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.

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When you're in outer space, how do you stay motivated, when it's so lonely and pretty stressful too?

It's actually all about the mission. It sounds a little stereotypical to say that but the work is so important and there just isn't a do over. I mean, if you mess something up and you have to do it over, often you can do that. But there's just - you could be doing other really useful things. In the case of something like capturing a 16-ton supply ship with the robotic arm, there really isn't a do over and I find it's the mission but it's also kind of just saying, you know, "I have done everything I can to be ready." If you've done your best. No one can ask anything more than that. So you're ready.

Do you apply that to your work life now here on the ground?

I do that, you know, but often I'm like, I will say an example of TED here, I was a little worried about giving a talk and forgetting, or not saying everything I meant to say, and that was all wrapped up in me and then I went to the first night of talks here and I realized that everyone's here because they have something to say and people are here to listen. And that was the important mission, as opposed to me worrying about how I felt about it, and that got me through.



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Why should we stop using the term "fake news"?

I refuse to use it to such an extent that I actually say "f*** news." And the reason is because it's just a completely useless term for describing the complexity of the situation. None of this really masquerades as news. It's content, social posts, videos and most of it isn't fake. Most of it is misleading or old content used out of context. So it's not helpful. And more importantly, it's used to attack a free and independent press - globally. Politicians, not just Trump, many politicians on the left and the right use it to attack a free, independent press. Any reporting that they don't like they dismiss. And actually, when journalists keep using it like, "Oh yeah, but that's what the audience uses." Well, they're using a weapon that's used to attack them. There are many words that we no longer use because we know that they're harmful. This is a harmful word and so we should just stop using it. We can say lies, rumors, conspiracies, propaganda. What is it that we're talking about? Because we don't need to use this phrase!