Thai royalists defend king amid protests: ‘We will not abandon him’


Thailand’s former King Bhumibol is a hard act to follow. The monarch, beloved for his perceived humility and hard work, was on the throne for 70 years. 

Now his son, King Vajiralongkorn, is facing unprecedented opposition. Restless young Thais have rallied across the country, demanding political change that includes curbs on royal power and wealth. 

While protesters insist their goal is reform, not abolition, of the monarchy, some have grown bolder in a country where lèse-majesté laws prohibit most criticism. What makes their dissent so potent is the new king’s reputation as an impulsive thrice-divorced ruler who enjoys a lavish lifestyle abroad.

Taboo-breaking insults have provoked counterdemonstrations by royalists and even calls for the military to seize power. Faith in the monarchy has been a bedrock of modern Thai identity, and the palace remains a symbol of power, spirituality, and prestige. 

Suwit Thongprasert, a former monk who led an ultra-royalist faction of the 2014 protests, was one of thousands waiting to see the royals in a recent walkabout. He describes the crown as “one of Thailand’s three main pillars: the nation, the religion, and the monarchy. If a pillar was for a house, and it was nibbled by termites and collapsed, the house [Thailand] would not be able to stand.”

Bangkok

As cries of “long live the king” echoed outside the palace walls, Sirinrat Khittichet and her mother waited in line to catch a glimpse of Thailand’s royal family. They were among thousands of yellow-clad royalists gathered on a sticky November evening in support of King Maha Vajiralongkorn during a rare walkabout in the Thai capital. 

“My family and I have always been loving and loyal to the [royal] family,” says Ms. Sirinrat. 

But she knows that not everyone shares that loyalty in a country roiled by months of youthful political protests, which is why she came out. “We want to let His Majesty and people who use vulgar words to attack him know that there are people who still love and have faith in him.”

Faith in the monarchy has been the bedrock of modern Thai identity, backed by a panopticon of propaganda and criminal punishment for criticism. The palace remains a symbol of power, spirituality, and prestige. But King Vajiralongkorn, who replaced his long-serving father in 2016, is facing unprecedented opposition from restless young Thais who have rallied across the country to demand political change, including curbs on royal power and wealth. 

While protesters insist their goal is reform, not abolition, of the monarchy, some have grown bolder and more insulting in their rhetoric; social media posts have also ridiculed the previous widely revered ruler, King Bhumibol. These taboo-breaking insults, and a recent show of disrespect toward a royal motorcade, have provoked counterdemonstrations by royalists and even calls for the military to seize power so as to protect the monarchy.

On Tuesday, police used water cannons laced with chemicals to disperse anti-government protesters who rallied outside the Thai parliament. There were also smaller clashes nearby between some protesters and supporters of the monarchy.

Behind this political struggle is a generational divide, as younger Thais shed the deference of their parents toward the monarchy and other traditional institutions. “They’re more willing to question and challenge the hierarchies that dictate who you are and what you do in Thailand,” says Tamara Loos, a professor of history and Southeast Asian studies at Cornell University.

And what makes their dissent so potent is the reputation of King Vajiralongkorn as an impulsive thrice-divorced ruler who enjoys a lavish lifestyle abroad. That reputation jars with the upright ethics of his late father, whose decades of diligence and decorum endeared him to young and old, including pro-democracy activists who praised his intervention in a 1992 political crisis. 

“There’s a real moral dilemma for many Thais … who have been raised with the monarchy but are also pro-democracy and have a moral code,” says Professor Loos. “They revered and respected Bhumibol. He was regarded as a moral and ethical human being – and that’s not true of King Vajiralongkorn.”

Pro-democracy demonstrators raise a three-finger salute, a symbol of resistance, as they gather at a junction in Bangkok, Oct. 15, 2020. A student-led campaign has shaken Thailand’s ruling establishment with the most significant push for political change in years.

 

Father and son

Since 1932, when absolute monarchy ended in this Buddhist kingdom, the powers of the crown have waxed and waned. King Bhumibol, who was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, ascended to the throne in 1946 when political power was held by the Thai military. During the Cold War, U.S. advisers sought to rebuild the Thai crown as a unifying symbol against Communism, and the king began to visit rural towns and villages, carrying a map and a camera. Photos of his visits, and stories of his efforts to develop underserved regions, are still iconic.

Historians debate his role in Thailand’s fitful democratization as the Vietnam War wound down; defenders say King Bhumibol tried to reconcile factions and promote good governance, while critics accuse him of legitimizing coups, including the 2006 overthrow of a popular elected leader. 

