of this resolution “with the vote of consent by 27, against by 25 and 1 absenteeism”. I must say that this was a very narrow margin when considering the social impact of the move, but it was not a statistically significant vote to offer the absolute solution of promoting free access to cannabis. The committee said that “the CND has opened the door to recognising the medicinal and therapeutic potential of the drug, although its use for non-medical and non-scientific purposes will continue to remain illegal.”

Meanwhile, the United States voted to remove cannabis from Schedule IV of the Single Convention while retaining it in Schedule I (less strict), saying it is “consistent with the science demonstrating that while a safe and effective cannabis-derived therapeutic has been developed, cannabis itself continues to pose significant risks to public health and should continue to be controlled under the international drug control conventions”. (ref. UN news)

Letting numbers be the sole determinant is sometimes tricky. In this sense, the ‘first past the post voting system’ cannot be applied to issues such as this. The vote of the UN committee did not intend to find a clear winner. They wanted to tackle some technical enforcement issues in the law as well as open it up for the medical industry. It is as simple as that!

Clearly, the UN did remove cannabis from the former listing but still retained or reclassified it in a new listing focusing on medical purposes. The way our government, particularly the Public Health Ministry, allowed free access to cannabis is something I must re-emphasise needs to be considered carefully and cautiously.

I saw a video on Tik Tok platform showing a policeman standing still and watching a cannabis seller demonstrate in broad daylight how to use the weed smoking pipe and doing nothing about it.

Another news on Thairath online on July 19 said “Chaos! Police seized 230 kilos of ganja but could not press charges for fear that the accused might sue them”. This reflects a huge problem related to law enforcement, and the poor preparations of the government before launching a policy with immense social impact. They might not realise the consequences of pushing through the policy until it reaches a point of no return.

I told everybody from the start that I have no bias or prejudice towards cannabis uses. Also, this is not a smear tactic targeting any of the concerned parties. However, as an academic with no hidden agenda and nothing to gain, I need to put the country and our public interest above and beyond anything else.

(Amorn Wanichwiwatana, D.Phil. (Oxon), is a political scientist at Chulalongkorn University)

Published : July 23, 2022

By : Amorn Wanichwiwatana

Shinzo Abe – ‘prince’ of Japanese politics who rewrote history

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The assassination of former prime minister Abe Shinzo on Friday has shaken Japan’s political scene and the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) with which he made history.

Shinzo Abe – ‘prince’ of Japanese politics who rewrote history

Abe, 67, served two terms as LDP prime minister and became Japan’s longest-serving leader, before stepping down in 2020.

During his first term, from September 2006 to September 2007, Abe rewrote the history books by becoming Japan’s youngest prime minister at the age of 52. His rise signified a change of era in Japanese politics as power shifted hands to the new generation.

He made history again in his second term, from December 2012 to September 2020, becoming Japan’s longest-serving prime minister with almost 8 years in office. Abe eventually stepped down citing ill health from chronic ulcerative colitis.

He was considered one of Japan’s most prominent prime ministers on the international stage, especially for his signature “Abenomics” policy of bold monetary policy, flexible fiscal measures and strong growth strategy.

Abe strengthened Japan’s economy by promoting private investment and also tackled deflation by injecting huge amounts of money directly into the economy by buying back government bonds. This resulted in the government holding 70 per cent of the country’s GDP during his term, compared with around 25 per cent of GDP held by the US and European Union members.

However, Abenomics was not universally popular. Many economists said it was a set of compromises forged among LDP factions, while the government’s holding of bonds only made the Yen weaker, which resulted in imports being more expensive, with knock-on effects on household consumption and small and medium-size businesses.

Shinzo Abe – ‘prince’ of Japanese politics who rewrote history

During Abe’s term Japan was also becoming a hyper-aged society, bringing labour shortages so severe that public investment only saw a minimal increase in production. With wages growing at a much slower rate than inflation, Abenomics was blamed for turning Japan’s economy into something like the US, where employees often need more than one full-time job alone to sustain life.

Another reason why Abe is remembered on the global stage is for introducing Tokyo as host of the 2020 Olympics. The closing ceremony of the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, saw Abe make a surprise appearance dressed as beloved videogame character “Mario” from the Super Mario Bros series.

Shinzo Abe – ‘prince’ of Japanese politics who rewrote history

Even after stepping down, Abe remained a dominant presence in the ruling LDP party, controlling one of its major factions. His nickname, “the prince”, derived from the fact he came from a lineage of prominent LDP politicians. Abe was a son of Shintaro Abe, who served as foreign minister from 1982 to 1986, and a maternal grandson of Nobusuke Kishi, Japanese PM from 1957 to 1960.

