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Thailand: You Stay Out of This, Sister!

Thailand: You Stay Out of This, Sister!

Rarely has a political career lasting just three days made such a big splash. Late last week, the movie-star sister of Thailand's king accepted a nomination to run in next month's national election, the first since a military junta took power in 2014. Within hours, the king himself intervened to kill the idea, and the country's electoral commission officially disqualified her.



But the brief political foray of Princess Ubolratana Rajakanya, 67, has nevertheless sent shockwaves through Thai politics. For one thing, the royal family traditionally does not participate in day-to-day politics. More unusual still, Ubolratana was set to run for a party, Thai Raksa Chart, that is linked to opponents of the ruling military junta and its royal backers, chief among them her brother

Here's the background: For the past 20 years, Thailand has been bitterly divided between two groups: the country's traditional urban elites, who look to the military and the monarchy to protect their interests, and a much larger constituency of mainly rural voters who back former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, a shrewd business tycoon elected twice in the early 2000s.

Thaksin and his allies have won every election since 2001, despite the military exiling him in 2006. When street clashes erupted in 2014, the military stepped in again. For those counting, the army has attempted 19 coups since Thailand became a constitutional monarchy in 1932, and succeeded 12 times (a solid .632 batting average).

Choosing their moment: The generals have stalled on holding new elections in recent years, even after passing a new constitution that skews the playing field in favor of the current prime minister, General Prayuth Chan-ocha.

Part of the reason for the delay is that in 2016 Thailand's widely-adored King Bhumibol Adulyadej died after seven decades on the throne. Revered by most Thais as a near demigod, the austere and dignified King Bhumibol was seen as a stabilizing force in Thailand's fractious politics. By contrast, his son Maha Vajiralongkorn – a globetrotting bon vivant with an eccentric streak (he conferred the rank of Air Marshalon his dog Fufu) – is a lesser known quantity.

Whether his sister's botched candidacy reflects dissent within the royal family, a tactical overreach by Thaksin's allies or something else, the episode throws a fresh dose of uncertainty and intrigue into Thai politics just weeks ahead of a long-delayed election.

Wales, early 19th century: During breaks from his law studies, William Robert Grove indulges in his passion for science to become an inventor. On his honeymoon in Europe, he learns about the new energy source everyone's talking about: electricity. After learning that electricity allows water to be broken down into its two components, hydrogen and oxygen, his intuition leads him to an idea that ends up making him a pioneer of sustainable energy production.

Watch the story of William Robert Grove in Eni's MINDS series, where we travel through time seeking scientists.

Ian Bremmer's Quick Take:

Hi, everybody. Ian Bremmer here, and as we head into the weekend, a Quick Take on, well, the first bombing campaign of the new Biden administration. You kind of knew it was going to happen. Against some Iranian-backed militias in Syria, looks like a couple of dozen, perhaps more killed, and some militia-connected military facilities destroyed. I think there are a few ways to look at this, maybe three different lenses.

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Afghanistan frustrated nineteenth-century British imperialists for 40 years, and ejected the Soviet army in 1989 after a bloody decade there. And though American and NATO forces ousted the Taliban government in 2001 over its support for al-Qaeda, there's no good reason for confidence that nearly 20 years of occupation have brought lasting results for security and development across the country.

But… could China succeed where other outsiders have failed – and without a costly and risky military presence? Is the promise of lucrative trade and investment enough to ensure a power-sharing deal among Afghanistan's warring factions?

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Carl Bildt, former Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Sweden, shares his perspective from Stockholm on Europe In 60 Seconds:

Is there a military coup ongoing in Armenia?

Well, it isn't a military coup as of yet, but it's not far from it either. This is the turmoil that is resulting from the war with Azerbaijan, which Armenia took a large death loss. What happened was that the head of the armed forces asked for the prime minister to resign. That was not quite a coup, but not very far from it. Now, the prime minister sacked the head of the armed forces, there's considerable uncertainty. Watch the space.

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In the fall of 2019, weeks before the COVID-19 pandemic would change the world, Ian Bremmer asked Dr. Fauci what kept him up at night and he described a "a pandemic-like respiratory infection." Fast-forward to late February 2021 and Dr. Fauci tells Ian, "I think we are living through much of that worst nightmare." Dr. Fauci returns to GZERO World to take stock of the nightmare year and to paint a picture of what the end of the pandemic could look like—and when it could finally arrive.

Catch the full episode of GZERO World, where Dr. Fauci discusses the latest in vaccine roll out, schools re-openings, and plenty more, on US public television stations nationwide, beginning Friday, February 26. Check local listings.

The GZERO World Podcast with Ian Bremmer. Listen now.

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