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


Does Thailand’s capital need an elected governor?

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By the time you read this article, the results of Bangkok’s gubernatorial and council elections should have been declared. Once the Election Commission is convinced no irregularity or fraud took place, it would announce the winner.

Does Thailand's capital need an elected governor?

That is why we call the winner ‘governor elect’, because he or she has not started work yet.

As expected, the battle for this important post has been fierce and crucial for all parties involved. The ruling Palang Pracharath Party aims to win the hearts and minds of Bangkokians in order to gain more seats in Bangkok at the coming general election. However, Bangkok’s demography is very diverse, and people can change their minds abruptly. This makes it difficult for the contenders to ensure successful campaigns, no matter what the polls might suggest about their chances of winning. 

I am not going to discredit the pollsters from various institutions. Nevertheless, there has been criticism for a long time that some pollsters don’t really conduct their surveys scientifically, and that they are instructed and controlled by those who use their services. Even worse, some pollsters come up with fake polls to flatter those in power or the wannabes, obviously in exchange for some rewards.

According to Article 49 of the Bangkok Metropolitan Act, the governor has several duties and responsibilities, such as supervising work routines, being head of the Bangkok government body, keeping Bangkok safe and clean. Most importantly, the governor needs to carefully spend nearly a trillion baht budget in the interests of the citizens. So, members of Bangkok councils, chosen on the same day as the governor, also need to perform their duties by checking and balancing power. These city council members have to voice their concerns if need be and work on behalf of the people of their constituencies as well as Bangkok as a whole.

In reality, in many situations the members of the Bangkok council and the governor come from different factions, and this leads to turbulence, much like the fierce fighting among MPs from all sides in Parliament. The members of the last Bangkok Metropolitan Council (BMC) were picked by the junta’s National Council for Peace and Order, which came to power in 2014, to fulfil the strategic purpose of pressing full reforms. This might have caused some stagnation for several former BMC members. However, when the election bell rang, many will manage to retain their posts.

This possibly reflects the continuity of their close and long-term relationship with voters in the constituencies and voter loyalty to each individual candidate. This is another reason why many political parties, new or the old, work very enthusiastically to win some seats in order to lay their political base in the hope of a larger national role, such as member of Parliament.

Like it or hate it, you have to live with the elected governor for the four-year term, unless the winner is found to be unsuitable for the position under law. There are many challenging tasks for the governor-elect to prove himself or herself as well as be tested by Bangkokians. The heavy rains in the last few days before the election, which led to flash flooding in many areas including major streets, was a wake-up call for all candidates about the challenges ahead. They have to deal with these kinds of sudden floods throughout the tenure. 

The majority of Bangkokians today seem to have zero tolerance for discomfort. It is totally different from the time when I was young and was staying with my grandma. We lived in our home amid heavy floods for nearly six months without making any complaint. Not because we did not want to complain, but we found hardly any authorities caring enough to take responsibility for the situation. Most governors at the time were nominated and appointed by the powers that be.

As an ordinary citizen, there was nothing we could do but wait until the water subsided. Things have now changed a lot due to more opportunities for the present generation.

By all means, it is not easy to serve as governor. One of the objectives of holding the gubernatorial election is to keep the administration free from bureaucracy and red tape. As many might realise, the Minister of Interior still has power over the governor in many circumstances. The minister can overrule the decision of the governor or even depose the governor if he considers the governor “not fit to perform the duties”.

As far as the politics is concerned, the Bangkok governor is highly unlikely to remain neutral. As we have already seen, the system is not really geared to let the governor pursue his or her agenda freely, and they have to compromise with the BMC members if they are from different factions.

It would be advisable for the governor to be fully responsible for supervision of work routines in the 50 districts of Bangkok, and oversee critical issues such as terrorist attacks, public safety and public welfare benefits of Bangkokians. We can go even further by changing the rules, such as scrapping the gubernatorial election and adopting a system of recruiting or selecting a highly qualified person, like the city of Pataya does.  By doing this, we could have someone work for us all rather than setting up very high expectations and ending up with mostly average people who often become the so-called “jack of all trades, not the master of one!”

Amorn Wanichwiwatana
Special to The Nation

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

Published : May 21, 2022

How Marcos Jr weaponised social media to rewrite history and win power

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Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr’s landslide presidential election win was secured with a social media disinformation campaign that whitewashed his father’s brutally corrupt dictatorship, falsifying not only Philippine history but also his own education credentials.