Although his popularity as a prime minister went through ups and downs over the years, his status within the LDP was never challenged or undermined. Even his protege, current Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, is seen as struggling to emerge from Abe’s shadow and define his premiership.

Abe’s assassination on Friday sent shockwaves across the whole world, but in Japan the question being asked now is who in the Liberal Democratic Party can amass enough prestige and influence to replace “the Prince of LDP”.

Published : July 09, 2022


Legalising cannabis is a journey into the unknown

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I personally agree with the research that uncontrolled cannabis intake could do more harm than good. The law allows the use of cannabis within private premises but who will ensure the intake is according to the law.

Legalising cannabis is a journey into the unknown

Amorn Wanichwiwatana
Special to The Nation

The country is now ready for the great reopening and that makes me ponder about my day-to-day life during the pandemic. There are so many memories. For instance, I remember wondering how can I survive the pandemic due to the slow progress of vaccination by the government at the outset? Will the pandemic sweep away our economy? And how will those who lacked good connectivity and reserves live their lives? That’s what I pondered about most of the time, really.

These thoughts were born from examples of the way many nations, including us, fought Covid, be it the developed economies like the US, the UK, China as well as the Third World countries. They fought hard but not well enough in the early stages. The number of infected people and the death toll skyrocketed due to a lack of consensus among experts, and politicians viewing things from different angles. Governments had no choice but to get rid of the virus by any means necessary.

Policies and practices were copied and learned quickly from each country hastily.

That’s the reason I believe that I am so fortunate to survive the pandemic despite the shortage of vaccines at the time. Priority was given to frontline workers and those who had applied and got on the shortlist. That was something absolutely right, but can we ignore the rumour mills of the time! Many said they had jumped the long queues and got vaccinated easily because they knew someone influential. Some social media influencers proudly showed off that they could travel the world to get access through the streamline process of many countries in order to get the mRNA vaccination. In other words, money can buy anything — even your lives and souls if you are filthy rich. The country was never so divided and disparate like this. I had never thought in my generation people would hang small air-purifiers for you to breathe. It made me wonder if I could have survived breathing the toxic air and pollution around us, if I could not afford the device? How come we have to pay for the air to live our lives!

Here is another issue open to debate: the government’s decision to legalise cannabis or ganja and other related weeds. There are a lot of concerns. I personally agree with the research that uncontrolled cannabis intake could do more harm than good. The law allows the use of cannabis within private premises but who will ensure the intake is according to the law.

The government gazette recently announced legal use of this recreational drug. Although the permission attached some restrictions, they seem to be very difficult to enforce. The police and other concerned agencies will only get involved if you smoke weed in public and the smoke of cannabis disturbs the neighbourhood.

I can understand that the government wants to boost the economy following the pandemic and to gain popularity for the approaching general election. Somehow, the idea to partly legalise the drug places a lot of burden on the law enforcers to make quick decisions, in much the same way as the PDPA (personal data protection law) that is still being criticised by members of the public due to its lack of clarity, such as the use of CCTV in public places, the personal information collected by various search engines.

According to my research from several news agencies and the authorities’ websites, Thailand is not the first country to legalise weed, but obviously even free countries like the US and the UK still strictly enforce the law. The US still prohibits cannabis at the federal level; the UK considers cannabis an illegal drug.

Several experts remember the opium war, which the British empire once used to paralyse China and occupy Hong Kong for almost 100 years. I really see things along the same lines. I am pondering if the police could differentiate between cannabis consumers and drunk drivers. People could enjoy the recreational drug without knowing that they might be driving under the influence of a drug. But the drunk driving law mainly focuses on the alcohol abuse.

The country’s lawmakers and the Public Health Ministry have attempted to put forward many new policies, such as the Marriage Equality Bill sponsored by the opposition, the government’s digital lottery ticket, as well as the cannabis law.  I would urge them to carefully evaluate and monitor cannabis use because there is no guarantee that everything will go according to plan. If things come undone, the government must put public health and security above politics.

Chadchart Sitthipan, the Bangkok governor, has been quick to announce a ban on the use of this recreational drug in schools under the BMA supervision. Faster may not always be better. However, I always support rapid action in matters that could bring us something healthier and smarter!

(Amorn Wanichwiwatana, D.Phil. (Oxon), is a political scientist at Chulalongkorn University)

Published : June 18, 2022

By : Amorn Wanichwiwatana

Xi Jinping facing unprecedented challenge from Li Keqiang

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President Xi Jinping’s order to ruthlessly lockdown Shanghai, China’s financial hub, has resulted in heavy damage to the country’s economy – but also unprecedented criticism of Xi’s zero-Covid policy by his No 2, Li Keqiang.

