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Thailand- A King Above and Beyond Politics



A King Above and Beyond Politics

Why are the people of Thailand rising up against royal power now?


Mr. Chachavalpongpun is an associate professor at Kyoto University’s Center for Southeast Asian Studies.

Credit…Pornchai Kittiwongsakul/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Several thousand people dressed in yellow or pink, colors associated with the royal family of Thailand, gathered along the road to the Grand Palace in Bangkok on Saturday to celebrate the birthday of King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who died in 2016.

Many more people have gathered at recent protests to call for the monarchy’s reform.

Last week a demonstration was supposed to take place outside the majestic yellow building that houses the Crown Property Bureau, the agency that manages the Thai royal family’s colossal fortune. In 2018, the current king and Bhumibol’s son, Maha Vajiralongkorn Bodindradebayavarangkun, claimed direct, personal control over those assets, estimated at $30 billion to $60 billion.

But after razor wire and road blocks went up around the vast compound, organizers changed the venue for the demonstration to the headquarters of Siam Commercial Bank: King Maha Vajiralongkorn is thought to be the bank’s largest single shareholder.

One of the protest leaders, Panupong Jadnok, had called for the gathering to “demand the return of taxpayers’ money.” In August, protesters put out a 10-point manifesto “to resolve the problems with the monarchy,” adding that it “must not hold power related to politics.”

Why, though, are the people of Thailand rising up against this king now when the previous one drastically restricted Thai democracy?

The kings of modern Thailand have sometimes exercised their royal prerogatives apparently at odds with existing laws. King Bhumibol, Vajiralongkorn’s father, intervened in politics occasionally but significantly, even though Thailand’s many constitutions over the years have defined the monarchy as being “yoo neua gaan meuangor “above politics.”

King Bhumibol Adulyadej and Queen Sirikit in 1955 with their children Princess Sirindhorn, left, and Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn.
Credit…-/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

The historian Thongchai Winichakul has argued that King Bhumibol’s reign redefined the meaning of that phrase: from staying out of politics to being on top of politics, or acting as the ultimate authority, superseding all laws.

King Bhumibol’s extrajudicial exercise of power wasn’t just tolerated by many Thais; it came to seem justified, even when it contravened the popular will as expressed in democratic elections. (During his 70-year reign, he endorsed a number of military coups.) Partly this was because of King Bhumibol’s status as a “dhammaraja,” a virtuous leader and god-king. He was also immensely popular, partly for spearheading development projects in marginalized regions and his personal outreach.

King Maha Vajiralongkorn, after just a few years on the throne, seems to have inherited his father’s practice of overriding formal limits on royal power, but not his spiritual aura, nor his ways.

King Bhumibol usually pursued his political objectives by acting at a slight remove, typically through the monarchy’s vast influence network, such as via the Privy Council. More problematically, he at times called on the judiciary, including in 2006, to annul the results of a democratic election.

But King Maha Vajiralongkorn has tended to intervene directly, without proxies.

Soon after he ascended to the throne in late 2016, he requested amendments to a new Constitution — which was essentially drafted by the military and approved in a nationwide referendum — so that he could rule Thailand from Germany, where he had been residing. Last year, he ordered by royal decree that two army units be placed under his direct command.

In the lead-up to the last elections in March 2019, the Thai Raksa Chart Party, a splinter group from the party of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra (who was deposed in a military coup in 2006) nominated Ubolratana Rajakanya Sirivadhana Varnavadi, the king’s older sister, as its candidate for prime minister. The king issued a royal order prohibiting her candidacy, while accusing Mr. Thaksin of jeopardizing the monarchy’s supposed apolitical position. The Constitutional Court then disbanded the party.

Last year, too, King Maha Vajiralongkorn elevated Sineenat Wongvajirapakdi, a former bodyguard of his, to the status of “royal noble consort” — a practice last exercised a century ago. Months later he summarily stripped her of her rank and titles; a royal statement claimed that she had been disloyal and had tried to compete with Queen Suthida Vajiralongkorn Na Ayudhya, the king’s wife. Ms. Sineenat disappeared from public view, sparking rumors that she had been imprisoned or even killed. Then in September the king ordered her privileges reinstated, now calling her “flawless.”

By my count, based on announcements in the royal gazette, more than 200 people have been dismissed, demoted or imprisoned since 2016, without access to proper legal process, presumably on the personal orders of the king.