How Marcos Jr weaponised social media to rewrite history and win power

Marcos Jr has waited 36 years to restore his family to the Malacañang Palace, and now returns as the 17th president of the Southeast Asian nation of 112.5 million people.

However, not everybody is happy to see the return of the Marcoses. Those who lived between 1965 and 1986 remember the 21 years under Ferdinand Marcos Sr and the brutal martial law he declared from 1972 to 1981 to eliminate his political enemies.

Dark history

Human rights abuses were rampant during his tenure, which was marked by arbitrary arrests, forced disappearances, torture and killings. Amnesty International reported that 70,000 people – including priests, human rights defenders, labour leaders and journalists – were flung behind bars, more than 34,000 tortured and over 3,000 killed.

The Marcoses were also known for corruption that fuelled an extravagant lifestyle of jet-setting and luxury spending sprees, including on Imelda Marcos’s infamous shoe collection.

Efforts are still being made to recoup some of the US$10 billion that the Marcoses are thought to have plundered from the Philippines. However, those efforts are likely to be curtailed following Monday’s election victory.

In February 1986, Marcos Sr was ousted in what came to be known as the “People Power Revolution”. The disgraced family fled to Hawaii, where Marcos Sr died three years later.

The Philippines Presidential Commission on Good Governance (PCGG) is still working on getting the stolen funds back. It is also handling more than 100 cases of embezzlement and human rights violation from victims of Marcos Sr’s oppressive rule.

How Marcos Jr weaponised social media to rewrite history and win power

Brushing clean

However, it appears as if the pain and anguish suffered by the previous generation was largely ignored by the new generation of Filipinos, who spend a big chunk of their time on social media.

This helps explains why Marcos Jr won over 24.7 million votes from the younger generation, aged 18-41. According to data, these people spend an average of four hours per day on social media – the tool weaponised by Marcos Jr to whitewash his family’s past.

Instead of distancing himself from his father’s legacy, Marcos Jr used the online platforms to turn him into a national hero, claiming that he brought a “golden age” to the Philippines.

On Tuesday, he visited his father’s tomb at the national Heroes’ Cemetery in Metro Manila. For decades, the Marcoses and their supporters campaigned to have his remains transferred there, before President Rodrigo Duterte agreed to do so in 2016.

Marcos Jr also claimed on social media that he has a degree in Philosophy, Politics and Economics from Oxford University. However, the university said he failed to complete his degree and was awarded a special diploma in Social Studies in 1978.

Marcos Jr became vice governor of his home province of Ilocos Norte at age 23, running unopposed with his father’s party. He was governor when, six years later, his family was chased into exile.

The family returned in 1991 and Marcos Jr was once again elected governor in Ilocos Norte. In 2010 he became a senator, before running for vice president in 2016. He lost narrowly to former human-rights lawyer Leni Robredo – also his key rival in the 2022 presidential race.

The power of propaganda

To say that Marcos Jr won the presidential election by using social media as a propaganda tool is no exaggeration.

Bongbong masterminded a years-long strategic campaign on social media that has helped rebuild and polish his family’s image. Pro-Marcos propaganda has proliferated on social media – from glossy TikTok clips showing “fun times” during the Marcos era to YouTube videos declaring there was no martial law.

An official from political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica reportedly said it was approached by Marcos Jr to delete unfavourable records of the Marcos regime on social media platforms so he could gain momentum in the election.

Observers say however that Marcos Jr’s landslide win cannot just be put down to social media whitewashing. Many also point to people’s disappointment in the political establishment and democratic rule over the past three decades, which have seen presidential impeachment trials, political protests, corruption and more.

One sociologist put it succinctly: “The faith people had in liberal democracy has dried up.”

Published : May 14, 2022


The crypto bubble: Can Bitkub ride out the negative sentiment?

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It comes as no surprise that the Securites and Exchange Commission has decided to fine Bitkub Online Co Ltd for breaking the SEC’s coin listing rules.

The crypto bubble: Can Bitkub ride out the negative sentiment?

Jirayut Surpsrisopa, aka Top, the young founder of Bitkub has gained a reputation for his shrewd strategy and effective public relations. He has made an impact through his talks, exchanging of ideas and his ability to close deals, especially by signing contracts with big names such as the Mall group. He has added to his goodwill by pledging support for the Thai national football team to help them qualify for the World Cup final. We can see adverts of Bitkub at almost every street corner in Bangkok, be it expressway, public billboards, convenience stores and even on your computer screen.