Xi Jinping facing unprecedented challenge from Li Keqiang

The criticism by Premier Li, who heads the State Council and is the second most powerful person in China, signals a major rift within the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

Speaking two weeks ago at a meeting of over 100,000 local officials, Premier Li said Xi’s zero-Covid policy was leading the country towards disaster by banning over 25 million people in Shanghai from leaving their homes for almost three months.

Xi Jinping facing unprecedented challenge from Li Keqiang
Xi Jinping facing unprecedented challenge from Li Keqiang

Analysts speculate that Li’s criticism stems from a deep disagreement within the CCP.

In an earlier teleconference meeting of the State Council, Li declared China’s economy is facing a bigger challenge than when Covid-19 started spreading in early 2020. He said the rate of capital outflow was unprecedented, while foreign investors who once believed in the government’s disease control measures are now fed up with lockdown policies that were crippling manufacturing. This had resulted in many multinational corporations halting operations or moving out of China entirely, he added.

The criticism of China’s president is shocking and unprecedented in the history of the CCP, though it has made few headlines in the foreign press.

Xi Jinping facing unprecedented challenge from Li Keqiang

Analysts calculate that the true aim of Xi’s zero-Covid policy is not to curb infections but to cement his power after the constitution was amended to allow him to remain as president for life instead of just two terms. They believe Xi is using this policy to show that he is putting the people first by slashing the infection rate. After all, a communist party governs by forcing people to follow the rules rather than giving them options.

Xi Jinping facing unprecedented challenge from Li Keqiang

Another factor reportedly adding to criticism of the president is budget problems affecting the Belt and Road Initiative, which Xi launched in 2013.

For a decade, China has poured its resources into this multitrillion-dollar project, but it has yet to bear fruit. The project involves construction of transport infrastructure in 72 countries, including dual-track railways, deep-sea ports, high-speed rail, tunnels through mountains, and airports that will help China connect with Southeast Asia, South Asia, Eastern Europe and Africa. Belt and Road also involves construction of dams, oil refineries, and power plants along the transport routes.

However, growing budget constraints in this initiative have already forced China to refuse a loan to Pakistan, which is facing a major economic crisis. This move may result in China losing Pakistan as a strategic ally. China had been planning to build a deep-sea port in Pakistan in order to completely surround India and give itself a competitive edge in the ongoing border standoff.

Published : June 11, 2022


University degree ceremonies in Thailand and abroad

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I found a video clip of a young Thai student criticising the graduation ceremony in Thailand, which got a number of dislikes. This was sent via personal Line account and open chat room in the Line program. 

University degree ceremonies in Thailand and abroad

Amorn Wanichwiwatana 
Special to The Nation

Generally winter seems to be the perfect time for commencement or graduation ceremonies at many universities. In Thailand, many universities have adopted the same timeline as international institutions. Chulalongkorn University, the oldest and most renowned educational institution in the country, organised its degree ceremony — presided over by HRH Princess  Maha Chakri Sirindhorn — just a few weeks ago. She will preside again in November for new graduates of this academic year. 

There were some challenges for this once revered tradition, as antagonists want this historical practice to be abolished.  Actually, they had launched a very hostile campaign on this issue in many places, such as Thammasat University as well as other regional universities, before the pandemic struck. The campaign recommenced this semester, but the tone was lower than usual, and they used social media to disseminate their message.  

I found a video clip of a young Thai student criticising the graduation ceremony in Thailand, which got a number of dislikes. This was sent via personal Line account and open chat room  in the Line program. 

A senior lecturer, whom I respect a lot, also received this disturbing content. He asked me to compare the commencement ceremony in Thailand and my alma mater — University of Oxford in England.  I felt it would be worthwhile to share my responses with our audience about the truth behind several misunderstandings.

1. Do foreign universities spend less time on the ceremonies and avoid getting involved with royalty?

The above query is a direct query from my senior professor, who I referred to above, as well as the challenging remark by the student in question. I need to describe everything based on my personal experiences, keeping out biases or prejudice. I matriculated in 1998 and graduated from Oxford in 2006. That was nearly seven years of my academic ordeal, comparable with the narrative portrayal in the famous movie “Seven years in Tibet”. My everyday life was also very much like a part of the Dan Forgelberg song “Windows and walls”. So my effort is simply to offer candid facts not any distorted or misleading anecdotes. 