Still, few doubted his humble lifestyle and hardworking habits, and his death in 2016 plunged the nation into mourning. His heir, King Vajiralongkorn, a military-trained pilot, replaced him. 

King Vajiralongkorn has spent most of his reign living in southern Germany. He insisted on amending the Thai Constitution so he could legally rule from there and took personal control of a royal trust that holds an estimated $40 billion in property and assets. Last year he married for the fourth time and named another woman as his royal consort, a title not used in modern times. 

“We measure him against the backdrop of his father, and it’s so hard for him to succeed,” says Thongchai Winichakul, a Thai historian and former leftist student leader. 

He argues that even a morally impeccable sovereign would struggle to define himself, given the expansion of the monarchy under King Bhumibol and the cult of personality that emerged. 

“The monarchy is a peculiar institution anywhere in the world. It’s an institution of one person,” says Professor Winichakul, a professor emeritus at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. 

Defending the crown

Last month, thousands of anti-government protesters marched to the German Embassy in Bangkok, calling for an investigation into the king’s conduct in Germany, including his tax records. German authorities have said Thai politics shouldn’t be conducted on their territory. 

Like other Thai royals, King Vajiralongkorn almost never grants interviews and his affairs are shrouded in secrecy, though his louche image has made him a curiosity to German tabloids, which have published candid photos that Thai anti-royalists have seized upon to mock him.  

During his recent walkabout here, a CNN correspondent was allowed to ask him on camera about his reaction to the protesters. “We love them all the same,” he replied. 

That’s a view that Ms. Sirinrat shares. “I think everybody has a right to protest, and everybody thinks differently. We need to listen to everybody,” she says.

She also defends the king’s overseas sojourns at taxpayers’ expense. “I think that it’s his personal affairs. Commoners like us sometimes travel abroad. We should focus on his royal duties for Thais,” she says. 

Also in the crowd that night was Suwit Thongprasert, an outspoken former monk who led an ultra-royalist faction of a protest movement in 2014 that ended in a coup. After he handed a floral garland to the queen, King Vajiralongkorn then struck up a conversation with him. Mr. Suwit said later the king had thanked him for organizing local events promoting the legacy of the royal family. 

Like other royalists, Mr. Suwit won’t discuss King Vajiralongkorn’s lifestyle. He describes the crown as “one of Thailand’s three main pillars: the nation, the religion, and the monarchy. If a pillar was for a house, and it was nibbled by termites and collapsed, the house [Thailand] would not be able to stand.”

Mr. Suwit says he plans to hold more events in villages to celebrate the monarchy, funded by donations from fellow royalists. He praises the king for spending more time in Thailand since his return last month from Germany. 

“When people are calling that they want to be closer to His Majesty, His Majesty then shows his honesty by becoming closer to the people, closing the gaps between himself and the people, and gradually unifying together. He is reforming himself,” he says. 

Shutdown ahead?

So far, calls for reform of Thailand’s military-backed government and the monarchy have fallen on deaf ears. Some fear that a political stalemate could, as in the past, end in a coup. 

Army chief Narongpan Jitkaewthae has ruled out a coup, saying politicians must solve the crisis; his predecessors issued similar denials before seizing power, including the current prime minister, Prayuth Chan-ocha, who led the 2014 coup. An ultra-royalist group recently submitted a petition to the government to “shut down” the country in order to end the protests. 

“People that are calling for a coup are a minority,” says Chaiyan Chaiyaporn, a political scientist at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok. If there is one, “it will not end very easily. The coup will complicate and damage the monarchy’s situation even more,” he warns. 

After the royal walkabout, with the family driven off in a motorcade, Ms. Sirinrat’s face is bathed in sweat. Her smile is undimmed as she praises the man who she says is still learning his role as king. 

“When you have a new friend, you need to give them time and chance so that you can adjust to each other. This is the same. I am giving him the time. If he doesn’t abandon us, we will not abandon him,” she says.

Staff writer Simon Montlake reported from Cambridge, Massachusetts. 



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Victorian Government urges High Court to abandon legal case against coronavirus shutdown


Today’s High Court showdown over Victoria’s lockdown laws may be about to turn into a fizzer, if the State Government has its way.

Hotelier Julian Gerner launched the challenge, calling for the shutdown to be ruled illegal, after damage to his business on the Mornington Peninsula.

But with Victoria set to announce a further lifting of restrictions on Sunday, lawyers for the State Government are urging the court to abandon the case, saying there’s no longer any point.