The country’s punishing lèse-majesté laws were not applied in recent years, at the king’s request. But with the protests of the past months becoming more and more daring, the government has redeployed them recently.

It is not the first time the royal family’s prerogatives have been in tension with the popular will. But protesters see King Maha Vajiralongkorn’s personalized exercise of power as a breach of the monarchy’s tacit social contract with the Thai people.

Pavin Chachavalpongpun is an associate professor at Kyoto University’s Center for Southeast Asian Studies.


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Thai royalists launch political party to protect monarchy –



BANGKOK (Reuters) – An ultra royalist group in Thailand launched a new political party on Wednesday to defend King Maha Vajiralongkorn, amid unprecedented calls for reform of the monarchy by a youth-led protest movement.

The “Thai Pakdee” (Loyal Thai) party is an offshoot of a royalist group of the same name formed last August to counter street demonstrations with rallies in support of the king.

Veteran politician Warong Dechgitvigrom will lead the new party, which he said will fight political groups whose true intention was to topple the monarchy.

“Before we defend … today we declare war, we will fight to protect the monarchy,” Warong told a news conference.

Leaders of the protest movement have rejected allegations that toppling the monarchy is their goal and have repeatedly said they want to make the institution more compatible with democracy.

Warong said the prominent opposition party, Move Forward, and its associated Progressive Movement group would be his party’s political rivals, as well as the youth-led groups that he called “the three-fingers mob”, referring to the “Hunger Games” salute they use in their campaign.

In a statement Warong said his party did not have support of any particular groups or businesses and would belong to the people.

He did not name any other members, but said the election commission had been notified of its formation and executives would be selected soon.

Progressive politician Piyabutr Saengkanokkul warned, however, that the new party risked associating the monarchy with domestic politics.

“The formation of a party that advocates the protection of the monarchy, whether by good intention or for destroying others, could only bring the monarchy into the political sphere,” Piyabutr said on his official Twitter account.

(Reporting by Panu Wongcha-um and Panarat Thepgumpanat; Editing by Martin Petty)

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In Joe Biden's White House, sports and politics may retreat to their own corners – ESPN



THROUGH PERSONAL TRAGEDY, a 36-year Senate career and two terms as vice president, Joe Biden has viewed athletes and athletic competition as sources of virtue, uplift and common ground. He credits sports with instilling the confidence to overcome his stutter and, at times, delivering his own family a sense of healing.

As the nation’s 46th president, Biden’s sentimental view of athletics and his promise to steer the nation away from political division should put him in a position to repair the strained relationship between the White House and much of the sports world.

“He’s certainly going to look to sports and sports figures to help bring us back into alignment as Americans,” Francis Biden, the president-elect’s younger brother, told ESPN. Joe Biden views sports as “one of the central things that binds us together as Americans,” Francis said.

But the nation’s deep divides, which existed even before President Donald Trump spent four years using sports to rile his political base, will test those aspirations.

Trump brought to the presidency a divergent reality regarding sports: The avid golfer was routinely joined on the course by athletes, he attended sporting events regularly, and he awarded 24 athletes the Presidential Medal of Freedom, including Annika Sorenstam and Gary Player this month. But under Trump, champions’ ceremonial White House visits were transformed from a national honor to a political litmus test. Teams continued to attend, but some athletes, including Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry and soccer star Megan Rapinoe, declared their refusal to go. In the wake of the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick, a longtime friend of Trump’s, declined the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

In sometimes vulgar terms, Trump called on sports team owners to punish athletes who followed former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s lead to protest social injustice by kneeling during the national anthem. He feuded with athletes on Twitter, and falsely accused Bubba Wallace, NASCAR’s only Black full-time driver, of perpetrating a hoax after a noose was found in his garage at Talladega Superspeedway.

Biden transition officials did not respond to ESPN’s requests for comment. But the younger Biden told ESPN the president-elect holds a totally different view of social justice protests by athletes. “There is nothing he admires more,” Francis Biden said of his brother. “That’s putting it on the line. That’s getting skin in the game. Risking your career. Those guys are heroes.”

Trump’s broadsides triggered fierce pushback, with stars throwing their immense popularity behind political and social justice movements and using their social media platforms to blast the occupant of the nation’s highest office. Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James, perhaps the nation’s most prominent athlete, once took to Twitter to call the president a “bum.”

