Thai lawmakers set to choose a new prime minister

Thai lawmakers are gathering Thursday to select a new prime minister, a process whose outcome is far from certain even though the country’s most progressive party won both the popular vote and the most seats in the House of Representatives in the most recent election.

Thailand’s May 14 election was regarded as a major political turning point. The reformist Move Forward Party’s victory appeared to spell an end to nine years of unpopular army-supported rule. Two months later, it is unclear if that mandate for change will be honored.

Parliament is due to vote on whether to make Move Forward’s leader, 42-year-old businessman Pita Limjaroenrat, the country’s prime minister. His party captured 151 of the 500 House seats but has assembled a coalition government-in-waiting. The eight parties in the coalition won 312 seats combined, a healthy majority.

“This is a party leading a coalition, and they’ve won the election,” Thitinan Pongsudhirak, a political scientist at Bangkok’s Chulalongkorn University, said. “In most other countries, they would be in office by now.”

One of several potential roadblocks to Pita taking power is that the prime minister is elected through a joint vote of the House and the 250-seat Senate, whose members owe their positions to the military-backed regime established by a 2014 coup. Pita, or any other candidate, therefore needs a minimum of 376 votes to become head of government.

The biggest bone of contention between the liberals backing Move Forward and the deeply conservative Senate is the campaign pledge of Pita’s party to amend a law that makes defaming the royal family punishable by three to 15 years in prison.

 


 

The monarchy is sacrosanct to members of Thailand’s royalist establishment, and even minor reforms that might improve and modernize the monarchy’s image are anathema to them. Move Forward’s coalition partners also have not endorsed the proposed legal change, and other parties ruled out joining the coalition because of the idea.

Thitinan thinks that given the massive voter support for Move Forward and the Pheu Thai Party, its top partner and political ally, Pita stands a good chance “because of mounting public pressure on the senators. It will depend on the will, the resilience and the intransigence of the royalist conservative establishment.”

But if Pita cannot win over enough senators, his options appear nil. The options for the eight-party coalition as a whole appear more viable.

One is for the Pheu Thai Party to put forward one of its members as a candidate for prime minister, a possibility that once would have been unthinkable.

Pheu Thai used to be the royalist establishment’s public enemy No. 1. The party is closely affiliated with former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, a billionaire populist who was ousted in a 2006 military coup, in part because his popularity rubbed royalists the wrong way.

Thaksin-backed parties finished first in every election from 2001 until this past May but were blocked or forced from power each time. The 2014 coup, for example, seized power from a government that Thaksin’s sister, Yingluck Shinawatra, had formed.

Pheu Thai enrolled three of its members as potential prime minister candidates this year, including Thaksin’s daughter. Paetongtarn Shinawatra. It is a measure of the shift in political winds that Pheu Thai is now regarded as a party that royalists can deal with, compared with Move Forward, which they dismiss as radical.

Paetongtarn’s colleague, real estate developer Srettha Thavisin, is considered more likely to have his name put forward if Pita isn’t election, at least partly as reassurance to the business community. But the possibility that any proposed coalition including Move Forward won’t be approved complicates the numbers game.

The departure of Move Forward would probably require Pheu Thai to enlist allies from among military-friendly parties, which it vowed, with hedging, not to do. In the long run, seeking such an alliance could erode Pheu Thai’s credibility with supporters who stuck by the party and boost support for Move Forward while it’s in opposition.

Another cost could involve ceding the prime minister’s seat to a newly enlisted coalition partner, the key one being the Bhumjaithai Party, which polled third in the May election and secured 71 House seats. The party’s leader, Anutin Charnvirakul, was health minister in the outgoing government and has made no secret of his political ambitions.

If Pita and Move Forward somehow prevail—and it could take several votes over a period of weeks—their political survival still would sit on a knife’s edge.

There have been fears that Thailand’s conservative ruling establishment would use what its political opponents consider to be dirty tricks to cling to power. For a decade and a half, it has repeatedly utilized the courts and supposedly independent state agencies to issue questionable rulings to cripple or sink political opponents.

On Wednesday, the Election Commission said it concluded there was evidence that Pita had violated election law, and referred his case to the Constitutional Court for a ruling. If the court accepts the case and finds him guilty, he could lose his House seat, get kicked out of politics and face a prison sentence.

The alleged violation involves undeclared ownership of media company shares, which are banned for Thai lawmakers. Political scientist Thitinan describes the charge and other legal complaints against Pita as “bogus” and something many people, especially voters who backed him, would be unwilling to tolerate.

“It all depends on how far the royalist conservative establishment wants to go after Pita and prevent a democratic outcome,” he said.

Depending how they are resolved, the efforts to block Pita and Move Forward could prove dangerous and cause Thailand unnecessary pain, said Michael Montesano, a Thai studies expert who is an associate senior fellow at Singapore’s ISEAS–Yusof Ishak Institute.

“At the end of the day, the political system and those who would dominate need to move into closer correspondence with the realities of Thai society and with the aspirations of its younger, well educated members,” Montesano said. “The biggest question is whether this transition will be painful and even violent, or whether it will be constructive and thus serve the country’s future prospects.”

(AP)

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King Charles III: A radical environmentalist or mainstream ecologist?

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King Charles III was mocked in the past as an eccentric for championing organic farming, but will demonstrate his continuing commitment at his coronation which will be steeped in symbols of nature and the environment. But will he be able to hold on to his beliefs as king, given that the role requires frequent travel etc and runs counter to the British monarchy’s many traditions?

As an environmentalist long before Greta Thunberg was even born, green issues ranging from climate change to biodiversity have been at the heart of Charles’s Royal work.

His coronation itself will be marked by his long-held environmentalism from his wearing clothes that belonged to previous monarchs and serving a vegetarian main course at the main meal. This fervent ecologist is thus making his “green” mark and making his mark on the ceremony.

