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Paetongtarn Shinawatra

Annie Gugliotta (image with CC license)

Can Thaksin rule again in Thailand?

Get ready for some major political trouble later this year in the Land of Smiles.

Paetongtarn Shinawatra, the youngest daughter of deposed former Thai PM Thaksin Shinawatra, is mulling a run for her dad’s old job. Over the weekend, Paetongtarn — Thais go by their given name — got a lot of buzz at the assembly of Thaksin’s Pheu Thai Party, calling for a landslide victory in a snap election expected to be called in November.

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Captain Sidsore Kader Ouedraogo, centre, spokesman for the military government, with uniformed soldiers from the Patriotic Movement for Safeguard and Restoration or MPSR, announces on a television studio that they have taken power in Burkina Faso.

Radio Television du Burkina (RTB)/Handout via EYEPRESS

What We’re Watching: Burkina Faso coup, China’s “pure” internet, Thailand decriminalizes weed

Another coup in volatile West Africa. Monday’s military coup in Burkina Faso is the fourth armed takeover of a West African government in just 17 months. As in neighboring countries like Mali — which has had not one but two coups since 2020 — it will be hard for outsiders, like the African Union and the regional group ECOWAS to reverse this assault on an elected government. Why? For one thing, al-Qaeda and Islamic State-affiliated militant groups are winning battles with soldiers and killing civilians in barely governed parts of Burkina Faso. For another, more than 1.5 million of the country’s 21 million people have been forced from their homes since 2018. Street protests in major cities and mutinies in military bases have made clear in recent months just how unsustainable Burkina Faso’s security situation has become. Events in Mali, Niger, and Guinea have followed a worryingly similar pattern, and the Ivory Coast and Benin also face growing jihadist threats. We’ll be watching to see whether Burkina Faso’s junta has more success than the government it ousted in beating back jihadist attacks and restoring security to the country — and what happens if it doesn’t.

China's internet "purification" campaign. Xi Jinping doesn't like big celebrities — other than his famous singer wife — because they often show off their expensive lifestyles online, encouraging Chinese youth to worship money instead of the ruling Communist Party. That's why ahead of next week's Lunar New Year, the government plans to take down celebrity fan groups and censor influencers whom Xi regards as "unpatriotic." What's more, minors will no longer be allowed to become online influencers. The campaign is part of Xi's broader "common prosperity" vision to combat rising wealth inequality in China, which has prompted a surge of charitable giving by tycoons, especially tech billionaires. It has also canceled celebrities who flaunted their wealth or embarrassed the CCP by doing things like visiting a Tokyo shrine that holds the remains of World War II criminals, acquiring foreign citizenship, or using a surrogate to have a baby born in the US. Keep all of this in mind if you're an aspiring influencer in China.

Thai stoners rejoice. On Tuesday, Thailand became the first Asian country to decriminalize cannabis by dropping it from its list of banned substances. This is a very big deal for a country known for some of the world’s toughest anti-drug laws, including the death penalty for anyone caught with even small amounts of certain narcotics. Still, a tangle of laws related to cannabis leaves unclear whether recreational use and possession will be prosecuted. For now, the percentage of THC — the psychoactive compound in cannabis that makes you high — must be under 0.2 percent. In recent years, Thailand has relaxed its policy on so-called soft drugs, first legalizing medical marijuana and later kratom, a popular plant-based mild stimulant and painkiller. But the country still has a big problem with addiction to hard drugs — especially yaba (crazy pill), a highly addictive combination of methamphetamine and caffeine sourced from the lawless border areas of neighboring Myanmar.
Annie Gugliotta

What We're Watching: Blinken goes to Southeast Asia

Blinken tours Southeast Asia. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken kicks off on Monday his first Southeast Asian trip as America's top diplomat with stops in Indonesia, Malaysia, and Thailand. Following similar tours by VP Kamala Harris and Defense chief Lloyd Austin, Blinken wants to bolster US defense cooperation with ASEAN, an economic bloc made up of Southeast Asian countries, to build a bulwark against China in the South China Sea. He will also pitch Joe Biden's vision for US-led Indo-Pacific trade as an alternative to doing more trade with China, and talk up Southeast Asia as an alternative business destination for US companies looking to abandon China. But what ASEAN really wants is tariff-free access to the US market, a non-starter for Biden because he says big trade deals with low-wage countries will hurt low-skilled American workers. Meanwhile, Southeast Asian countries are in a bind of their own: doing more business with the US as an alternative to China will create jobs, but the Chinese won't be happy about it — and nowadays they carry a lot more economic sway in the region than America does.

A protester is seen with face paint reading "cancel lèse-majesté law" during the protest. Pro-democracy protesters gathered at Ratchaprasong Junction in demand of Prayut Chan-O-Cha resignation and lèse-majesté law (Thai Criminal Code section 112) cancellation.

