Wednesday 16 August 2023 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Wednesday. 16/8/2023

The Monocle Minute

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Opinion / James Chambers

Friends in high places

After the disappointment of July, when Thailand’s reformist party Move Forward, led by Pita Limjaroenrat, was denied the chance to form a new government, voters are now watching the political saga unfold in disbelief. Pheu Thai, the political party that was handed responsibility for building a coalition after coming second in May’s election, appears to be tiptoeing towards a power-sharing deal with the former generals and military-backed parties that kept it out of power after the 2019 election and had it forcefully removed in a coup d’état five years earlier. Before the ballot in May, Pheu Thai’s leader, Chonlanan Srikaew (pictured, on left, with Limjaroenrat), ruled out this unthinkable union.

But if campaign promises are broken, Thailand’s next government could become the latest example of a political phenomenon sweeping Southeast Asian democracies: the disappearing opposition. Indonesia is an expert in these grand, aisle-crossing coalitions. Second-term president Joko Widodo has assembled such a broad cabinet of political friends and foes that the government can effectively pass any legislation it wants. In neighbouring Malaysia, liberal prime minister Anwar Ibrahim shacked up with the same conservative party that put him in jail.

The ability to hold hands with sworn enemies must seem quite appealing to Western democracies bogged down by warring sides and deeply entrenched political divides. However, unchecked governments should ring just as many alarm bells as gridlocked ones. Grinning politicians will say that they are ditching their principles for the sake of national unity but power is the ultimate adhesive, especially in a region with an established tradition of party hopping.

Pheu Thai old-timers must sense that there’s a last chance to bag a plum cabinet post before the next election, when angry voters are likely to hand Move Forward, or whatever the progressive movement becomes, a bigger mandate. Until then, Thailand’s opposition could find itself under attack from a strong and united government. Indeed, it would come as little surprise to see Thailand’s party of hope and change get systematically picked apart and ultimately dissolved, again. Move Forward started life in opposition as Future Forward. Looking ahead to the next four years in Thai politics, however, “Inch Forward” would probably be an acceptable reincarnation.

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

Image: Getty Images

Diplomacy / USA & South Korea & Japan

Power of three

South Korea’s president, Yoon Suk Yeol, has stressed the importance of trilateral security co-operation with Japan and the US amid continued nuclear and missile threats from North Korea. Joe Biden and Japan prime minister, Fumio Kishida (pictured, centre, with Yoon and Biden), will join Yoon at the Camp David presidential retreat in Maryland this Friday, where they will introduce a series of joint initiatives on technology, education, and defence.

Though Washington has collective defence arrangements in place with Tokyo and Seoul, it wants the two nations to work closer together. Since taking office in May 2022, Yoon has sought to improve relations with Tokyo that were frayed by a stalemate in feuds over compensation suits raised by victims of Japan’s forced labour during its colonial rule. The meeting will be the first time that the leaders of the three countries have gathered specifically for a trilateral summit, suggesting that all sides are serious about boosting their ties in the midst of complex regional challenges.

Image: Alamy

Transport / Spain & Portugal

Mind the gap

Spain’s railway operator, Renfe, has announced plans this week to expand its network into Portugal starting from 2024, bridging a much-needed travel gap between the two countries. While there are plenty of motorway links and regular bus services to connect the neighbouring nations, there is a distinct lack of rail services. Though there are regional trains that link Porto with Vigo and Entroncamento with Badajoz, crossing the Iberian Peninsula by rail can be a mammoth task.

Starting next year, however, both countries’ networks will be joined at the Elvas-Badajoz border, meaning that a train trip between Lisbon and Badajoz will only take two hours. By 2027, Renfe aims to link Lisbon with Madrid, and Porto with A Coruña. After years of delays and bureaucratic inefficacy, connecting Europe’s two westernmost nations is the final step in full rail integration for a continent where train travel has an enduring allure, while also being more sustainable and climate-conscious than other options.

For more on this story tune in to Tuesday’s episode of ‘The Briefing’ on Monocle Radio.

Image: Getty Images

Innovation / Australia

Clean conscience

It is the least glamorous aspect of event planning but one of the most crucial: if the sanitation is sub-optimal, it will be all anybody talks about afterwards. It is a particular challenge for rock festivals, which are usually held in settings without established plumbing and often attended by crowds for whom hygiene and decorum are not priorities. The proprietors of the annual Mundi Mundi Bash, held on a goat station near Broken Hill in outback New South Wales, believe that they have not only cracked the problem but helped the environment in so doing.

For this year’s Bash, taking place this week, they have unveiled a system of compostable toilets – dunnies, in the local argot – that will save water and bequeath a legacy of nitrogen-rich fertiliser. It is not fanciful to imagine wider applications. Clean, accessible, functional and environmentally friendly sanitation remains an unmet aspiration for far too many cities, especially in the fast-growing megalopolises of less-wealthy nations. The humble facilities used by Hoodoo Gurus fans in Broken Hill could prove transformative in much busier locations.

Image: Alamy

Sailing / Europe

Water works

Headquartered in Athens, leading Mediterranean and Gulf marina network D-Marin is redefining yachting. Emerging in the early 2000s, it left its mark in the eastern Mediterranean by acquiring spaces in Turkey, Croatia and Greece. Now, with a focus on luxury hospitality, D-Marin is revolutionising the industry, its providing personalised experiences akin to upscale hotels across its 19 locations.

The network offers digital enhancements such as online bookings, instant payments and remote boat monitoring, and its collaborations with premium restaurants and hotels only enhances its allure. The company’s ultimate vision is to provide a seamless journey across marinas, ensuring uniform, high-quality service that eliminates typical inconveniences. “Customer service in yachting has traditionally been transactional but we are now training our staff to think of a marina like a top hotel,” says Gyozo Lantos, head of mergers and acquisitions. “Our main focus is to provide our clientele with services that match the luxury of the locations that they are in.”

For more on D-Marin, pick up a copy of ‘Mediterraneo’, which is available via The Monocle Shop and on select newsstands now.

Monocle Radio / On Culture

John Carroll Kirby and Sylvan Esso

While John Carroll Kirby is celebrated for the catalogue of stars with whom he has played or collaborated (a list including Solange, Frank Ocean and Harry Styles), he is also renowned for his solo work. We catch up with the Grammy-nominated pianist and producer to discuss his most recent album, ‘Blowout’. We also hear from Amelia Meath and Nick Sanborn, the duo known as Sylvan Esso. Over the past decade and four studio albums, the electronic pop duo has picked up two Grammy nominations and a legion of fans.

Monocle Films / Culture & Design

Community spirit in Denmark

Housing co-operatives are numerous in Denmark, providing residents with affordable places to live, keeping community spirit strong and cultivating samfundssind: the Danish concept of putting society’s needs ahead of individual interests. Monocle visited the Jystrup Savværk co-housing community, an hour outside of Copenhagen and designed by Vandkunsten, to explore the meaning of the word. Discover more stories and ideas from the region with The Monocle Book of the Nordics, which is available from The Monocle Shop.


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