At the same time, athletes who showed support for Trump found themselves vilified by Trump critics. They included Washington Nationals catcher Kurt Suzuki, who donned a red Make America Great Again cap during his team’s 2019 White House visit, and boxer Deontay Wilder, who visited the Trump White House to witness the posthumous pardoning of the first Black heavyweight champion, Jack Johnson. Presidential Medal of Freedom recipients, including Vikings legend Alan Page, Yankees stalwart Mariano Rivera and golfer Tiger Woods, were condemned in some quarters for accepting the honor from Trump.

Through the years, Trump, has been an ardent sports fan. He played baseball in high school, owned the USFL’s New Jersey Generals and hosted boxing matches at his Atlantic City casinos. As president, he has attended several college football games, at least one UFC fight, and served as grand marshal of the 2020 Daytona 500, where he was warmly received. But when Trump was spotted at Game 5 of the 2019 World Series in Washington, large sections of the crowd chanted “Lock him up.”

Now, even before Biden’s inauguration, there are signs of thawing in the presidency’s relationship with sports, at least among those critical of Trump.

Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green and James celebrated on Twitter after Biden’s victory. “@KingJames y’all can go to the White House and celebrate y’all title G!” Green tweeted at James. James responded: “YO we back up in there my G!!! I’m taking my tequila and vino too!”

Curry, WNBA stars Sue Bird and Elena Delle Donne, and Lakers icon Magic Johnson also shared celebratory posts on social media. And the Nationals have invited Biden to throw out the ceremonial first pitch of their 2021 season. Trump was the first president not to throw out an MLB first pitch since William Howard Taft started the tradition at a Washington Senators game in 1910.

“There have always been times where individual athletes and coaches have declined to go to the White House, but I think overall as long as Biden doesn’t use his presidency to communicate divisiveness, that tradition will be restored,” said Joseph N. Cooper, a UMass Boston professor of sport leadership and author of a soon-to-be-released book tracing the long history of Black sports activism.

GROWING UP, BIDEN saw sports as a refuge, a space where he could have fun, develop, excel and earn the respect of his peers. He was short for his age before sprouting to 6 feet by the end of high school, but he compensated for his size with quickness and moxie. On the football field, he was known for slashing runs and long touchdown catches.

“He had good speed, and he was kind of an all-around athlete,” recalled Michael Fay, a football teammate of Biden’s at Archmere Academy, a Catholic school outside Wilmington, Delaware.

His classmates at Archmere called him “Dash,” not as a shoutout to his elusiveness on the field, but because of his stutter.

“They called me Dash because of what I could not do in the classroom,” Biden wrote in his 2007 memoir, “Promises to Keep.” “I talked like Morse code. Dot-dot-dot-dot-dash-dash-dash-dash. “You gu-gu-gu-gu-guys sh-sh-sh-sh-shut up!”

The stutter had been a source of embarrassment for as long as he could remember. But if his halting speech made him ashamed during the swirl of childhood and early adolescence, he could always rely on his athletic skills to lift him up.

“Sports was as natural to me as speaking was unnatural,” Biden wrote. “And sports turned out to be my ticket to acceptance — and more. I wasn’t easily intimidated in a game, so even when I stuttered, I was always the kid who said, ‘Give me the ball.'”

Going into Biden’s senior year in 1960, the football team was coming off a 1-6 record, another in a string of losing seasons. At the start of the year, only 19 guys went out for the squad, so the new coach went through the lunch line to fill out his roster. “He was just looking for guys big enough to survive football,” Fay said.

Despite a tacked-together roster and low expectations, Archmere went on to a storybook season, and Biden was a big part of it. The team went 8-0, winning its conference title. Biden scored 10 touchdowns, many on long receptions.

“Over our high school career, I threw Joe 20 touchdown passes,” said Bill Peterman, Biden’s high school quarterback, who went on to play at the Coast Guard Academy. He added, laughing: “Joe caught 19 of them.”

Biden says the winning culture stuck with him. As vice president, he spoke at the 2012 Delaware Sports Museum and Hall of Fame induction of his former coach, E. John Walsh. “He urged us to play the game the same way you lived your life, with passion and integrity,” Biden said. “No matter how good you were, Coach always stressed that you were a teammate first.”

