Asian Insider March 26: What next for Thailand?

Asian Insider brings you insights into a fast-changing region from our network of correspondents.

Happy Tuesday!

Today we look at the latest developments in the Thai elections, Donald Trump’s decree on Golan Heights and more.

ELECTION CONFUSION

With preliminary results inconclusive and growing allegations of cheating, both the pro-junta party, Palang Pracharath, and the party aligned to fugitive former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, Pheu Thai, are now claiming victory. Pheu Thai claims the mandate on the basis of winning the most seats while Palang Pracharath has a larger share of the popular vote. Neither has enough to claim outright victory.

So, what’s next?: What will follow is weeks or even months of negotiations as the different parties negotiate to form an alliance that would amount to 376 members of the Thai parliament ( 50 percent plus one of the 500-member lower house and the 250-member senate). As Indochina bureau chief Tan Hui Yee reports, a lot of attention will be paid to the potential kingmakers - smaller parties with that could align to one of the big players. Of particular interest will be the third biggest party, Future Forward Party, and the Bhumjaithai Party, a party that secured 39 seats on a marijuana liberalisation platform. We also have to look out for disqualifications or party hopping between now and when official results are expected in May. Let’s just say it is going to be messy.

Further reading

The state of play: Rival Thai parties claim right to form government

The kingmakers: Pro-marijuana liberalisation party may prove kingmaker in Thai polls

An explainer: Thailand's puzzling election results explained

An aside: Former PM Thaksin Shinawatra may have been kept a low profile for awhile but any lingering doubts that he remains a player in Thailand were dispelled yesterday. He burst back onto the scene, giving interviews to The Straits Times and a host of other media outlets, saying the elections were rigged.

TRUMP’S PROBLEMATIC GOLAN HEIGHTS DECREE

Indonesia and Saudi Arabia led the angry reactions to the Trump administration’s decision to recognise Golan Heights as part of Israel. US President Donald Trump officially recognised Israeli sovereignty over the territory it seized from Syria in 1967 and later annexed in 1981. The annexation has never been recognised by the UN.

Why it matters: The motives behind Mr Trump’s decision to make this declaration seem simple enough. It presented a fillip to Israel President Benjamin Netanyahu ahead of the Israel elections next month and burnishes Mr Trump’s image with the influential Jewish lobby in the US. After all, the president considers his previous controversial Israel declaration - the move of the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem - a win. But observers say this one has potentially more serious implications. By going against decades of consistent US foreign policy and recognising the Israeli annexation, it sets a troubling precedent. Even setting aside the harm done to the Middle East peace process, by supporting an annexation it likes, the US has undermined its ability to act against any future annexation it doesn’t.

Go deeper:

The declaration: Trump signs US recognition of Israeli sovereignty over Golan Heights

The reaction:

-Indonesia rejects Trump's recognition of Golan Heights as part of Israel

-Muslim world denounces US recognition of Golan Heights as Israeli territory

40 SECONDS TO REACT

Pilots on the ill-fated Lion Air flight would have had just 40 seconds to override the faulty automated system believed to have led to the crash last year. That was the finding of flight simulations that attempted to recreate the situation investigators suspect occurred when the plane went down. Boeing, meanwhile, is expected to roll out a software update to address concerns about the automated system known as MCAS - even as dozens of 737 Max jets continuing to sit idle on tarmacs around the world

The big picture: In theory, perhaps the fastest way for the Max planes to get back in the air is for investigators to conclusively identify the issue and for Boeing to fix it. However, if the issue that is apparently the focus of current investigations - the MCAS - turns out to be the culprit, then questions will no doubt be raised about the aviation company’s liability. Neither outcome is desirable for Boeing. We can expect this saga to drag on for awhile yet.

The latest findings: In test of Boeing jet, pilots had 40 seconds to fix error suspected in Lion Air, Ethiopian Airlines crash

Other aviation news:Airbus wins China order for 300 jets as Xi Jinping visits France

KIM’S WORLD TOUR

Even after Singapore, Vietnam and China, North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un’s travels may not be over yet. Next stop: Moscow. The Kremlin confirmed that a trip was in the works but offered no other details. "As soon as there is a concrete agreement on time, place and the form of the meeting, we will present the relevant information," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on a conference call.

Why go to Moscow?: North Korea sits at the heart of a tangle of geopolitical interests. The US evidently sees an engaged Pyongyang as an effective tool in containing China, while China considers a Pyongyang that is hostile to the west as an important bulwark against American power in the Pacific. Kim, in turn, seems to be preparing for another summit with Trump, determined to go to the table with a stronger hand. And to do that he seems to be going after a  stronger nuclear arsenal and closer ties with Russia and China.

Full story: North Korea's Kim to visit Moscow: Russian lawmaker

AND FINALLY, MODEST MERMAIDS

Call it the great mermaid cover-up.

This mermaid statue didn’t always have a golden tube top. It has been on display at an Indonesian theme park for years flaunting its bare chest. However, someone has now decided that a pair of the exhibitionist mythical fish humans are not in line with Eastern values. The tube tops didn’t seem to quench park visitors’ prurient interests though.  The statues had to be moved because people kept pulling the coverings down. (Anti-clickbait courtesy announcement: The article does not include photos of the uncovered statues.)

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

British Parliament passed an amendment giving itself the power to vote on alternatives to the government's Brexit plan. Its attempt to take control of the process came as Theresa May prepared for a last-ditch effort to persuade lawmakers to support her withdrawal plan, which has already been rejected twice by huge margins.

Parti Keadilan Rakyat president Anwar Ibrahim has said his daughter's recent criticism of the Mahathir Mohamad administration was aimed not just at the Prime Minister but also at other leaders from Malaysia's ruling Pakatan Harapan coalition.

A court in Pakistan today ordered the government to take custody of two Hindu sisters allegedly kidnapped and forced to convert to Islam, police said, a case that triggered a quarrel with Hindu-majority neighbour India.

Australia warned social media giants today that executives could be jailed if they fail to quickly remove extremist material from their platforms.

That’s it for today. If you enjoy Asian Insider, do us a favour and recommend it to your friends. The newsletter is free and subscribing is as easy and entering an email address here: https://www.straitstimes.com/newsletter-signup

Thanks and see you tomorrow,

-Jeremy