Charles has always been forward-thinking on the issue of the planet, warning about the dangers in a speech in 1970 at just 21. He said that the planet was in danger and denounced chemical, air and oil pollution, “which almost destroys beaches and certainly destroys tens of thousands of seabirds”.

 


Organic farming and endangered pigs  

The British Crown’s property and Charles III’s own land introduced organic farming practices on some of it in far ahead of the curve as 1985. On his 440-hectare farm at Highgrove in south-west England, he has experimented with natural instead of chemical pesticides on his fields. The site is also home to over 73 species of rare animals, including Tamworth pigs, which are one of the oldest breeds in the country and currently endangered.


On his Dorset estate in the southern part of the country, he has also built a very popular village using only eco-friendly materials, waste separation and other principles of sustainable urban living and planning.

Later, he installed wood chip boilers in his homes and converted his Jaguar and Land Rover to run on biodiesel, made from used cooking oil, along with a host of other green measures. Over the years, his experiments have sometimes been met with further mockery, such as when he said at COP26 in 2021 that his Aston Martin runs on “surplus English white wine and whey from the cheese process”. This idea has obviously been dismissed for mass usage.

From 2007 onwards, Charles III began tracking and publishing his carbon footprint, which he has done every year since. He has committed to offsetting his emissions by investing in sustainable energy projects where it is not possible to reduce them. 

Big statements at the World Economic Forum 

Unlike his mother, who was thrust onto the throne as a child, the former Prince of Wales has had 70 years to observe how the world has changed. During all these years, he has taken advantage of his official travels and international speeches to put environmental conservation in the spotlight, even if it means shocking his audience. 

In 2020 at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, he supported the young climate activist Greta Thunberg and criticised the business world’s lack of ecological commitment. “What good is all the extra wealth in the world, gained from ‘business as usual’, if you can do nothing with it except watch it burn in catastrophic conditions?” asked Charles III during his speech

In partnership with the WEF, the sovereign created the Sustainable Markets Council a year ago, a body charged with encouraging best practice, identifying innovative technologies and linking investors to projects. 

 

In partnership with the WEF, the sovereign created the Sustainable Markets Council a year before this famous speech, a body charged with encouraging best practice, identifying innovative technologies and linking investors to projects. 

Political neutrality and mainstream ecology 

However, “Charles III’s positions are not radical,” says Thibaud Harrois, lecturer in contemporary British civilisation at Paris’ Sorbonne-Nouvelle University. “He has not called for the end of capitalism. He is doing what could be described as ‘mainstream’ ecology, accepted by all at a time when there is scientific consensus on the issue of global warming,” adds Harrois.    

In his role as monarch, the British sovereign is subject to political neutrality, says the lecturer, adding that he doubts Thunberg will ever be invited to Buckingham Palace. “It would be daring because she symbolises a type of activism – a climate strike – that is politically contested. It’s hard to imagine that the king would do something that could have a political impact and damage the British government,” says Harrois. He received a huge backlash in the UK for getting involved in the environmental movement so publically, for as a “working Royal” he is not supposed to interfere with UK government policy. Their role is as ambassadors to the UK — symbolic — and to work on social and charitable causes in the UK.

In 2004, however, Charles secretly sent a series of handwritten letters to several British ministers and politicians. In these very personal letters, the former prince shared his views on organic farming, global warming and urban planning, for which he was later severely criticised.

King Charles III’s private jet trips 

He is largely seen as a “’green monarch’ but he is criticised for his lifestyle; including his love of fox hunting and frequent air travel, which many feel run contradictory to his environmental stance. 

Even though Charles III is monitoring his carbon footprint, he continues to travel regularly by private plane and go on ski holidays every winter, an activity that is being increasingly criticised for its environmental impact. In 2020 alone, his carbon footprint was estimated at 3,133 tonnes of CO2 compared to the 8.3 tonnes emitted by the average British citizen.     

Britain’s King Charles III and Camilla, Queen Consort, exit their plane after landing at Berlin Brandenburg Airport in Schoenefeld, Germany, on March 29, 2023. © Odd Andersen, AFP

 

That same year, the Daily Mail criticised the former prince for flying 25,000 kilometres in a private jet 11 days before he attended the WEF in Davos, Switzerland, where he posed alongside Thunberg. During this short period, Charles III travelled by private jet three times, not counting the five empty trips to pick him up. He has been involved in other controversies, including when he travelled to New York in 2007 with a team of 20 people to receive an ecology award. 

At a time when global warming is more topical than ever, one thing is certain: the next British monarch will continue to be criticised even after he is crowned whatever he or she does and their overseas travel closely monitored.

This article has been translated from the original in French



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Charles III’s ‘slimmed down’ coronation still aims to capture royal magic

Charles III will be crowned king of the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth Realm nations on Saturday in a ceremony imbued with religious and national symbolism. Yet some significant changes to protocol aim to bring the normally extravagant ceremony down to earth – while retaining some royal mystique. 

Many of the rituals and mythical-sounding objects that will be used for the coronation of Charles III draw deeply on national symbolism dating back hundreds – if not thousands – of years. 

London’s Westminster Abbey has been a venue for coronations since 1066, and artifacts such as the silver-gilt coronation spoon (used to transfer the holy oil for anointing the monarch) date back to 1349.

During the ceremony, King Charles III will wear the same lavish robes used for his grandfather George VI’s coronation and carry a 17th-century golden orb and sceptre last seen atop the coffin of Queen Elizabeth II. 

When he is crowned, the king will sit upon the Stone of Destiny – an ancient and sacred symbol of Scottish monarchy that some historians date back to biblical times.

