Around the Web: improving college rankings, Federer’s footwork, inventors killed by their own inventions, and more

Some links that have caught my eye of late:


Thitinan on Abhisit, Thaksin, and Bangkok’s airports

Chulalongkorn University political science professor Thitinan Pongsudhirak has a column in today’s Bangkok Post on the current state of Thai politics: “Censure may serve to strengthen govt

Some snips:

After three months in office, the Democrat party-led coalition government of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva has defied expectations by holding ground and beginning to consolidate its rule.

Mr Abhisit has shown a steady temperament and sound grasp of policy issues, having reassured many foreign audiences near and far about Thailand’s readiness to move on. The favourable international reception he has earned has fed into his legitimacy and standing at home.

In the face of the global economic turmoil, his government’s various stimulus packages have been rolled out in succession, and more are in store. His Establishment backing remains intact, despite cracks in the Democrat party’s alliance with the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) whose street protests indirectly facilitated the party’s path to power.

As intra-coalition squabbling and corruption scandals along with the adverse effects from the economic downturn are likely to be the Abhisit government’s chief challenges, the no-confidence motion in Parliament, which has been moved up by a week as an apparent tactic to throw the opposition off balance, is unlikely to sap government stability.

And there’s this, about the current squabbling over whether to close Bangkok’s Don Mueang airport:

The no-confidence vote will likely go down along party lines. As long as the Newin Chidchob faction, a breakaway coterie of old-style politicians from Puea Thai, supports the government, Mr Abhisit’s coalition is likely to sail through comfortably. Cracks within the coalition based on the Newin faction’s vested interests may cast doubt on the final vote. The Newin backers, who have insisted on centralising all commercial flights at the main Suvarnabhumi Airport to the benefit of a duty-free monopoly and construction firms with interests to expand the near-capacity airport, will try to exercise leverage on the no-confidence vote.

This is why Mr Abhisit, who disagrees with abandoning the older Don Meuang International Airport, is being flexible on the one-airport policy.

And on Thaksin:

Thaksin himself, exiled and under a criminal conviction, is fully rallying his UDD troops through video-conferences from unspecified places overseas. Conspicuously on the offensive, Thaksin is desperate with few attractive places to reside. He appears to want to make a deal, and somehow navigate a way back to the country in view of his lost power and his more than $2 billion in assets frozen by the authorities after the September 2006 military coup.

But distance and time have been unkind to Thaksin. His phenomenon is still potent enough to agitate and stir up trouble for the government, but not enough to depose it in the way the PAD and Establishment forces overthrew his proxy governments under Samak Sundaravej and Somchai Wongsawat last year.

Mr Abhisit now has the upper hand. Unless Puea Thai comes up with damning evidence on corruption and misrule, the Abhisit government is likely not only to survive but to build on its nascent momentum for a lasting term, whose longevity may be more determined by intra-coalition management and the adverse impact of the economic slump.


ASEAN summit kicks off in Thailand

BBC: “Asean opens with economic agenda

The 10-member Association of South East Asian nations (Asean) has started a summit meeting in Thailand.

They will discuss how to address the impact of declining global demand on their export-dependent economies.

This is the first summit since Asean implemented a charter making it a legal entity more like the European Union.

But human rights groups say there is still no mechanism for dealing with routine abuses inside Asean member states like Burma and Vietnam.

With some Asean members dependent on exports for as much as three quarters of national income, the global economic crisis hangs over this summit meeting like a thunder-cloud.

Rights rules?

But there is not much the member states can do to soften the blow – whereas human rights groups say they should be doing a lot more to give their new charter teeth so that fellow members can be held accountable for abuses of their citizens.

In case you’re curious about the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), you can find some background info here. ((By the way, did you know there’s an official ASEAN flag?))


Wearing red and yellow in Thailand

Time: “How Not to Make a Political Fashion Statement in Bangkok

Last year, a swarm of yellow-clad demonstrators massed in Bangkok, taking over the international airport and virtually paralyzing the Thai capital for a week. Today, the color of protest is red. As bigwigs from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) began gathering at a seaside resort near Bangkok on Feb. 26 for an annual summit, thousands of anti-government protesters wearing crimson shirts congregated at the Thai Prime Minister’s office, demanding that Abhisit Vejjajiva hold elections soon. Thursday marked their third day of protest, and the red-hued demonstrators vowed not to cease until their demands for fresh polls were met.

This week’s new spate of color-coded dissent underlines not only the political instability that has marked Thai politics for several years now but also the tricky task of what to wear in Bangkok.


After a new administration aligned with the yellow-wearing royalists came to power in December, the new opposition began staging its crimson protests. Local pundits kid that P.M. Abhisit is being deluged by a Red Sea. The joke among journalists who try to maintain their reportorial objectivity is that orange, a mix of yellow and red, may be the best color to wear when reporting on Thai politics.

The hijacking of red and yellow by political groups has forced some Thais to give up wearing both colors, lest they be erroneously placed in one of the two political camps. The number of people who would normally wear yellow on Mondays to honor the King has dropped considerably, not because they respect the monarch any less, but because they don’t want to be associated with the PAD. Likewise, soccer-mad Thais who would usually wear red Arsenal or Manchester United jerseys have been forced to think twice about supporting their favorite sports team.


Thai academic flees to England to escape lese majeste charge

AP: “Thai academic accused of insulting monarchy flees“:

A prominent academic facing 15 years in prison for allegedly insulting Thailand’s monarchy fled to England, saying Monday he does not believe he will receive a fair trial.

Ji Ungpakorn, a political scientist at Bangkok’s Chulalongkorn University, was charged last month under the so-called lese majeste law over a book about Thailand’s 2006 military coup. His case is the latest in a spate of prosecutions and increased censorship of Web sites allegedly critical of the royal family.

“There is no justice in Thailand,” said Ji in an e-mail sent Monday to The Associated Press. “The regime seems to be inching toward a police state.”

Thailand is a constitutional monarchy but has severe lese majeste laws, mandating a jail term of three to 15 years for “whoever defames, insults or threatens the king, the queen, the heir to the throne or the Regent.”

So far there’s nothing in the Bangkok Post or the Nation. But stay tuned.