Wednesday 31 May 2023 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Wednesday. 31/5/2023

The Monocle Minute

Image: Getty Images

Opinion / James Chambers

Make your move

In countries with a history of coalition governments, the role of kingmaker is a storied one. There are always parties that win enough seats to sway the outcome but not enough to take the crown. In Thailand that honour has fallen unexpectedly to Pheu Thai – and it could end up being its undoing. The party of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra (pictured) went into the election earlier this month buoyed by predictions of a landslide win. But it emerged in second place, behind upstart rival Move Forward.

This shock result presented a chastened Pheu Thai with two unappealing options: support Move Forward’s coalition with eight other parties and help their political heirs ultimately replace them, or side with coup leaders and their cronies, and go down in history as the party that drowned Thailand’s democratic revival at birth. As one party insider told me, it could be the beginning of the end for Pheu Thai, though the party and its wily operators are not going to go quietly. Thaksin came out this week to deny rumours that Pheu Thai is plotting to form a rival coalition but the political manoeuvring is already being played out in the open.

A rift has emerged between Move Forward and Pheu Thai about who gets to fill the post of speaker in the house of representatives. Much like in the US, the speaker gets to set the legislative agenda so Move Forward needs control of the position to table its most radical reforms, such as changing Thailand’s lèse-majesté law, which had been left out of the coalition agreement to appease the other signatories. If brinkmanship and scheming like this were to bring down the coalition from within, then Pheu Thai would surely be blamed by voters for whatever comes next. For Pheu Thai to have a future, it must get behind Move Forward and use this defeat to carry out much-needed reforms of its own.

James Chambers is Monocle’s Asia editor, based in Bangkok. For more opinion, analysis and insight, subscribe to the magazine today.

Image: Reuters

Business / France

Bright sparks

France’s first electric vehicle (EV) battery factory (pictured) was inaugurated yesterday in the Hauts-de-France commune of Billy-Berclau. The launch is part of a €30bn reindustrialisation plan that Emmanuel Macron proposed during his 2021 re-election campaign. The move aims to put the country at the forefront of the clean-energy sector and subsidise EV production, which currently accounts for 15 per cent of France’s automobile market. Longer than six football pitches, the factory will become part of a wider “Battery Valley” – an EV version of Silicon Valley. A further four EV battery factories will be established in northern France by 2030. The sector has traditionally been almost entirely dominated by Chinese production, which was valued at $15.7bn (€14.6bn) in 2021. But with the EU’s goal of eliminating the sale of diesel and petrol vehicles by 2035, the pressure is on to bring EV production closer to home.

Image: Getty Images

Tourism / South Korea

Good for the Seoul

South Korea has unveiled plans this week to ease immigration procedures and attract more international patients to visit the country for medical treatment or cosmetic surgeries. The country’s new project aims to lure 700,000 medical tourists by 2027 and encourage visitors to enjoy hot springs and explore tourist spots after receiving healthcare services.

However, two of the biggest problems that the government faces are the language barrier and domestic concerns about easing immigration protocols. In recent years groups from both Mongolia and Thailand have reportedly arrived in South Korea under the guise of medical tourism and disappeared within the country. If the government is able to attract the numbers that they predict, investment into language services and better immigration checks will also need to be considered.

Image: Alamy

Culture / Italy

Unsettling watch

Rome staged a new film festival on Monday that featured only productions shot in Italy’s historic villages. Borghi sul Set highlighted the creative potential of Italy’s 6,000 hamlets in the face of escalating depopulation, via two feature films and four shorts. The jury prize went to historical drama Il Pataffio, which was filmed at an abandoned castle in Vicalvi. Miraggio, the story of a homecoming filmed in the tiny municipality of Contigliano (pictured), took the prize for best location.

Despite the rustic views and rich traditions, many Italian villages face extinction in the next few decades due to depopulation. Efforts by the government to save these settlements have included relocation grants and initiatives such as offering houses for as little as €1. If this film festival is anything to go by, more creative flair could be the answer.

Image: Reuters

Food / USA

Mars bars

A New York-based aviation-fuel company has made it through to the finals of the Deep Space Food Challenge, a Nasa-sponsored contest that encourages the development of sustainable food creation on long-haul space missions. Air Company, one of eight finalists, uses recycled carbon dioxide from human breath to grow yeast-based nutrients that meet the dietary needs of astronauts. The result has the consistency of a whey protein shake, according to the New York company.

Among the other entrants is Interstellar Lab (pictured) of Merritt Island, Florida, which has created a modular bioregenerative system for producing fresh food including daikon radish sprouts. “Going to Mars will mean being away for at least three years and there’s no way that you can take pre-packed food to last that long,” space scientist David Whitehouse tells The Monocle Minute. “This type of technology could have uses on Earth as there is a great deal of debate about food production, carbon footprints and sustainability.” The question remains however, whether people can move out of their cultural comfort zones and try something other than Earth-grown food.

For more on Nasa-sponsored food innovations for space travel, tune in to Tuesday’s edition of ‘The Globalist’ on Monocle Radio.

Image: Alamy

Monocle Radio / The Urbanist

The Davidson Prize

Sadie Morgan discusses the shortlist for the forthcoming Davidson Prize, how our cities can help rough sleepers and how good planning can improve every aspect of urban life, from housing to infrastructure. Plus: a look at Los Angeles’s solutions to homelessness.


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