At its heart, the ceremony will aim to convey the history, tradition and enigma the monarchy embodies.

“It will be a very mysterious-looking ceremony that may look bizarre to many people across the world. But what will look bizarre to some will look mesmerising for others,” says Luke Blaxill, lecturer in British political and constitutional history at the University of Oxford.  

Ardent fans are mesmerised already. Along The Mall – the long avenue leading up to the royal residence, Buckingham Palace ­– committed royal well-wishers began camping out in late April to ensure a prime view of the royal procession to and from the abbey. 

Royal enthusiasts camp along the king’s coronation route at The Mall with Buckingham Palace in the background in London, Tuesday, May 2, 2023. © Emilio Morenatti, AP

Although the ceremony will certainly be opulent, it is intended to be less ostentatious than coronations past.

“This event is streamlined and slimmed down,” says Ed Owens, royal historian and author of “The Family Firm”. “There’s a much greater emphasis on the democratisation of the ritual and the ceremony as a result.”  

This approach correlates with a decades-long effort among the royal family to boost its popularity by appearing more accessible, and means a more inclusive ceremony. Women bishops will take part in a coronation for the first time on Saturday, as will representatives of non-Christian faiths. In another first, texts will be read in Welsh, Scottish Gaelic and Irish Gaelic.   

The guest list for the ceremony has also been adapted: most of Britain’s 24 non-royal dukes, who normally attend in coronation robes and coronets, are not invited. Some 2,000 guests are expected, including 450 members of the public who have served their communities – a far cry from the more than 8,000 who squeezed into Westminster Abbey for Elizabeth II’s coronation 70 years ago. 

A down-to-earth monarch

As this will be the first coronation most viewers have witnessed, the more obscure changes are likely to go unnoticed. Time-consuming rituals, such as presenting the monarch with gold ingots, have been axed to bring the duration of the ceremony to just over an hour.  

Other details aim to convey the image of a more down-to-earth royal ceremony, quite literally. 

Invitations to the ceremony emphasised the king’s environmentalism, featuring flora from the British Isles and the Green Man, an ancient figure from British folklore symbolising spring and rebirth. State leaders have been encouraged to reduce emissions by travelling to the ceremony on charter flights instead of private jets and key items, such as the king’s coronation robes and throne chairs, are being repaired and reused instead of commissioned. 

Symbolic images of nature will be threaded throughout the ceremony; Catherine the Princess of Wales is reportedly considering wearing a floral headpiece instead of a tiara.  

A member of the Royal School of Needlework hand embroiders the Robe of Estate that will be worn by Camilla, the Queen Consort, at the coronation on May 6.
A member of the Royal School of Needlework hand embroiders the Robe of Estate that will be worn by Camilla, the Queen Consort, at the coronation on May 6. © Buckingham Palace via AP

Such changes mark a change in approach from the monumental display of royal pageantry for Elizabeth II’s state funeral eight months previously, and may be an acknowledgment that the public could be feeling fatigue from large-scale royal events.

“There’s only a certain amount of public appetite for royal pomp and ceremony, even in Britain,” Blaxill says. “There will be a reduction in the novelty element. And the important background context here is that there’s a cost-of-living crisis – this deliberately, slightly scaled-down ceremony is a quite deliberate attempt to reflect that.” 

Even though the ceremony has been slimmed-down”, estimates of how much the coronation will cost have already drawn backlash amid reports that Charles III’s personal fortune runs into the billions. 

Tabloid newspaper “The Mirror” reported British taxpayers will foot a bill of £250 million for the ceremony, with £150 million (€170 million) being spent on security alone. For comparison, it reports that Elizabeth II’s coronation 70 years ago cost the equivalent of £47 million.  

Other media outlets have placed the total cost at closer to £100 million, still a seemingly extravagant sum at a time when inflation is pricing some Britons out of purchasing essential goods.  

The cost-of-living-crisis is not the only issue giving people pause. After Brexit, a series of short-lived prime ministers and the death of its longest-ruling monarch, Britain has lost the clear sense of national identity a large-scale coronation could help consolidate.

“The coronation is meant to be an event that projects a sense of British self-confidence, but Britain’s had a pretty tough time for the last seven years,” Owens says. “There’s nothing like the same level of positivity or optimism that characterised Elizabeth II’s coronation.” 

Royal magic 

Britain is far from a nation of ardent royalists; just over a third of British adults feel indifferent towards the coronation.

One ill-fated attempt to make the process less elitist has drawn near-universal ire. Instead of the traditional “Homage of Peers”, during which hereditary peers – historically members of the aristocracy – knelt to pledge their loyalty to the king, the “Homage of the People” will invite viewers at home to swear allegiance to King Charles III and his successors. Critics have called the attempt to democratise the ceremony “tone deaf”.

“Britain is a liberal democracy, where we believe in freedom of speech,” Owens says. “The idea that we are having words put in our mouths as part of this ceremony, and are swearing an oath of loyalty to the monarch and his successors, notably, has been problematic.” 

“I think, perhaps, asking people to say, ‘God save the king’ would have been about the limit,” Blaxill adds. 

And yet, almost half of adults in the UK plan to watch the ceremony or take part in coronation celebrations over the weekend.  

Notable republicans, including Scottish First Minister Humza Yousaf, Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford and Sinn Fein’s Northern Ireland leader Michelle O’Neill have also said they will attend the ceremony in person.

They are, perhaps, hoping to witness a unique, historical spectacle – if not a moment of royal magic. 

The sacred act of anointing the monarch with holy oil will take place behind the anointing screen, pictured here in the Chapel Royal at St James's Palace in London on April 24, 2023.
The sacred act of anointing the monarch with holy oil will take place behind the anointing screen, pictured here in the Chapel Royal at St James’s Palace in London on April 24, 2023. © Victoria Jones, AFP

As much as the coronation of Charles III has been designed to give the impression of a humbler head of state than his predecessors, he must also retain some of the mystical power that allows people to see him as a monarch and not just a man in a golden crown. 

