Friday. 26/8/2022

The Monocle Minute

Image: Reuters

Opinion / Gwen Robinson

Snakes and ladders

Thailand has suddenly found itself with a new leader after the Constitutional Court suspended prime minister Prayuth Chan-ocha from duty, leaving the most senior of six deputy prime ministers, Prawit Wongsuwan (pictured, left, with Chan-ocha), temporarily in charge. The ruling stems from an opposition challenge claiming that the former army chief and 2014 coup leader has served beyond the constitutionally mandated eight years.

A final court ruling isn’t expected for at least a month. In the meantime, with Thailand’s next general election due by next May, there are already signs of manoeuvring by opposition political parties and a revival of the country’s protest movement. But before anyone gets too excited, consider the broader fallout.

For one thing, General Prayuth retains his role as defence minister. For another, seeing an increasingly frail, 77-year-old deputy prime minister and former general named acting leader is not the kind of change that the opposition had in mind. Expect Prawit, known as a master deal-maker, to sign off on a series of transfers of military officers and high-ranking police in the coming weeks – the perfect opportunity to shore up support in the ranks. Waiting in the wings if he fails to do so is another overly ambitious deputy prime minister, Anutin Charnvirakul, who is also health minister and pushed through Thailand’s recent legalisation of marijuana for medical purposes.

Business leaders have signalled a lukewarm response. Given Thailand’s recent effort to restart tourism and boost floundering growth after more than two years of pandemic restrictions, political turmoil is the “very last thing we need”, one senior business executive noted. Perhaps the best summary of the sentiment in Thailand comes from Wiroj Lakkhanaadisorn, a member of the progressive Move Forward party. “Prayut has been suspended from duty and Prawit has taken over as caretaker prime minister. It’s like you’re dodging a 10-wheeler only to crash into a trailer truck.”

Gwen Robinson is Monocle’s Bangkok correspondent and editor at large of ‘Nikkei Asian Review’.

Image: Getty Images

Defence / Taiwan

Count the cost

Taiwan proposed a record 13.9 per cent bump in defence spending yesterday amid a spike in military and political tensions with mainland China. The increase, which has to be approved by Taiwan’s parliament, would bring the annual defence budget up to $19.4bn (€19.4bn), or 14.6 per cent of total government spending. By contrast, the mainland’s defence budget amounts to about $229bn (€229bn), or 7.1 per cent of total expenditure. China’s military has encircled Taiwan this month as part of its largest-ever military drills. Taiwan’s defence ministry suggested that its budget increase, part of which will go to purchasing new fighter jets, was in direct response to these exercises. “Taiwan adheres to the principle of preparing for war without seeking war,” the ministry said. The additional spending won’t help Taiwan match China’s military might – only an ally such as the US can redress that balance – but it could help the mainland think twice about the cost of an invasion.

Image: Andrea Pugiotto

F&B / Italy

Full of beans

There are few things more Italian than a good espresso except, perhaps now, the coffee beans themselves. With increasingly unpredictable weather affecting coffee-growing countries like Colombia and Brazil, roasteries in Italy are embracing the opportunity to finally cultivate their own. “Sicily is tropicalising,” Christian Mulder, a professor of ecology at the University of Catania, tells Monocle. “Nowadays we can get a burst of rain in a two-to-three-week span that before might have been spread out over months.”

As a result, Italian roasteries are experimenting with tropical bean varieties. Family-owned outfit Morettino (pictured) in Sicily is hoping for 50kg of homegrown beans this year; that could double in 2023 as it looks to increase its number of plants. This development could spell trouble for the so-called bean belt, the stretch of the planet between the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn that supports a €100bn global coffee industry. But right now, Italy’s sprouting growers are a drop in the bucket of international coffee production.

Read more about Italy’s growing coffee-bean industry in the September issue of Monocle, on newsstands now.

Image: Shutterstock

Elections / Angola

Same old

It was meant to be the closest election in decades and one that could finally see a change at the top. But provisional results suggest that the People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) holds a lead over the country’s opposition following Wednesday’s national election. The outcome might not be known for days or weeks but there are widespread fears of voter fraud in a nation that has only known uninterrupted MPLA rule since gaining independence from Portugal in 1975.

“The MPLA cannot risk their share of the vote dropping below 50 per cent,” Marisa Lourenço, a risk analyst who specialises in Angolan politics, tells The Monocle Minute. “It would mean losing the parliamentary majority that they have held for nearly 50 years.” Lourenço says that she expects the MPLA to claim a narrow victory. “But that is unlikely to be the end of it,” she says. “The Angolan opposition is almost certain to contest the validity of the result.”

Image: Shutterstock

Business / New Zealand

Out of the box

New Zealand’s sole importer of Tupperware has announced that it will close on 30 October. The US plastic storage container brand is perhaps best known for its clever direct marketing strategy of “Tupperware parties”. These allow the stereotypical 1950s housewife to supplement their household income by hosting social events involving desperate pitches for wary guests to add to their collection of increasingly harder-to-pair plastic lids and vessels.

Surprisingly, a large number of Tupperware’s markets still relied heavily on this party plan in recent years, despite leaving words like “housewife” back in the middle of the last century. But for many of those countries – New Zealand included – the pandemic proved fatal for this business strategy. While homegrown alternative storage solutions, such as Sistema, will ensure that leftovers still make it to work fridges across New Zealand, Tupperware might need to refresh its marketing. And stay-at-homers may have to find something else to peddle to their unwitting neighbours.

Image: Shutterstock

Monocle 24 / The Foreign Desk

Imran Khan

Former prime minister of Pakistan Imran Khan has been charged by police with breaching the country’s anti-terror act. Andrew Mueller explains what this is all about.

Monocle Films / Global

Monocle preview: September issue, 2022

Monocle has its eyes on new frontiers, from health-tech breakthroughs in France to growing coffee in Sicily. Refreshed and revitalised from a summer break, we get back to work in three new media HQs and meet Dries Van Noten. Plus: the thinkers and fighters plotting Ukraine’s renaissance. Grab a copy today from The Monocle Shop.

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