The Bitkub slogan reads, “When you think of digital money, you can count on Bitkub!” It sounds similar to the wordings of a famous convenience store, which you might often hear when shopping there. 

The marketing blitz has only raised doubts and further antagonised critics as well as the authorities. They see the trading and the persuasion campaign as another kind of cult, which might lure the innocent to become victims of a possible scam.

Sondhi Limthongkul, a provocative commentator, recently dedicated his airtime on his Friday programme, warning about the possibility of a scam in cryptocurrency trading and urging the government to intervene sooner rather than later.

Need for close oversight

I am not going to judge anything by cherry picking. I have researched the content and discussed all possible scenarios with some of my friends in the field of criminal justice agencies.

Many are very concerned about these new kinds of technologies and the lack of appropriate measures or suitable laws to protect the innocent. They say the government and the concerned parties have closely watched the exponential growth of Bitkub for quite some time. The problem is the Thai government still lags far behind in dealing with these kinds of business ventures.

Many people believe that the recent fine imposed on some members of the Bitkub board is something the authorities had waited patiently for a long time. This is due to the fact that they could not find any misconduct by Bitkub since the company started operations. However, this incident has led to the Bitkub coin losing almost 50 per cent of its value.

There was no sign of any speedy recovery in trading last week amid the crisis caused by the Russia-Ukraine war as well as the hike in interest rate by the US Fed to fight inflation.

Despite the number of big challenges before Bitbub, the company’s advertising is still allowed to invite those interested in multiplying their money by joining the company’s trading platform and investing in Bitkub. It is understandable that the government as well as concerned parties, such as the Anti-Money Laundering Office, Stock Exchange of Thailand, the Bank of Thailand as well as other concerned agencies are trying to close any gap or loophole in the laws sooner rather than later. 

The fine that they imposed on Bitkub is considered very small and a soft step by the government’s gatekeepers. One of the main reasons why Bitkub is still allowed to trade freely is because the government lacks efficient laws to to deal with Bitkub. So we can expect that in the coming months or so, there might be some new gazette announcements of newly written laws or more suitable measures to deal with these kinds of scenarios.

If we leave Bitkub here and carry on discussing about the future of Cryptocurrency in Thailand, we can foresee that the government seems to be very reluctant to put forward or fully support this kind of business. They are instead building up some barricade to protect those who tend to be victimised. If we do not take things for granted, the government has to do the right things and carefully implement any policy with strong caution. We can understand the various constraints and consequences that the government is wary of, particularly when several big elections are approaching — Bangkok governor and general election. More importantly, at the upcoming censure debate the opposition factions might put the government in the hot seat.

Lessons learned 

Cryptocurrency is not widely used or legalised. Only the central American country of El Salvador accepts bitcoin for commercial use and as a legal tender. Even without being influenced by Warren Buffett’s critical comments about cryptocurrency, it is evident that the future of digital money is still murky and revolves around those who trust and rely on the digital currency. That is why some critics might often say that it looks like a new kind of cult, in which the cult leaders will try to build up their fame by creating their own currencies. The more popular your currency, the more you gain. A company cannot succeed if the money they create are not accepted or reliable enough to be commercialised in the big markets.

The origin of cryptocurrency, as far as I am concerned, can be traced to those who wanted to challenge governments and some powerful nations that are dominating the global economy. So they tried to find a new way of doing things.

It is not easy to catch a big fish with bare hands, I suppose!

Amorn Wanichwiwatana
Special to The Nation 

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

Published : May 14, 2022


Money politics in Parliament? It’s business as usual for Thailand

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Rumours that several small parties are accepting bribes from political big shots in exchange for their support in the upcoming censure debate are spreading through the media. However, this is merely business as usual for Thai politics.

Money politics in Parliament? It’s business as usual for Thailand

Talk of politicians receiving or giving cash and other benefits has been a feature of our political scene for decades and is one of the reasons we have so many military coups. It seems that politicians never pause to consider the consequences of their own corruption. Meanwhile they are always quick to condemn the military for seizing their legitimate power and nullifying democratic governance.

Of course, we cannot be sure whether the latest rumours are true or just a hoax designed to discredit those in power, including the leaders of the accused small parties. However, people from all walks of life seem confident of their veracity, no doubt influenced by Thailand’s long history of political bribery and “rewards”.  

Personally, I am sceptical of rumours that as much as 30 million baht is changing hands in sleazy deals aimed at manipulating the no-confidence vote against PM Prayut Chan-o-cha and his ministers. The government still holds a majority in Parliament and I doubt that coalition parties will vote with the opposition in sufficient numbers to unseat the PM and his men. While the negotiating power of small coalition parties might be strong, they do not have enough momentum to cause serious turbulence in the governing body.