Historically, coronations were deliberately closed off from the public to project a sense of elite power and mysteryand one moment on Saturday will uphold this tradition. The most sacred part of the ceremony, dating back to the 7th century, will happen behind a specially designed screen. During the unction, the most senior bishop in the Church of England anoints the monarch with holy oil, thereby signalling that the king has been chosen by God. 

“It’s the moment where the mystique and the spiritual dimensions of the monarchy are made visible through their invisibility,” Owens says. A few minutes during which millions of viewers in Britain, the Commonweath and beyond are invited to suspend their disbelief and make a leap of faith to transform Charles III into a king.

Coronation of King Charles III
Coronation of King Charles III © Creative Department – France Médias Monde



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Monaco election: explore the principality’s unique political system

The second smallest state in the world, after the Vatican, Monaco is a hereditary and constitutional monarchy. The Monegasques are going to vote this Sunday 5 February 2023, to renew their Parliament called the National Council.

What is the National Council?

In Monaco, legislative power is jointly exercised by Prince Albert II and the National Council.

Also called the Monegasque Assembly, it is the unicameral parliament of the Principality. It is composed of 24 members elected for 5 years by universal suffrage. It is therefore the main representative body of the population. It votes on laws proposed by the government.

It is currently chaired by Brigitte Boccone-Pagès.

Who votes?

Of the 38,000 or so inhabitants of this tiny Principality of 2.02 km², which is landlocked between Nice and Italy, but which is not a member of the European Union, only 7,596 have the right to vote. Two conditions apply: they must be at least 25 years old and have Monegasque nationality.

How are the elections conducted?

The National Council is elected according to a mixed one-round ballot which gives 16 seats to the majority list, the remaining 8 seats are distributed proportionally between the lists that have obtained more than 5% of the votes, and voters have the possibility of making a mixture.

What is at stake?

Although these councillors vote on laws and the budget, they cannot question the political responsibility of the government and, if necessary, overthrow it, as the latter is only responsible to Albert II, the Sovereign Prince.

According to Thierry Brezzo of the “Monegasque National Union” list, the major issues at stake in this next term of office are :

  • the signature of a possible association agreement with the European Union;
  • the preservation of the Monegasque model and specificities: “If the priority for hiring, housing, the conditions of access to public contracts or to certain regulated professions are not preserved, it is the whole Monegasque social pact that would be called into question,” fears the lawyer.

How many lists?

Two lists are competing in this election.

In the role of favourite, the “Monegasque National Union” and its 13 outgoing deputies, led by Brigitte Boccone-Pagès, a 63-year-old former teacher, the first woman to be elected President of the National Council since its creation in 1911.

Opposite, “New Ideas for Monaco”, led by the current dean of the Council, Daniel Boéri, 78, a former member of the majority.

With only 14 candidates, Mr Boéri admits that he had “difficulty” in putting together his list, due to “fantastic pressure”. But he hopes to distinguish himself by “the vision” proposed, even if, between these two lists, “we cannot say that there are ideological distinctions, but rather philosophical ones”.

“New Ideas for Monaco” intends to “launch debates, particularly on women’s rights and on how to go further on abortion within the framework of the Constitution”. Although voluntary interruption of pregnancy was decriminalised in Monaco in 2019 and women undergoing an abortion no longer risk prison, performing an abortion is still prohibited.

Mr Boéri also called on the Monegasque government to systematically assess “the ecological impact of decisions taken”.

What is the link between Monaco and Europe?

Like Andorra and San Marino, Monaco has been conducting negotiations with the European Union since March 2015 to sign an association agreement. The aim is to make life easier for its citizens and companies within the European internal market. The major challenge is to increase the economic attractiveness of Monaco.

This would, for example, remove the obstacles encountered by Monegasque economic agents to access the European internal market. This would guarantee greater legal security in their exchanges. According to the Monegasque government, an agreement would also allow nationals to move around the European Union more easily. For example, the agreement would allow national students to study at European universities without additional costs.

Monegasque life

The National Council has set limits, such as maintaining national priority in all areas, maintaining reserved access for nationals to state-owned housing, exclusive access for Monegasques to certain regulated professions, compulsory prior authorisation for residents and companies to set up on Monegasque territory, and maintaining the declaratory regime for Monegasques.

In a press release published in the summer of 2022, the Monegasque National Council indicated that discussions were continuing “with a view to finalising negotiations on a possible association agreement by the end of 2023”. This is also the wish of the Council of the European Union. Thus, the pace of negotiations should accelerate with a monthly meeting between the protagonists of the dossier.

If an agreement is reached, Monaco will have the status of “associated state” and will not become a member of the EU. Monaco will remain a third state to the European Union.

A little history

The history of the present principality only began in the 13th century thanks to a Genoese family: the Ghibellines. On 10 June 1215, the Ghibellines laid the foundation stone of the fortress which served as the basis for the present princely palace. In order to attract inhabitants, the first lords of the “Rock” granted valuable advantages to the newcomers, such as the granting of land and tax exemption.

In 1297, following a battle won against Genoa by François Grimaldi, known as Malizia, the “seigneury of Monaco” was acquired by the house of Grimaldi, a wealthy family of Genoese nobility.

House of Grimaldi

Rainier I, the founder of the Grimaldi dynasty of Monaco, defeated the Dutch at Ziriksee (Netherlands), while serving under the French King Philip the Fair. This feat earned him the title of “Grand Admiral of France” and facilitated the political independence of the small seigneury. However, Monaco did not become part of the Grimaldi family until 1419.