Mr Gerner’s legal team disagrees, telling the court they are not pursuing a hypothetical or pointless question.

“The answer will determine whether the state is at liberty to repeat its conduct if things change,” they said in written submissions to the court opposing any abandonment of the case.

If it does go ahead the case could make legal history.

Mr Gerner’s lawyers have set themselves a big task.

They say the shutdown breached an implied constitutional right to freedom of movement.

It’s a whole new concept, and has seen the case take a bit of an unusual course, with what’s known as a demurrer.

Bar owner will have to show implied right to freedom of movement exists

A demurrer is a document in which one party agrees with the facts put forward by an opponent, but dismisses them as irrelevant or invalid.

In this case the Victorian Government has agreed with Mr Gerner’s assertions about the harm the restrictions have done to his Sorrento bar and restaurant, but says there was no breach of the constitution.

The upshot is Mr Gerner will have to show an implied right to freedom of movement does exist, if he’s to show the shutdown was illegal.

And he’s employed one of the best legal minds to do that, in Bret Walker, who recently argued successfully for Cardinal George Pell in the High Court.

During the lockdown, Victoria Police have been stopping motorists to ensure they have a valid reason for travel.(ABC News: Sean Warren)

In their submissions, his lawyers refer back to the history of the constitutional debates, and seek to hitch a ride on the well established implied right to freedom of political communication.

“To date, the implication of a freedom of movement as an aspect of the freedom of political communication has not been determined,” the submissions say.

“Such an implication as an aspect of freedom of political communication is consistent with a free and confident society.”

The concept of freedom of movement has also been linked to federation, which Mr Gerner’s lawyers say logically requires freedom for people to move within the Commonwealth.

But the Victorian Government says it’s not clear how that idea provides a basis for a broad implied freedom of movement.

“Victoria contends that there is simply ‘no foothold’ in the text or structure of the constitution to support a general implied freedom of movement as pleaded by the plaintiffs,” its submissions say.

Lawyers for the state also suggest the idea is contrary to existing High Court rulings and is not supported by the drafting history of the constitution.

A yellow sign posted outside a business says "we are currently hibernating".
Non-essential businesses were closed during Victoria’s tough lockdown, which aimed to stop the spread of coronavirus.(ABC News: Darryl Torpy)

The case has been set down for one day, although if the demurrer is to be argued separately it may go on until Monday.

Earlier this week, in a separate legal case, a Victorian Supreme Court judge dismissed an action from Melbourne cafe owner and Liberal Party member Michelle Loielo, who claimed the city’s coronavirus curfew was unlawful.

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews has said he would make announcements about the next stage of lifted restrictions on Sunday, after the state recorded seven consecutive days of zero new coronavirus cases this week.

The 25-kilometre travel radius in Melbourne will go, and the “ring of steel” between the city and regional Victoria will be lifted.



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Justin Koschitzke encourages former St Kilda Saint Paddy McCartin to abandon return


“Brain injuries can be terrible in later life and I’m experiencing that first hand. I would really encourage him to make a really intelligent decision and not go on.”

Koschitzke was on the Gold Coast Suns coaching staff earlier this year before being let go in the cull of coaching roles across the AFL following COVID-19.

He is now on his family farm helping his brother prepare for a bumper harvest but admitted he is closely watching his own brain issues following several jarring concussions in his 200-game AFL career.

“I’ve got really bad memory loss and bad mood swings and down times. I have no doubt it’s from the concussions,” Koschitzke said.

“I certainty feel after the hit in 2006 I changed as a person. I really reckon it affected my personality.

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“I have to really watch myself, be careful of what I’m doing and work on myself. No doubt it has had a big impact.

“This is what Paddy should be looking at. He might feel fresh and fine now, but it’s the long-term impacts. You look at guys who had some big knocks in their 40s and 50s, I’m certainly concerned about that with the older I get.”

Koschitzke said he hoped to return to an AFL role, possibly with the Saints, once Melbourne opens up again and he also put forward a strong endorsement for former Saints and Fremantle coach Ross Lyon, should he push for a return to coaching.

“I love him. Sometimes he can be a polarising person but he would wind us up so we could run through brick walls,” Koschitzke said.

“He was just so passionate and loyal to his players. The boys still speak regularly and go out to eat. I reckon he is the funniest man in the media, he’s a brilliant coach, a very good motivator and I’d love to see him get another gig.”

