Wednesday 26 June 2024 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Wednesday. 26/6/2024

The Monocle Minute

The Opinion

Image: Getty Images

Politics / James Chambers

Thailand is replacing its military-appointed Senate – but will that be enough to usher in a new era of democracy?

On Monday, democrats in Thailand marked the anniversary of the Siamese revolution, a 1932 coup that ushered in a constitutional monarchy. The country’s long and meandering journey to full-fledged democracy has seen more twists and turns than Bangkok’s Chao Phraya river. The latest milestone – the election of a new Senate – takes place today at an otherwise unremarkable conference centre north of the capital. The third and final stage of an overly complicated small-circle election (in which only those running for office are allowed to cast a vote) will involve 3,000 candidates, unaffiliated to any political party and representing 20 professional groups. They will be vying for the 200 seats in the Thai parliament’s upper chamber.

The system is imperfect and open to abuse. Nonetheless, the eventual winners will be an improvement on the current Senate, which was handpicked by the military government of 2014 coup leader General Prayut Chan-o-cha and given extraordinary powers to revise legislation proposed by the lower chamber. Thailand’s Prayut-era constitution even allowed senators to vote on the appointment of the prime minister; they used this ability last year when they blocked Move Forward’s Pita Limjaroenrat from taking the top job.

Though they no longer have this power, outgoing senators have still been able to cause plenty of trouble. Some 40 lawmakers have applied to the constitutional court to have the current prime minister, Srettha Thavisin, removed from office. Meanwhile, the same court could dissolve the Move Forward party. As voters await the verdicts, the swearing in of a new Senate could be a case of one step forward, two steps back. Parliament might look more representative than it did under military rule but Thailand’s path towards genuine democracy will continue to twist and turn for some time to come.

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

The Briefings

Homeward bound: Julian Assange

Image: Getty Images

Society / Global

Wikileaks founder agrees to guilty plea in exchange for release

What’s next for Julian Assange? The founder of Wikileaks has been released from Belmarsh high-security prison in a deal with the US, after battling extradition from the UK for a decade on espionage charges relating to the publication of leaked documents. He has agreed to plead guilty to a single count of conspiracy to obtain and disseminate national defence information.

Assange is reportedly seeking to make a new life in his native Australia, with the plea deal expected to be rubber-stamped today in a court in the Northern Mariana Islands, a US Pacific commonwealth. “He’ll want some time to recuperate,” James Ball, political editor at The New European and a former Wikileaks staffer, tells The Monocle Minute. “It’s unlikely that we’ll see him sit on a farm quietly. I imagine that he will resurface and will be harbouring quite a few grudges.”

Image: Reuters

Politics / Kenya

Young Kenyans take to the streets in defiance of new tax proposals

Countrywide protests against the Kenyan government’s controversial tax bill could be heading into a ninth day. Yesterday’s demonstrations took a brutal turn, with anti-riot police beating back protesters with batons and firing tear gas into the crowd as demonstrators stormed parliament and set fire to part of the building. Several people have been shot dead by police. Most of those out on the streets are young, a demographic that historically has shown little interest in politics.

Indeed, the poor turnout at Kenya’s 2022 election was attributed to low voter registration among younger sections of the population. However, the latest tax proposals have caught Generation Z’s imagination, perhaps in part because some of them target social-media content creation. President William Ruto’s government has made a few concessions but the unrest continues, with the bill expected to be passed into law this week. Only time will tell whether the protests represent a political reawakening for the East African nation’s disaffected youth.

Image: PHbalance

Sport / Japan

Was the UK’s first ‘ekiden’ relay race a coup for Japanese soft power?

Earlier this week the UK hosted its first ekiden, a long-distance relay race that originates in Japan. The 116km Oxford-to-Windsor route was completed by 18 teams, each made up of 10 runners. The event took place ahead of an official state visit by Japan’s Emperor Naruhito and Empress Masako, which began yesterday. Their visit will also include a trip to their shared alma mater, the University of Oxford, on Friday.

Ekiden racing began in Japan in 1917, taking inspiration from the couriers of the Edo period (1603-1868) who would run between cities to deliver messages. Over the past century, it has become hugely popular in the country. Races can vary in length but all involve runners working as a team and passing a sash to each other. The best-known fixture in Japan is the Hakone Ekiden, a two-day, 200km race held annually in January. Could the relay, an emblem of Japanese gaman (endurance) and teamwork, be a new soft-power asset for Japan?

Beyond the Headlines

Film / Brazil

Top tips from Brazilian cinema

Brazil’s film industry had a tough 2023: only 3.2 per cent of the pictures that the country’s cinema-going public watched were home-grown. But there has been a sharp turnaround this year with several strong domestic box-office hits and the highest viewing figures in years. The rebound can partly be attributed to government policies that were introduced to support the sector; last week, President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva also announced a €278m cash injection for the audiovisual industry. Here are three new Brazilian films to keep an eye out for.

‘Motel Destino’, Karim Aïnouz
This erotic thriller was one of the highlights of the 2024 Cannes Film Festival. Set in a roadside motel, the neon-infused film is best described as a tropical noir. After making a couple of films in English, director Aïnouz has said that this film is “1,000 per cent Brazilian”.

‘Minha Irmã e Eu’, Susana Garcia
Though it’s mostly arthouse films that get exported, comedies tend to be most popular in Brazil. The country’s audiences like generous laughs and this film, which stars beloved comedians Ingrid Guimarães and Tatá Werneck, certainly delivers. The pair play sisters with very different lives that come together after the disappearance of their mother. The film has sold more than two million tickets.

‘Estômago 2’, Marcos Jorge
The sequel to the award-winning 2007 film Estômago, which tells the story of a chef whose cooking impresses everyone in the prison where he’s being held. In Estômago 2, the protagonist, Raimundo Nonato, continues to be an excellent cook, with criminals and even an Italian mafia boss jostling to have a taste of his food.

Monocle Films / Hospitality

Ikuchijima: Japanese island revival

The best hospitality projects delight visitors as much as locals. In this vein, businessman Yuta Oka transformed a series of historic buildings in the small town of Setoda into charming inns, a coffee roaster, a public bathhouse and more. Join us on a jaunt to the Seto Inland Sea.


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