In 1489, the King of France, Charles VIII, recognised the independence of Monaco. Later, Louis XII renewed this recognition in 1512, and Francis I in turn in 1515.

In the 17th century, the Grimaldis were made dukes of Valentinois (Drôme) and barons of Massy, titles and lands which they lost during the French Revolution on 4 August 1793. The Grimaldis were even dispossessed, while the principality was unilaterally annexed by France under the name of Fort-d’Hercule and became the chief town of the Alpes-Maritimes canton, then a simple French commune. The Treaty of Vienna in 1815 made the principality a “protectorate of the Kingdom of Sardinia”.

Independent again

In 1861, Monaco became an independent principality again and placed itself under the protection of France. Prince Albert I granted it a constitution in 1911. Since then, the rule of devolution has been that, in the event of the extinction of the Grimaldi dynasty, France inherits the principality.



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Will Britain become a republic, or keep the royal family?

When the Sex Pistols released ‘God Save the Queen’ in 1977 it certainly ruffled a few feathers.

The anti-establishment anthem — which blasted the “fascist regime” of Elizabeth II — was banned by the BBC, while the tabloid press accused the punks of treason, calling for them to be hung.

But Britain is a different place than it was when the single came out. 

This year marks a watershed for the country, as a new monarch will be crowned for the first time in 70 years. 

King Charles III will ascend to the throne amid a weekend of pomp and pageantry; ancient religious rites and a concert featuring today’s global music stars. 

Support for the monarchy stayed fairly constant in the months before the Queen’s death last year, and in the months since, according to YouGov: with around 60% of people in favour of keeping the monarchy, and 25% in favour of abolishing it. 

There may well be a “coronation boost” for the institution of the monarchy in springtime, but the long term trends show a clear loss of support for the royals over the years among members of the public, with increased numbers of people wanting the ancient institution swept aside and replaced with a republic. 

In 1983, some 86% of Britons believed the monarchy was “very” or “quite” important. By 2021, this had slumped to 55%, with 25% saying it was “not at all important” or should be abolished, according to the British Social Attitudes survey.

A string of scandals have fuelled these republican rumblings, including Prince Andrew’s alleged sexual relations with minors, then Prince Charles accepting “bags of cash” for honours and the ongoing public spat between Harry, Meghan, and the rest of the family. 

‘Ingrained deference’

While even the most ardent anti-royals would perhaps concede a grudging respect for the late Queen Elizabeth and her life of service to the country and Commonwealth; but for most republicans, it does not matter who the head of state is.

“Republicanism about the type of society we want to have in Britain,” Ken Ritchie from Labour for Republic told Euronews. “The monarchy represents elitism. A society in which rank and status are important and where your position is entirely dependent on the circumstances of your birth.”

“Surely in the 21st century, this ought to be wrong”, he said.

The overall wealth of Britain’s royal family is hard to gauge due to the opaque nature of its finances. In 2015, a Reuters analysis suggested it had nominal assets worth almost 23 billion pounds at the time.

However, republican criticism of the monarchy’s riches goes further, drawing attention to its relationship to the British Empire. 

“A lot of their wealth was extracted through colonialism and indeed slavery,” said Ritchie. “This is no longer the sort of country we want to be.”

“The monarchy is much grander, much more extravagant, much more expensive than the others in Europe,” he added. “I suspect that stems back to the idea that Britain was the centre of an empire spanning the world.”

While the monarchy is symbolic of British history, others question how much the royal family directly profited from colonialism.

What’s the situation like in other European countries?

Britain is not the only European country with an active discussion about the role of the royal family.

In the Netherlands, a poll carried out for King’s Day in April 2022 showed 71% support for the monarchy and 29% support for a republic — a few percentage points more support for republicanism than in the UK, but a much stronger support support for the royals. 

Meanwhile in Denmark — where Queen Margrethe is Europe’s longest-reigning monarch, and recently celebrated 50 years on the throne — a February 2022 poll showed almost 77% of people supported a Danish monarchy, while just 14.6% of people wanted the Nordic nation to become a republic. 

And in Spain, where a series of financial and personal scandals has rocked the House of Bourbon in recent years, an October 2020 poll found that 40.9% of Spaniards favoured replacing King Felipe and Queen Letizia in favour of a republic; while 34.9% of people said they supported keeping the royal family.   

The sprawling fortunes of Britain’s royals are not the only gripe of anti-monarchists. It’s also what they call the “inequality of power” that comes with it. 

Professor Richard Toye, a historian at Exeter University, criticised the “democratic deficit” of having such “an important public position which is hereditary”, calling it “surprising and problematic” in a country styling itself as a democracy.

This shadowy power fuels “worries about the ways in which monarchs, although they’re supposed to be neutral, actually end up wielding influence over politics”, he added.

In 2021, the late Queen was accused of lobbying government to protect her private wealth from new transparency laws, while other members of her family have allegedly applied pressure to get financial advantages.

“They are simply preserving their own power”, said Richtie. “We want to see a monarch that is much more transparent.”

When Charles took over the Crown Estate, the 15 billion pound portfolio of land and assets held by his mother, it was not subjected to inheritance tax, prompting widespread criticism in the UK. 

‘We are entering new territory’

By any measure, the British monarchy does not seem like it is going anywhere – even if republican feeling grows stronger.

All of Britain’s major political parties are pro-monarchist, and in a country grappling with strikes, inflation and the fallout from Brexit, the issue remains a low priority.

“The very existence of the monarchy is dependent on publicity and public opinion,” says Ken Ritchie from Labour for Republic. 

“If it wasn’t for that, it would simply be irrelevant and ignored … they’re going to do their best to try and to win back public support.”