Koschitzke’s comments came as the AFL reported that the number of concussions dropped from 2018 to 2019 (74 to 65). This also represented a drop in the incidence of concussion (number of concussions per 1000 player hours) from 2018 to 2019. The incidence number (6.54) was as low as it had been since 2015.

Matches missed due to concussion, per club, per season, also increased from 5.45 in 2018 to 8.04 in 2019.

“This reflects an ongoing conservative management approach,” an AFL statement read.

AFL head of football Steve Hocking added: “We have strengthened match day protocols for the identification and management of concussion, we continue to change the laws of the game to discourage high contact and also moved earlier this season to change the tribunal rules, to more strictly sanction tackles that endanger the head.”

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Online abuse forcing girls to abandon social media


Online abuse is driving girls to quit social media platforms including Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, with nearly 60 per cent experiencing harassment, a global study has shown.

One in five girls and young women has abandoned or cut down on using a social media platform after being targeted, with some saying harassment started when they were as young as eight, the survey by girls’ rights group Plan International showed.

“Girls are being silenced by a toxic level of harassment,” said the organisation’s chief executive, Anne-Birgitte Albrectsen.

Attacks were most common on Facebook, where 39 per cent of girls polled said they had been harassed, followed by Instagram (23 per cent), WhatsApp (14 per cent), Snapchat (10 per cent), Twitter (9 per cent) and TikTok (6 per cent).

The charity, which will share the report with social media companies and lawmakers around the world, said the abuse was suppressing girls’ voices at a time when the COVID-19 pandemic was increasing the importance of communicating online.

It called on social media companies to take urgent action to address the issue and urged governments to pass laws to deal with online harassment.

The study found reporting tools were ineffective in stopping the abuse, which included explicit messages, pornographic photos and cyberstalking.

Nearly half of girls targeted had been threatened with physical or sexual violence, according to the poll. Many said the abuse took a mental toll, and a quarter felt physically unsafe.

“It is time for this to stop. Girls should not have to put up with behaviour online which would be criminal on the streets,” the report said.

Facebook and Instagram said they used artificial intelligence to look for bullying content, constantly monitored users’ reports of abuse and always removed rape threats.

“Keeping women safe on our apps is critical and we invest heavily in keeping abuse off our platforms,” said Cindy Southworth, head of women’s safety at Facebook.

She said Facebook was working with Plan International to better understand how it can support young women around the world.

Twitter said it also used technology to catch abusive content and has launched tools to improve users’ control over their conversations.

The survey polled 14,000 girls and young women aged 15 to 25 in 22 countries including Brazil, India, Nigeria, Spain, Thailand and the United States.

Albrectsen said activists, including those campaigning for gender equality and on LGBT+ issues, were often targeted particularly viciously, and their lives and families threatened.

“Driving girls out of online spaces is hugely disempowering in an increasingly digital world, and damages their ability to be seen, heard and become leaders,” she added.

In an open letter to Facebook, Instagram, TikTok and Twitter, girls from around the world called on social media companies to create more effective ways to report abuse.

“We use (your platforms) not just to connect with friends, but to lead and create change. But they are not safe for us. We get harassed and abused on them. Every. Single. Day,” they wrote.

“As this global pandemic moves our lives online, we are more at risk than ever.”

Plan International also urged the companies to do more to hold to account those behind such abuse, and to collect data on the scale of the problem.

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Australia should abandon its dream of high-speed rail along the east coast, report suggests


Australia should abandon the idea of a bullet train and governments should stop wasting public money to study proposals, according to a new report by the Grattan Institute.

During the global coronavirus pandemic, the fast-tracking of big infrastructure projects — such as fast rail between Melbourne and Brisbane — has been touted as a way to stimulate the economy.

But the “Fast train fever” report says a bullet train is not the answer.

Australia has had a long obsession with fast rail. Every 10 years or so there is a grand proposal for high-speed rail.

But the report suggests while a bullet train zipping along the country’s coastline is a captivating idea — it’s not realistic or suitable for Australia and is not a good use of public money.

Report author Marion Terrill said most people imagined a bullet train would bring us in line with the rest of the world, help us meet our emissions-reduction targets and give a boost to regional communities, but she said none of these things were true.

“Around the world it is very rare for bullet trains to span a distance of 1,000 km or more and when they do, they usually serve populations of at least 50 million people,” she said.

“Australia’s population is small and spread over vast distances and the countries most like us — Canada and the US — don’t have bullet trains either.”

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The Grattan Institute told ABC Radio Melbourne the project would be “ruinously expensive”
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Ms Terrill said bullet trains were not the climate saver we might think.