University of Oxford, the world’s oldest English educational institution, was established over 900 years ago. There might have been some changes from the past century where some students are now more renegades rather than royalists when compared to the time King Charles II resided and used Oxford as his stronghold. Nevertheless, the leaders-in-waiting as well as future kings come to study at Oxford, no less than in the past. 

Chulalongkorn University was initiated by King Maha Vajiravudh (King Rama VI), adopting many Oxford patterns since he was also an alumnus of Christ Church, Oxford.  The Samyan, Suan Luang, Siam Centre business areas and other nearby properties belonged to the Royal Household but he granted them to the university to empower education. It was really King Vajiravudh’s initiative to use these properties as assets to support the university administration in the same manner as many collegiate systems in Oxford now own their invaluable properties. So there is no need to bother with the government budget.  Some colleges, such as St John even owns the St Giles street, the big road that cuts across the middle of the city. Others, like Christ Church (King Vajiravudh’s College) or Hertford (my affiliated college) also own vast land deeds and many pricey properties. 

According to this relationship, Chulalongkorn was the first university that held a degree ceremony, presided over by the King himself. By our royal practice, the King does not give orders or commands to take part in this event, but is given an official invitation. Chulalongkorn University set an example that many other universities later followed suit. 

2  Are degree ceremonies in England as well as other international academies more frugal than in our country?

The answer to this question depends on the university’s policy and the individual graduates. Frankly, I am not going to show off or claim to come from a well-to-do background. However, I spent nearly a million baht for the ceremony, including air fares, accommodation, transportation fees, meals and other miscellaneous expenses for 10 days for my family members and cousins to attend the event. That was 20 years ago! The lady in the video clip also mentioned how her gown and uniform was easy and very convenient to wear. She simply draped herself properly in the gown, without worrying what you wore under the gown. Traditionally, Oxford seems to have a different protocol; we have around 20 types of gowns depending on the degree you are awarded. The graduate might borrow his/her suitable gown from the photo shop that is a concessionaire for taking personal pictures in front of the Bodleian (University main auditorium) but this is not for free. If you need a very smart gown that perfectly fits you, you really need to pay a borrowing fee or buy a tailor-made one. Personally, I realised that my future career lay as a professor, so I decided to buy one costing around 500 pounds (around THB30,000 then). Of course, you can bring your relatives and loved ones into the main auditorium to congratulate you by clapping and cheering for you.  Somehow, everything must be registered or booked in advance. This is not like buying a movie ticket that might be available when you arrive at the cinema. 

The university chancellor usually presides over the ceremony, while the university vice chancellor (rector or president if you like) would be on standby as a substitute.

In Thailand, it is the head of the state or his delegate who presides over the ceremony.  In the case of Oxford, the university never got involved with royalty, whereas in Thailand, as I said earlier, the monarchy initiated and is really the founder of our modern education system. That is the reason why the King has been invited to grant degrees to the graduates. However, due to scheduling issues, the King sometimes appoints his delegate to perform the task of presiding over the ceremony. But the relationship between the monarch and the citizen remains strong and has blended in very well.

3. Is a foreign degree ceremony time well spent compared to that in Thailand?

I can proudly say that I recall almost everything from the event because I was so delighted that I could pass my ordeal at last. My collectible video bought from the university store recorded the two-hour activities. But you need to understand that the Oxford degree ceremony was held several times in a year to serve the demand of international graduates. Advance booking is required. 

At the time of my ceremony, Lord Chris Patten, the former Hong Kong governor who is still Oxford’s Chancellor, presided over the ceremony. He might not be a VVIP, but I saw many policemen and security guards oversee the event. The Oxford tradition starts with a Latin rite; there will be some Latin readings as well as blessing for all communions in much the same way as Thai graduates receive holy chanting by monks at the ceremony. Interestingly, for those who are awarded a degree in Theology, there will be very special session at which the head of the ceremony will ask all theology graduates to kneel on one leg and bend over towards him in order to place a sacred book softly on each head. Before the ceremony is completed, each individual has to straighten their right index fingers to join with others as one group for the head of the ceremony to bless them with some Latin words. This made me think of the famous Hollywood movie in the 1970s, the “E.T.” as well as the “Lord of the Rings” (written by an Oxford-renowned Professor JRR Tolkien) when the supreme king summons all his fellowmen to join the band. 

As of now the British monarchy is still the patron and presides over some important ceremonies such as Oxonian Nobel Laureate award, funding grants and honorary guests for other activities. As many might realise, the best of the world is assembled here, in the same manner that Chulalongkorn university has now become the top university in Thailand and some of its faculties are among the best in Asia. Each place has its own historical background, hence it is not wise to use personal thinking, attitude and emotion to blame others. Please educate yourself enough before you speak out, that’s what I would really suggest.