Despite the “very chequered past” of King Charles and the recent controversies to rock the Royal Family, Dr Joe Powell, a republican campaigner, was dismayed that public criticism of the was not turning even more against the monarchy.

“You would think that the high level of scandals would make people question what they’re doing and why they’re doing it on our behalf,” he said. 

“But that doesn’t really seem to happen.”



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Why Cristiano Ronaldo’s move to Saudi Arabia means so much for the Gulf monarchy’s sporting ambitions | CNN

Editor’s Note: A version of this story appears in today’s Meanwhile in the Middle East newsletter, CNN’s three-times-a-week look inside the region’s biggest stories. Sign up here.


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It’s a partnership that’s been hailed as “history in the making.”

One of the world’s most famous soccer stars landed in the Saudi capital Riyadh on Tuesday, where Cristiano Ronaldo was received in an extravagant ceremony, with excited children sporting his new club’s yellow and blue jerseys.

Oil-rich Saudi Arabia’s success in luring the five-time Ballon d’Or winner on a two-year contract with the kingdom’s Al Nassr FC is the Gulf monarchy’s latest step in realizing its sporting ambitions – seemingly at any cost.

According to Saudi state-owned media, Ronaldo will earn an estimated $200 million a year with Al Nassr, making him the world’s highest-paid soccer player.

Shortly after the 37-year-old’s signing with Al Nassr, the club’s Instagram page gained over 5.3 million new followers. Its official website was inaccessible after exceeding its bandwidth limit due to the sudden surge in traffic, and the hashtag #HalaRonaldo – Hello, Ronaldo in Arabic – was trending for days across the Middle East on Twitter.

Analysts say that his recruitment in Saudi Arabia is part of a wider effort by the kingdom to diversify its sources of revenue and become a serious player in the international sporting scene.

It is also seen as a move by the kingdom to shore up its image after it was tarnished by the 2018 dismemberment and killing of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi at the hands of Saudi agents, and a devastating war it started in Yemen in 2015.

Critics have decried the kingdom for “sportswashing,” an attempt to burnish one’s reputation through sport.

“I think Saudi Arabia has recognized a couple of years ago that to be a powerful nation internationally, you cannot just rely on hard power,” Danyel Reiche, a visiting research fellow and associate professor at Georgetown University Qatar, told CNN.

“You also need to invest in soft power, and the case of Qatar shows that this can work pretty well,” he said, adding that Saudi Arabia is following in the Qatari approach with sport, but with a delay of around 25 years.

Neighboring Qatar has also faced immense criticism since it won the bid to hosting last year’s FIFA World Cup in 2010.

Despite the smaller Gulf state facing similar accusations of “sportswashing,” the tournament has largely been viewed as a success, not least in exposing the world to a different view of the Middle East, thanks in part to Morocco’s success in reaching the semifinals and Saudi Arabia beating eventual World Cup champion Argentina in their opening group game.

Gulf nations engage in fierce competition to become the region’s premier entertainment and sporting hubs. The UAE, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Bahrain, in close proximity to each other, each have their own Formula One racing event. But their competition hasn’t been confined to the region. Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE have also bought trophy European soccer teams.

Riyadh is playing catchup with neighbors who have long realized the importance of investing in sports, said Simon Chadwick, professor of sport and geopolitical economy at SKEMA Business School in Lille, France, especially as its main source of income – oil – is being gradually shunned.

“This is part of an ongoing attempt to create more resilient economies that are more broadly based upon industries other than those that are derived from oil and gas,” Chadwick told CNN.

Ronaldo’s new club Al Nassr is backed by Qiddiya Investment Company (QIC), a subsidiary of the kingdom’s wealth fund, the Public Investment Fund (PIF), which has played a pivotal role in Saudi Arabia’s diversification plans.

“It is also a sign of interconnectedness, of globalization and of opening up to the rest of the world,” said Georgetown University’s Reiche.

The move is part of “several recent high profile moves in the sports world, including hosting the Andy Ruiz Jr. and Anthony Joshua world heavywight boxing championship bout in 2019, and launching the LIV Golf championship,” said Omar Al-Ubaydli, director of research at the Bahrain-based Derasat think tank. “It is a significant piece of a large puzzle that represents their economic restructuring.”

The kingdom has been on a path to not only diversify its economy, but also shift its image amid a barrage of criticism over its human rights record and treatment of women. Saudi Arabia is today hosting everything from desert raves to teaming up with renowned soccer players. Argentina’s Lionel Messi last year signed a lucrative promotional deal with the kingdom.

Hailed as the world’s greatest player, 35-year-old Messi ended this year’s World Cup tournament in Qatar with his team’s win over France, making his ambassadorship of even greater value to the kingdom.

The acquisition of such key global figures will also help combat the monarchy’s decades-long reputation of being “secretive” and “ultra-conservative,” James Dorsey, a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore and an expert on soccer in the Middle East, told CNN’s Eleni Giokos on Wednesday.

Al-Ubaydli said that the kingdom wants to use high profile international sports “as a vehicle for advertising to the world its openness.”

Saudi Arabia bought the English Premier league club Newcastle United in 2021 through a three-party consortium, with PIF being the largest stakeholder. The move proved controversial, as Amnesty International and other human rights defenders worried it would overshadow the kingdom’s human rights violations.

Ronaldo’s work with Saudi Arabia is already being criticized by rights groups who are urging the soccer player to “draw attention to human rights issues” in Saudi Arabia.

“Saudi Arabia has an image problem,” especially since Khashoggi’s killing, says Reiche. But the kingdom’s recent investments in sports and entertainment are “not about sportswashing but about developing the country, social change and opening up to the world.”

Saudi Arabia is reportedly weighing a 2030 World Cup bid with Egypt and Greece, but the kingdom’s tourism ministry noted in November that it has not yet submitted an official bid. Chadwick believes that Ronaldo’s deal with Al Nassr, however, may help boost the kingdom’s bid should it choose it pursue it.