Politicians, as part of their role, make contact with each other for various reasons. So, even if a government minister did attend a lunch meeting with the small parties’ leaders, there is no guarantee that a deal on voting in the censure debate was reached or even discussed. It might be the case that the small parties simply wanted to flatter the government’s leadership and display their continuing loyalty and support. It could be as simple as that! 

We have to keep in mind that the current government’s tenure is coming to an end and a general election is looming on the horizon. And chances are high that these small parties will be wiped out in the coming election. Newly drafted amendments to the Constitution and related organic laws will change the election formula used to calculate the number of MP seats. We will no longer count every vote, meaning politicians from small parties will be in a very difficult situation at the next national polls. As a result, their priority now is to find ways to survive, rather than seeking backroom deals as the rumours would have it.

However, never rule out politicians’ capacity for untrustworthiness. Money politics has plagued Thailand for some time. The military knows this well each time it decides to stage a coup. Thais might be fed up with the constitution being ripped up time and time again, but the military is not solely to blame. Whenever they come to power, Thai politicians fail to learn from past lessons and work for their own benefits rather than the good of the majority.

Politicians are now looking ahead to the next election, due in less than a year, and obsessively planning how they can retain their seats. 

The so-called “quid pro quo” method will be attractive to those eager to remain in power as well as those seeking power.

Many observers say the current Constitution is to blame for the occasional bouts of chaos afflicting Thai politics. As a commissioner and spokesman of the Constitution Drafting Committee, I can confirm that in drafting the supreme law we knew we had to listen to all stakeholders, including politicians and the citizenry. Hence, the details of the Constitution came out of the opinions, criticism and evaluation offered by groups across the whole of Thai society. This might not be the best Constitution ever written but through it we tried to make our country a better place via reform.

For instance, Article 235 clearly states that “those who violate ethical standards and become involved in corrupt practices shall have their rights to stand for election revoked”. In other words, their opportunity to run for election will be terminated for life. For politicians accustomed to the old ways of climbing the ladder of power, this seemed to be a very harsh measure indeed. 

If the rumours cited above are true or substantiated in any way, those found to be involved in selling or buying votes in any circumstances will pay a very high price for their misconduct. Unfortunately, our system still needs a whistle-blower daring enough to make a legal complaint so that the court can have the final say. In reality, bribe-takers and receivers are always satisfied with their “agreements”, meaning it is very difficult to find anyone willing to come forward and blow the whistle. We have to wait and see if the rumours are true, or else check the result of censure debate to see how many votes are cast for and against the government. Only time will tell.

By Amorn Wanichwiwatana
Political scientist at Chulalongkorn University
The Nation columnist

Published : May 14, 2022


Saudi Arabia makes strong statement by shunning Biden plea on oil supply boost

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As global oil prices keep rising amidst the continuing war between Russia and Ukraine, the United States is turning to its estranged ally Saudi Arabia, the world’s top oil exporter, for possible help to boost supply.

Saudi Arabia makes strong statement by shunning Biden plea on oil supply boost

However, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the de facto leader of the Middle Eastern kingdom, appears lukewarm.

US President Joe Biden recently called ailing Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz, asking for an increase in the production of crude oil. The Americans seemed to foresee a Russian invasion of Ukraine and an inevitable boycott by Western countries on Russia.

The Saudis’ reply was that they would maintain the production output agreed by the major oil producers under the Opec+ production agreement.

That means no extra oil output from Saudi Arabia at the moment.

Saudi Arabia makes strong statement by shunning Biden plea on oil supply boost

The crown prince cancelled his trip to attend the Winter Olympics in China in February in order to make sure he was with his father when Biden called.

The US-led boycott of Russia, a major oil producer, following its invasion of Ukraine has reduced supply in the world market and led to a series of price hikes.

Ties between the US and Saudi Arabia, its long-standing strategic partner, have soured since Biden took office in January 2021. The Americans are unhappy with Riyadh’s human rights record, particularly involving the Saudi-led military operation in neighbouring Yemen and the 2018 murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Khashoggi, who was a Washington Post columnist, was last seen at a Saudi consulate in Turkey in October 2018. Reports citing the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) said he was killed and dismembered there before the remains were disposed of.

The CIA pointed its finger at the Saudi crown prince, known as MBS.