After high school, Biden went to the University of Delaware, where he hoped to play football and maybe even go pro. But that dream lasted for just one semester on the freshman team, as he was forced to quit to focus on his flagging grades.

“When my first semester grades came out, my mom and dad told me I wouldn’t be playing spring football,” Biden wrote in his book. Speaking at a 2018 memorial service for legendary Delaware football coach Tubby Raymond, who led the Blue Hens after Biden graduated, he talked about the lessons he drew from football.

“I remember the first time I walked out on the practice field as a freshman and I was an 18-year-old kid,” he said. “And it didn’t take me long to realize that much more is expected of me and all those who walked out that day onto that practice filed than our athletic ability.

“We are expected to be gentlemen. We are expected to conduct ourselves on the field and off the field the same way.”

During a campaign swing though Pittsburgh with Steelers hero Franco Harris just before the election, Biden recalled that sports also had the power to bring joy to his two young sons even in the midst of devastation. In 1972, Steelers owner Art Rooney asked Harris and fellow running back Rocky Bleier to visit Biden’s two preschool sons, Beau and Hunter, who were hospitalized after the horrific car crash that killed Biden’s first wife, Neilia, and young daughter, Amy.

Afterward, “They had smiles on their face and each of them were holding a football signed by the entire Steel Curtain,” Biden recalled.

In the U.S. Senate, Biden sponsored federal legislation outlawing performance-enhancing drugs, which he said he saw as a form of cheating that undermined the athletic ideal.

“If kids think that all of the best athletes are ‘on the juice,’ what does that teach them?” Biden said in a 2004 statement to the media, after federal law banning steroids was expanded. “I think it teaches them that they should use steroids or steroid precursors to get ahead and win the game; that cheating is OK. This offends me to my core. The United States is the ultimate meritocracy and it is absolutely un-American to take a performance-enhancing drug to get an unfair competitive advantage.”

Through the years, Biden has been a strong supporter of Philadelphia’s professional teams, and he was on the field in Minneapolis to help the Eagles celebrate their victory in Super Bowl LII. He also has been a backer of the teams at his alma mater, where he regularly turns up to attend games.

As vice president, he was in the stands to cheer on the Delaware women’s basketball team when it knocked off North Carolina in the 2013 NCAA tournament. Afterward, he visited the locker room to congratulate the team. The following year, he had Delaware’s men’s basketball team visit the White House and dine at the vice president’s residence after it won the Colonial Athletic Association tournament in 2014. During his final weeks in office as vice president, Biden summoned Delaware’s field hockey team to Washington to celebrate its 2016 national championship.

“He was so excited when we won the national championship in field hockey,” Delaware athletic director Chrissi Rawak said. “He reached out immediately and said he would like to talk to our coach and then he invited us to his home in D.C. to celebrate the accomplishment.” Biden set up a video call with the field hockey coach, Rolf van de Kerkhof. “It was amazing that he took the time to give me five, seven minutes of his time,” the coach said. “He talked about us, and his grandchildren who play sports. He is a sports fanatic, that’s for sure. He attributes his growth as a person to sports.”

GOING FORWARD AS president, Biden has promised to scrap Department of Education rules drawn up during the Trump administration that gave more rights to students accused of sexual assault on campus. The rules also restrict how schools may adjudicate those allegations. Some advocates applauded the recent changes in Title IX regulations, saying they allow men accused of assault to defend themselves from specious charges. But many women’s rights groups and others say the changes make survivors more reluctant to report assaults. The issue is particularly important at big-time colleges, where ESPN has found athletes are three times as likely as other students to be accused of sexual misconduct.

“Any backstepping on Title IX in unacceptable,” the Biden platform says.

On a personal level, Biden, 78, has said his own participation in sports these days is limited to regular exercise to stay healthy and being a fan. He likes to golf, he occasionally cycles, and his brother claims he can still bench-press his weight. Most mornings, he has said, he works out on his Peloton exercise bike or treadmill and then lifts before starting work.

Even with his lifelong connection to the benefits and virtues of athletics, some analysts warn that Biden faces no easy task maneuvering sports back onto politically neutral turf. They worry that the country is just too polarized for that.

“The sports world has been able to occupy, throughout most of the history of this country, this middle ground of being purportedly apolitical but also being supportive of the president while also possessing this healing power,” said Frank Andre Guridy, a Columbia University professor who studies sports history and social movements.