Another way Saudi Arabia may benefit from Ronaldo’s acquisition is that it will be able to improve commercial performance, says Chadwick, especially if this collaboration attracts further international talent.

“It is important to see Ronaldo not just as a geopolitical instrument,” said Chadwick, “There is still a commercial component to him and to the purpose he is expected to serve in Saudi Arabia.”

What Ronaldo’s move to Saudi Arabia shows is that the kingdom aspires “to be seen as being the best” and that it wants to be perceived as a “contender and a legitimate member of the international football community,” said Chadwick.

UAE FM meets Syria’s Assad in Damascus in further sign of thawing ties

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad received the United Arab Emirates Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed in Damascus on Wednesday in the latest sign of thawing relations between Assad and the Gulf state. The meeting addressed developments in Syria and the wider Middle East, according to UAE state news agency WAM.

  • Background: It was Abdullah bin Zayed’s first visit since a November 2021 meeting with Assad that led to the resumption of relations. Months later, in March 2022, Assad visited the UAE, his first visit to an Arab state since the start of Syria’s civil war.
  • Why it matters: A number of Assad’s former foes have been trying to mend fences with his regime. Last week, talks between the Syrian and Turkish defense ministers were held in Moscow in the highest-level encounter reported between the estranged sides since the war in Syria began. The regional rapprochement is yet to improve the lives of average Syrians. Syria is still under Western sanctions.

Turkish President Erdogan says he could meet with Assad

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in a speech on Thursday that he could meet the Syrian leader “to establish peace.”

  • Background: Erdogan’s comments came after the Moscow talks between the two nations’ defense ministers and intelligence chiefs. “Following this meeting… we will bring our foreign ministers together. And after that, as leaders, we will come together,” Erdogan said on Thursday.
  • Why it matters: The meeting would mark a dramatic shift in Turkey’s decade-long stance on Syria, where Ankara was the prime supporter of political and armed factions fighting to topple Assad. The Turkish military maintains a presence across the Syrian border and within northern Syria, where it backs Syrian opposition forces. Erdogan has also pledged to launch yet another incursion into northern Syria, aiming at creating a 30-km (20-mile) deep “safe zone” that would be emptied of Kurdish fighters.

Iran shuts down French cultural center over Charlie Hebdo’s Khamenei cartoons

Iran announced on Thursday it had ended the activities of a Tehran-based French research institute, in reaction to cartoons mocking Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and fellow Shia Muslim clerics published by French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo this week.

  • Background: Iran summoned the French ambassador to Tehran on Wednesday to protest cartoons published by satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. More than 30 cartoons poking fun at Iran’s supreme leader were published by the magazine on Wednesday, in a show of support for the Iranian people who have been protesting the Islamic Republic’s government and its policies.
  • Why it matters: French-Iranian relations have deteriorated significantly since protests broke out in Iran late last year. Paris has publicly supported the protests and spoken out against Iran’s response to them. French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna criticized Iran’s freedom of press and judicial independence on Thursday, saying “press freedom exists, contrary to what is going on in Iran and… it is exercised under the supervision of a judge in an independent judiciary – and there too it’s something that Iran knows little of.”

The prized legacy of iconic Egyptian singer Umm Kulthum re-emerged this year when Rolling Stone magazine featured her in its “200 Greatest Singers of All Time.”

Ranking 61st, Umm Kulthum was the only Arab artist to make it to the list, with the magazine saying that she “has no real equivalent among singers in the West.”

Born in a small village northeast of the Egyptian capital Cairo, Umm Kulthum rose to unmatched fame as she came to represent “the soul of the pan-Arab world,” the music magazine said.

“Her potent contralto, which could blur gender in its lower register, conveyed breathtaking emotional range in complex songs that, across theme and wildly-ornamented variations, could easily last an hour, as she worked crowds like a fiery preacher,” it wrote.

Nicknamed “the lady of Arab singing,” her music featured both classical Arabic poetry as well as colloquial songs still adored by younger generations. Her most famous pieces include “Inta Uumri” (you are my life), “Alf Leila Weileila” (a thousand and one nights), “Amal Hayati” (hope of my life) and “Daret al-Ayyam” (the days have come around). Some of her songs have been remixed to modern beats that have made their way to Middle Eastern nightclubs.

The singer remains an unmatched voice across the Arab World and her music can still be heard in many traditional coffee shops in Old Cairo’s neighborhoods and other parts of the Arab world.

Umm Kulthum’s death in 1975 brought millions of mourners to the streets of Cairo.

By Nadeen Ebrahim

Women athletes aim their air rifles while competing in a local shooting championship in Yemen's Houthi rebel-held capital Sanaa on January 3.



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We Made The AI Write Stephen Miller’s Dutiful Prince Hallmark Movie, Because F*ck It, Whatever

Stephen Miller, Donald Trump’s former Obersturmbannführer for immigration, has been very upset about Royal People who are a great disappointment to him. We guess that’s a Serious Concern on the Weird Right lately, what with the new Netflix docu-series about Prince Harry and Meghan Markle that I literally just heard of while writing this story. Miller took a Twitter Break Thursday from ranting about the need to deport all the Dreamers, so he could cry about how sad it was that Harry had betrayed whiteness his royal heritage, and for what? To be the Half-Woke Prince?

Prince Harry’s evident disdain for his own family, the extraordinary gift and responsibility of Royal birth, and the ancient rites of his own Kingdom, is a dramatic public illustration of the chronic ideological disease that compels the elites of civilization to turn against it.

You know it’s a Nazi when they start talking about “ideological disease.” In this case, the “disease” appears to be the fact that Harry and Meghan discuss the racism they’ve faced, including in their own family. How declassé!

