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.

This time last year, world health experts were speculating about why Africa appeared to have escaped the worst of the global pandemic. Younger populations? Natural immunity created by exposure to past viruses? Something else?

They can stop wondering. Africa is now in the grip of a COVID emergency.

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Listen: Stanford historian Niall Ferguson joins Ian Bremmer on the GZERO World podcast to talk about the geopolitics of disaster. Throughout human history we seem to be unable to adequately prepare for catastrophes (natural or human-caused) before they strike. Why is that? And as we emerge from the greatest calamity of our lifetimes in the COVID-19 pandemic and look to the plethora of crises that climate change has and will cause, what can we do to lessen the blow?

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Get insights on the latest news in US politics from Jon Lieber, head of Eurasia Group's coverage of political and policy developments in Washington:

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi barred two Republican members from serving on the Jan. 6 commission. What's going on?

Well, the Jan. 6 commission was designed to be a bipartisan commission, taking input from members from Democrats and Republicans. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy had the opportunity to make recommendations but the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, could always veto those recommendations. In this case, she did, saying no to two members, Jim Banks and Jim Jordan, both of whom are strongly aligned with President Trump and who voted against certifying the election results in 2020. The Republicans for the most part see the Jan. 6 commission as an opportunity to score political points against them, and the Democrats say this is going to be a fair, non-biased, and nonpartisan investigation into what happened on Jan. 6, starting with a hearing next week with some of the police officers who were involved in the battle with the protesters inside the Capitol.

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In his New York Times op-ed, David Brooks says the US is facing an identity crisis — protecting liberal and progressive values at home while doing little to stop autocrats elsewhere. But has the US really abandoned its values abroad just because it's withdrawing from Afghanistan? Ian Bremmer and Eurasia Group analyst Charles Dunst take out the Red Pen to argue that the US can advance democracy without being the world's sheriff.

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When the Tokyo Olympics begin on Friday, Japan watchers will be following more than just the performance of Japan's star athletes, including tennis star Naomi Osaka. They will also be tracking the political fortunes of Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, who is taking a big gamble by staging the event — amid a raging pandemic — in the face of strong and longstanding opposition from the Japanese public. What are the stakes for Suga, particularly with elections on the horizon? Eurasia Group senior analyst Ali Wyne explains.

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YouTube pulls Bolsonaro's rants: Google-owned YouTube pulled down a series of videos on the channel of Brazil's populist President Jair Bolsonaro, accusing him of spreading misinformation about the pandemic. YouTube removed more than a dozen clips for touting quack cures for coronavirus or claiming, in defiance of scientific experts, that masks don't reduce COVID transmissions. Last year, Twitter and Facebook also removed some content from Bolsonaro's feeds for similar reasons. But critics say that YouTube's move is too little too late, because Bolsonaro has been spreading misinformation about COVID since the pandemic began. Many Brazilians hold him personally responsible for the country's abysmal pandemic response, which has led to almost 550,000 deaths, the second worst toll in the world. Will YouTube's move change Bolsonaro's message? His weekly address to the nation, where he converses not only with government ministers but also various conspiracy theorists and loons, is broadcast on YouTube. Surely he doesn't want to risk losing that — or does he?

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Boycotts! Bans! Protests! Drugs! Think you've got gold medal knowledge about politics at the Olympics? Test what you know with this special Tokyo Olympics Quiz. And to stay current on all the latest political stories at the Games and around the world, subscribe here to Signal, our daily newsletter. Now, without further ado, the first question is...

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