“I believe a lot of those beliefs are being fundamentally challenged now. I don’t see how Biden can recapture that without a major change in our political culture.”

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Vice-President Harris: A new chapter opens in US politics – Toronto Star



WASHINGTON – For more than two centuries, the top ranks of American power have been dominated by men — almost all of them white. That ends on Wednesday.

Kamala Harris will become the first female vice-president — and the first Black woman and person of South Asian descent to hold the role.

Her rise is historic in any context, another moment when a stubborn boundary will fall away, expanding the idea of what’s possible in American politics. But it’s particularly meaningful because Harris will be taking office at a moment of deep consequence, with Americans grappling over the role of institutional racism and confronting a pandemic that has disproportionately devastated Black and brown communities.

Those close to Harris say she’ll bring an important — and often missing — perspective in the debates on how to overcome the many hurdles facing the incoming administration.

“In many folks’ lifetimes, we experienced a segregated United States,“ said Lateefah Simon, a civil rights advocate and longtime Harris friend and mentee. “You will now have a Black woman who will walk into the White House not as a guest but as a second in command of the free world.”

Harris — the child of immigrants, a stepmother of two and the wife of a Jewish man — “carries an intersectional story of so many Americans who are never seen and heard.“

Harris, 56, moves into the vice presidency just four years after she first went to Washington as a senator from California, where she’d previously served as attorney general and as San Francisco’s district attorney. She had expected to work with a White House run by Hillary Clinton, but President Donald Trump’s victory quickly scrambled the nation’s capital and set the stage for the rise of a new class of Democratic stars.

Her swearing-in comes almost two years to the day after Harris launched her own presidential bid on Martin Luther King Jr. Day in 2019. Her campaign fizzled before primary voting began, but Harris’ rise continued when Joe Biden chose her as his running mate last August. Harris had been a close friend of Beau Biden, the elder son of Joe Biden and a former Delaware attorney general who died in 2015 of cancer.

The inauguration activities will include nods to her history-making role and her personal story.

She’ll be sworn in by Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, the first woman of colour to serve on the high court. She’ll use two Bibles, one that belonged to Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, the late civil rights icon whom Harris often cites as inspiration, and Regina Shelton, a longtime family friend who helped raise Harris during her childhood in the San Francisco Bay Area. The drumline from Harris’ alma mater, Howard University, will join the presidential escort.

She’ll address the nation late Wednesday in front of the Lincoln Memorial, a symbolic choice as the nation endures one of its most divided stretches since the Civil War and two weeks after a largely white mob stormed the U.S. Capitol in an effort to overturn the election results.

“We’re turning the page off a really dark period in our history,” said Long Beach, California, Mayor Robert Garcia, a Harris ally. As Democrats celebrate the end to Trump’s presidency, Garcia said he hopes the significance of swearing in the nation’s first female vice-president isn’t overlooked.

“That is a huge historical moment that should also be uplifted,” he said.

Harris has often reflected on her rise through politics by recalling the lessons of her mother, who taught her to take on a larger cause and push through adversity.

“I was raised to not hear ‘no.’ Let me be clear about it. So it wasn’t like, “Oh, the possibilities are immense. Whatever you want to do, you can do,’“ she recalled during a “CBS Sunday Morning” interview that aired Sunday. “No, I was raised to understand many people will tell you, ‘It is impossible,’ but don’t listen.’”

While Biden is the main focus of Wednesday’s inaugural events, Harris’ swearing-in will hold more symbolic weight than that of any vice-president in modern times.

She will expand the definition of who gets to hold power in American politics, said Martha S. Jones, a professor of history at Johns Hopkins University and the author of “Vanguard: How Black Women Broke Barriers, Won the Vote, and Insisted on Equality for All.“

People who want to understand Harris and connect with her will have to learn about what it means to graduate from a historically Black college and university rather than an Ivy League school. They will have to understand Harris’ traditions, like the Hindu celebration of Diwali, Jones said.



“Folks are going to have to adapt to her rather than her adapting to them,” Jones said.

Her election to the vice presidency should be just the beginning of putting Black women in leadership positions, Jones said, particularly after the role Black women played in organizing and turning out voters in the November election.

“We will all learn what happens to the kind of capacities and insights of Black women in politics when those capacities and insights are permitted to lead,” Jones said.

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