Phobthum Yingpaiboonsuk / SOPA Images/Sipa USA

What We’re Watching: Thai monarchy ruling, weed vs coke in Colombia, Moroccan olive twig

Don't mess with the Thai king. A Thai court has ruled that calls by three youth protest leaders to reform the monarchy are an unconstitutional attempt to overthrow the country's political system. Although the verdict is symbolic and won't carry a jail term, it paves the way for the activists to be tried for treason, which is punishable by death. But it's also a double-edged sword. On the one hand, the ruling is a clear warning shot to the youth-led protest movement that last year shocked Thailand by for the first time openly questioning the role of the king, a taboo subject until then. On the other, actually executing protest leaders could turn them into martyrs, driving more of their followers into the streets to face off against government forces. Regardless, the controversial notion of curbing the king's powers is now at the very center of Thai politics: it's the inevitable future for millennials and zoomers, a third-rail issue for mainstream political parties, and a non-starter for the all-powerful Rama X himself.

Can medical weed bring down the high of Colombia's cocaine industry? After decades of trying to stamp out a coca industry that has fueled violence and conflict, the Colombian government is looking to cannabis for help. President Iván Duque wants to boost the cultivation of medical marijuana as a more lucrative, eco-friendly, and less socially-damaging substitute crop for Colombian farmers. Duque, a strong opponent of decriminalizing drugs, made clear that the strategy would apply only to growing cannabis for medical rather than recreational use. He also continues to advocate aerial spraying as a means of eradicating coca crops, despite questions about the effectiveness and environmental impact of this approach. Coca cultivation in Colombia has reached record highs in recent years, as drug cartels have benefited from the poor implementation of Colombia's historic 2016 peace deal with FARC rebels, taking over drug-producing areas of the country that those militants once controlled.

An olive twig from Morocco to Algeria. Tensions between Morocco and Algeria have flared recently, over Algiers' support for separatists in Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony that Morocco considers its own territory. For half a century now, the militants of the Polisario Front have been waging a struggle for independent control over the region, a resource-rich swath of land blessed with plentiful fisheries that lies along a critical trade route for Morocco. Algeria has long backed the rebels as a way to needle Morocco. Earlier this year, Western Sahara figured prominently in a dispute between Morocco and Spain over migration flows to Europe. But in August, Algeria cut ties with Rabat over the issue, and last week accused Moroccan forces of killing three Algerian civilians in the area. Against that backdrop, Morocco now says it wants to "turn the page" on tensions with Algeria. But it also says that its demand for sovereignty over Western Sahara — only recognized by the US — is "legitimate" and non-negotiable. That's not quite an olive branch, but we'll call it a twig and see how this plays out.
Refuse Single-Use Plastics — But Not the Rest | GZERO Media

Refuse single-use plastics — but not the rest: Aloke Lohia

Refusing single-use plastics is okay, but Aloke Lohia, CEO of Indorama Ventures, believes all other plastics should be given "a fair chance" at recycling. Lohia says that some plastics are already 100 percent reusable, while chemical recycling is "just around the corner." Lohia spoke during the second of a two-part Sustainability Leaders Summit livestream conversation sponsored by Suntory.

A protester is seen wearing a face mask with a sticker reading "Chase Prayuth" and raising a three finger salute during a demonstration against the Thai prime minister.

Chaiwat Subprasom / SOPA Images/Sipa USA

What We’re Watching: Thais protest against PM, Taliban government, India (again) shutters Kashmir, Suga out

Thai PM under pressure: Thousands of Thais took to the streets of Bangkok on Thursday to call for the resignation of embattled PM Prayuth Chan-ocha, who faces a no-confidence vote — his third in 18 months — on Saturday. For over a year, the retired general and 2014 coup leader — who's popular among older Thais, cozy with the business elite, and ultra-loyal to the king — has stared down a youth-led movement demanding broad democratic reforms, including, for the first time ever, curbing the powers of the monarchy. Now, the protesters want Prayuth out because Thailand has been badly hit by COVID while barely 11 percent of the population has been fully vaccinated — perhaps because the government is relying heavily on domestic jab production by a company owned by the royal family that has no previous experience in manufacturing vaccines. Prayuth will survive because he has enough votes in parliament, but the pressure on him from Thailand's emboldened youth won't go away.

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Happy US Independence Day! Now can you sing it?

When the United States celebrates its Independence Day on July 4th, many Americans will be singing the Star-Spangled Banner at sports games, parties, and other patriotic-themed events. To mark the date, we take a look at some fun facts about national anthems around the world.

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Thai landfill turned into urban farm to feed poor during Covid-19 pandemic

January 07, 2021 3:48 PM

The move boosted food security and livelihoods of poor families and can be a model for unused spaces in other cities.

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