So NOW we know what was bugging him earlier in the morning, when he twote this suggestion for improving America’s media landscape with an entertainment that would both amuse and enlighten. Such wholesome themes!

Hallmark should make a movie about the royal prince of a fictional European monarchy who decides to marry based on the best interests of family and nation, selflessly fulfilling his patriotic duty as future sovereign.

Sounds enthralling, doesn’t it? Like that line from “The West Wing” where John Larroquette is talking about Gilbert and Sullivan and trying to remember what play a line is from: “One of the ones about duty,” and Ainsley, the earnest aide played by Emily Procter, shoots back “They’re all about duty. And it’s from Pinafore.”

Only Miller’s wouldn’t rhyme or be any fun, so scratch that comparison.


Still, we were up for a very slight challenge and we’d been looking for an excuse to try out the new “ChatGPT” AI toy from OpenAI, which has been all the rage for about five minutes because it’s pretty good at generating text that sounds plausible, if repetitive after a very short while. (If you want to play with it, you’ll need to create a free account.)

So we decided to fulfill Stephen Miller’s Christmas TV Movie wish, since it hardly took any effort on our part. Here’s our first try, with the prompt “write a script for a Hallmark movie about the royal prince of a fictional European monarchy who decides to marry based on the best interests of family and nation, selflessly fulfilling his patriotic duty as future sovereign.”

First Try: ‘Duty And Love’

The Royal Prince, David, sat in his chambers, staring at the piles of letters on his desk. As the future Sovereign of the Kingdom of Arcadia, it was his duty to choose a bride. But he was not just looking for a wife, he was looking for someone who could help him lead the kingdom into a brighter future.

David sighed and reached for a letter, reading through it quickly. He had received countless proposals from noblewomen across Europe, each one more eager than the last to marry the prince and become the future Queen of Arcadia. But David knew that he could not simply marry for love, he had to marry for the good of the kingdom.

As he read through the letters, he thought about the many challenges facing Arcadia. The kingdom was struggling economically, and tensions with its neighbors were growing. David knew that he needed a strong, intelligent, and capable partner to help him navigate these challenges and secure a prosperous future for the kingdom.

Finally, after much contemplation, David made his decision. He summoned his advisor and announced that he had chosen to marry Lady Elizabeth, the daughter of a powerful Duke from a neighboring kingdom. The marriage would not only be beneficial for Arcadia, but it would also strengthen the alliance between the two kingdoms and help to secure peace in the region.

The royal wedding was a grand affair, with people from across Europe coming to witness the union of Prince David and Lady Elizabeth. As they exchanged vows, David felt a sense of duty and responsibility, knowing that he was not just marrying for himself, but for the good of the kingdom.

But despite the practical nature of their marriage, David and Elizabeth soon found that they had a deep connection and genuine love for each other. As they worked together to lead Arcadia into a brighter future, they realized that their union was not just a political arrangement, but a true partnership of love and duty.

Rebecca, in the ChatCave, with a revolver: “Well, it was fast, but it’s not a movie script. STUPID AI!!!!!” I tweaked the prompt a bit, asking the bot to write a script, with dialogue, for a single scene from Miller’s ideal movie, and it spat out a perfectly adequate but bland conversation between another prince (Charles this time) and his loyal butler Jenkins, also about marrying for the good of the kingdom and how wise that is.

Finally I hit on what was needed: “Write a script, with dialogue, for a pivotal love scene from a Hallmark movie,” etc.

Readers, prepare to be swept off your romantic dutiful feet.

Third Try: Talk Duty To Me, Baby

(Fine, that is Dok’s title because he wants to stay ahead of the Machines)

Narrator: Prince Richard stood at the edge of the balcony, overlooking the bustling city below. As the future king of his small European nation, he had always known that his marriage would be a strategic political alliance. But now, as the day of his arranged marriage approached, he found himself struggling with the weight of his duty.

Prince Richard: (to himself) How can I marry someone I do not love? Is it selfish to want to marry for love, rather than for the good of my country?

Narrator: Just then, the door to the balcony opened and his betrothed, Princess Sophia, stepped out to join him.

Princess Sophia: (approaching Prince Richard) My lord, I did not expect to find you out here.

Prince Richard: (turning to Princess Sophia) Forgive me, Princess. I was just taking in the view.

Princess Sophia: (smiling) It is a beautiful city, is it not?

Prince Richard: (nodding) Indeed. It is my home, and I love it dearly. But sometimes, I cannot help but wonder if I am making the right decision.

Princess Sophia: (surprised) What do you mean, my lord?

Prince Richard: (sighing) My marriage to you is an arrangement, a political alliance for the good of our nations. But is that truly what I want?

Princess Sophia: (pausing, then taking Prince Richard’s hand) My lord, I too have always known that our marriage was for the good of our countries. But over the past few months, I have come to care for you deeply. I know that we may not have the kind of love that is written about in fairy tales, but I believe that with time and effort, we can build a strong and loving marriage.

Prince Richard: (squeezing Princess Sophia’s hand) You are wise beyond your years, Princess. I have been so caught up in my own doubts that I did not see how much you have come to mean to me. I will marry you, not out of a sense of duty, but because I want to be with you.

Narrator: And so, Prince Richard and Princess Sophia entered into their marriage with love in their hearts, knowing that they would face the challenges of ruling their nations together, hand in hand.

Princess Sophia: Hey! Let’s take some immigrant children from their parents!

Prince Richard: NOW you’re talkin’, toots!

And that’s why humans remain in charge, buster.

He loved her, especially since she was so well suited to be Head of State

[ChatGPT / Atlantic / Stable Diffusion AI / DreamStudio Lite AI]

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