“It’s true that it is less emissions intensive if you take a trip by high-speed rail than if you fly, but what that overlooks is construction,” she said.

“Construction is extremely emissions intensive and it would take 50 years to construct the Melbourne to Brisbane line, so for a long time you’re actually increasing emissions.”

Japan and France the only two countries to recoup construction costs

Labor Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese renewed calls this year for a bullet train between Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane, arguing it would help the economy recover from the COVID-19 crisis.

The severe economic downturn also means the Prime Minister wants to fast-track construction where possible — arguing that transport infrastructure projects will help kick-start the economy — and state governments agree.

A map outlines a proposed route for high-speed rail linking Melbourne, Sydney and Canberra.
One of several proposed routes in recent years for high-speed rail to connect Australia’s east coast cities.(Supplied: Consolidated Land and Rail Australia)

But the report cautioned governments to pause in this time of high uncertainty.

“Even where countries do have extensive bullet train networks like Japan, China and Europe — fast trains generally need very large government subsidies even after they’re built,” it reads.

“In fact, only two fast-train lines in the world have recovered their construction costs: Japan’s Tokaido Shinkansen, and France’s Paris-to-Lyon line.”

The report suggests that it would take a tax hike of about $10,000 for every personal taxpayer in Australia to fund a bullet train.

That’s something that taxpayers in Western Australia and Tasmania might be particularly disgruntled about, when it would mainly benefit business travellers between Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane.

“A rigorous independent cost benefit analysis [of an east coast bulletin train] conducted today, would be unlikely to add net benefits to society,” the report said.

Biggest benefits would be concentrated in capital cities

Australia’s east coast bullet train would be one of the longest continuous segments of fast rail in the world and even the Melbourne to Sydney segment would be one of the longest stretches between two large cities.

Supporters of faster trains assume the benefits will flow to regional cities or towns, but Ms Terrill said the benefits were likely to flow in the other direction.

“The best evidence suggests the capital would be more likely to gain at the expense of the town,” she said.

“This is what has happened overseas, in France, the high-speed network benefited the second-tier cities of Lyon and Lille, but not by as much as it benefited Paris.

“Improving internet and mobile connectivity and freight links would do more for towns and distant regional cities than speeding up passenger rail.”

The report has called for every proposed rail renovation project in Australia to be reviewed in the light of the COVID-19 crisis and found regional rail upgrades make more sense, but they’re unlikely to achieve the goals of taking pressure off capital cities and boosting the regions.

“As regrettable as it might be given the undeniable appeal of an Australian east-coast bullet train, we should put the idea to bed and move on,” the report said.



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And now MORE Windows 10 users are urged to abandon Google Chrome


Microsoft is boasting in the newly-launched advertisement that “the new Microsoft Edge was built to bring you the best of the web” when visiting Windows Search. And now, Microsoft has started to feature a very prominent note across the top of its Outlook.com website.

Provided you’re one of the two billion users using Google Chrome worldwide and visit Outlook.com, you’ll now see a note stating something like: “Microsoft Edge + Outlook = Better together,” suggesting that those using Chrome, Firefox, Opera, or other browsers are getting a sub-par experience. WindowsLatest has collated a truckload of different examples of these advertisements, including messages like: “The new browser recommended by Microsoft”.

Clicking on the text sends you to a Microsoft Edge download webpage to install the web browser on your Windows, macOS, Android or iOS. Unfortunately, Microsoft does not indicate how it believes its own in-house web browser will enable a better experience for Outlook users. 

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These advertisements have sprung up across the web, Microsoft-owned web applications, and even in the Start Menu in Windows 10 in a bid to push the browser onto new users.

Earlier this year, Microsoft launched a new version of its Edge browser. Although the original Edge launched alongside Windows 10 as a next-generation alternative to Internet Explorer – the previous default browser in Microsoft operating systems, the all-new variant of the browser is built on the same codebase as Google Chrome. That means any website or web app designed to work with Chrome will work seamlessly with Edge.

Not only that, but browser extensions designed for Chrome will also work with Microsoft Edge.

That new version of Edge is available for download now, with Microsoft planning to roll it out to all Windows 10 users through Windows Update sometime later this spring. Of course, this isn’t just Google Chrome with a facelift – Microsoft has also included a number of its own original features, including tracking prevention, redesigned tab management, to name a few features.

For our money, Edge seems to be much less aggressive on our MacBook battery than Google Chrome. However, we’d rather Edge was promoted by good word of mouth, rather than aggressive advertising in every corner of Windows 10.



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