(Amorn  Wanichwiwatana, D.Phil. (Oxon), is a political scientist at Chulalongkorn University)

Published : June 04, 2022


The Chatchart factor and the changing trends in Thai politics 

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It was proved that there is no such thing as “strategic voting”. People simply cast their votes using their own judgement, experience, understanding and for a reason.

The Chatchart factor and the changing trends in Thai politics 

Amorn Wanichwiwatana
Special to The Nation 

Prior to the gubernatorial election on May 22, I had often heard people talk about “strategic voting”. Some media predicted that a large number of Bangkokians, who were afraid of the return of the ousted PM’s factions, would cast their votes to help some contenders in order to lower Chadchart Sitthiphan’s victory margin. No matter how hard they tried, Chadchart won by a landslide along with a large majority of city council members from the opposition, both Pheu Thai and Move Forward parties.

It was proved that there is no such thing as “strategic voting”. People simply cast their votes using their own judgement, experience, understanding and for a reason. The idea of “strategic voting” implied that some Bangkokians could be controlled or influenced by others. I do not think so.

Certainly, people could vote for someone due to sentiment (emotional matter). Like what happened in Australia when the newcomer, Anthony Albanese or ‘Albo’, defeated former PM Scott Morrison because of his humble family background. His campaign raised awareness about the disparities in society and focused on equal opportunities. He used himself as an example to show how someone like him, who was born poor, could come this far. If we carelessly accuse people without compassion and understanding, we might unnecessarily push them away to the other side.

Such ignorance often brings about a sudden political turmoil. 

The Chatchart factor and the changing trends in Thai politics 

The authorities almost always have a misperception that they have the power to treat people any way they want. The Arab Spring uprising  began in Tunisia where the police  routinely treated street vendors as second class citizens. It sparked a wave of protests and spread to many countries throughout the Middle East. The same thing happened in the US when George Floyd was suffocated to death by a policeman. This led to the rise of the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement that finally brought down President Donald Trump and hoisted Democrat Joe Biden to power. These should be some lessons for us.

We cannot undermine the power of the people; we need to heed their voices of concern with utmost respect. 

As much as 60 per cent of the eligible voters came out to cast their votes for both the gubernatorial and the council member elections, a phenomenal turnout, and pointing to the people’s sentiment towards the government in power.

Several government figures denied and tried to play down that the gubernatorial result had nothing to do with the upcoming general election.

Politically, they need to say that in order to save the morale of their own supporters. In fact, they felt and realised very well what the results would be from their pollsters. The strategic voting plot believed by several media did not really work. All efforts and tactics such as direct phone calls to supporters failed.

Chadchart’s landslide victory provided a clear evidence that eight years of General Prayut’s administration had not blended in very well with the majority of citizenry. One thing  is clear; there has been no real success in pushing forward full reforms. The government set up a number of national reform committees but most of them failed to push through their reform agenda. The effort was criticised as “mere verbal reform, but no action taken”. 

In the beginning, the junta might have really wanted to see some significant changes in terms of people’s beliefs and mindset to help move the country out of the old evil cycle. Some had very high hopes that the then coup de’tat would be the last and would bring a new light and political awakening to our society.

Following the emancipation of the present Constitution, in which I also took part as a commissioner and a spokesperson, we 21 people spent nearly two years drafting the highest law of the land. We suggested many proposals to eradicate corrupt practices, empower the citizens in terms of rights and freedom. We created the Constitution to ensure there is no such thing as a deadlock on any issue. 

I do not want to blame the government, but the inception of Palang Pracharat Party was not really the formula we had set up. We were very surprised to see a political party spring up in a few days and manage to become a giant party overnight simply by employing merger methods like a business corporation. This kind of unscrupulous deal-making was used to make way for the military coup. But then again they never learned the lesson. They brought in many politicians into the party from the opposition whom they used to blame, and had even arrested many of them. But they had no qualms in welcoming every one of them only to build up a strong coalition government.

I believe the ordinary people came to the realisation that they could not have high expectations of anyone but themselves. Another four years of Chadchart would be a crucial period for Prayut and company, if they decide to remain in power. Chadchart’s stronghold and supporters will spread out beyond Bangkok. May be former PM Thaksin has nothing to do with Chadchart’s success, but the election results show some sort of dissatisfaction with the government. 

People realise that Chadchart’s victory is also a victory for those who stood in opposition to the government. The Chadchart factor will of course haunt the powers that be not only for now but for long. 

(Amorn Wanichwiwatana, D.Phil. (Oxon), is a political scientist at Chulalongkorn University)

Published : May 28, 2022