He avoided the Western media for over two years after the incident and recently broke his silence in an interview with The Atlantic. “I feel that human rights law wasn’t applied to me,” he said of the accusation against him. “Article XI of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that any person is innocent until proven guilty.”

The crown prince also mentioned the possibility that he would cut his investments in the US, which is currently worth about $800 billion. “In the same way we have the possibility of boosting our interests, we have the possibility of reducing them,” he said.

That explains why Saudi Arabia’s de facto leader seemed to be uninterested when the US — the largest consumer of oil — approached the oil-rich kingdom, its long-time ally for help to rein in runaway oil prices.

Saudi Arabia makes strong statement by shunning Biden plea on oil supply boost

Published : March 11, 2022

Speeding up Covid-19 vaccine production setup with automation and digitalization

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If we are to list remarkable innovations done in the century, Covid-19 vaccine production would be ranked among the top of the list, if not the very top.

Speeding up Covid-19 vaccine production setup with automation and digitalization

When the novel coronavirus outbreak was declared a global pandemic by WHO in March 2020, the vaccine became the one item that was suddenly and simultaneously needed by all. While pharmaceutical firms could produce hundreds of millions of doses of Covid-19 vaccine in the matter of a few months, the world needed billions and as fast as possible.

Winning the race against time: Acceleration from development to manufacturing

Shorter time-to-market in vaccine production is crucial to save lives.  Accelerating clinical trials in the timeframes required to combat Covid-19 and ramping up production in the quantities needed are two of the biggest challenges the pharma industry has ever faced.

Speeding up Covid-19 vaccine production setup with automation and digitalization

Ramping up Covid-19 vaccine manufacturing capabilities

The mRNA vaccine BNT162b2 (also known as COMIRNATY®) for Covid-19 by BioNTech, in collaboration with US pharmaceutical specialist Pfizer, was in extremely high demand even before it was available.

With such urgency, BioNTech converted its existing facility in Marburg, Germany, to further scale-up Covid-19 manufacturing capacity. Prior to mRNA vaccine, the Marburg facility had been producing influenza vaccines based on flu cell culture, then changed over to recombinant proteins for cancer treatments.

Besides a higher clean room class required than what existed in the facility, when working with mRNA, one of the challenges faced was the need to switch from rigid to mobile production, with many single-use components.

mRNA vaccine production processes involve several manual work steps. Weighing is one such example. Precise measurement and reliable recording of weights are vital to ensure vaccine quality. With batch system and process orchestration, the operators get a guidance from the Manufacturing Execution System (commonly known as MES) throughout the entire process on when and which actions are needed to be taken. This is enabled by the workflow management component of the software which orchestrates the various sections of the system, in ensuring the most efficient production.

Speeding up Covid-19 vaccine production setup with automation and digitalization

Paperless production for faster and more efficient process

Paperless production offers many advantages over traditional procedures in the pharmaceutical industry.  Electronic Master Batch Record Management enables users to create, execute, review, and release Master Batch Records (MBR). In addition, Electronic Batch Records (eBR) are made faster. Testing is based on the principle of “review by exception” – in other words, deviations are dealt with when the system recognizes them based on exception rules. That makes the testing process less labor-intensive.

This new system and end-to-end digitalization of vaccine production enabled a conversion to “paperless documentation of production” that can immediately fulfill all documentation requirements, which is a critical component to validating vaccine efficacy.

To automate the entire facility, all systems need powerful, flexible, and scalable distributed control system that steers and controls all processes in the plant and takes digitalization to the field level. Seamless integration of automation solutions makes it possible to develop, optimize, and manage production processes efficiently.

Speeding up Covid-19 vaccine production setup with automation and digitalization

All the improvements made at the Marburg plant are Industry 4.0 compatible.

The Marburg plant has been producing the vaccine since the end of March 2020. A digitalization and automation project of this magnitude normally takes about a year. With support from Siemens, the Marburg plant conversion was completed in just five months, with the main components of the new MES completed in only two and a half months. The Marburg facility at full operation can produce up to one billion doses annually.      

Siemens and BioNTech plan to intensify their collaboration for the rapid expansion and creation of production capacity for the Covid-19 vaccine. The aim is to establish new production sites for Covid-19 vaccine production worldwide based on the Marburg plant and its technology, starting with a production facility in Singapore. Within this cooperation, Siemens will provide the latest automation and digitalization technologies for BioNTech production sites, such as design, simulation, and engineering software as well as process control technology.

Published : January 10, 2022