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BANGKOK 000192 AMBASSADOR ENGAGES PRIVY COUNCIL CHAIR

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Monday, 25 January 2010, 07:59
S E C R E T SECTION 01 OF 03 BANGKOK 000192
SIPDIS
STATE FOR EAP/MLS, NSC FOR WALTON
EO 12958 DECL: 01/25/2030
TAGS PRELPGOVTH
SUBJECT: THAILAND: AMBASSADOR ENGAGES PRIVY COUNCIL CHAIR
PREM, OTHER “ESTABLISHMENT” FIGURES ON YEAR AHEAD
REF: BANGKOK 184 (SEH DAENG)
BANGKOK 00000192 001.2 OF 003
Classified By: Ambassador Eric G. John, reason 1.4 (b,d)

1. (S) Summary: Ambassador paid a series of New Year’s-related calls on influential

Thai figures,including Privy Council Chair GEN Prem, Privy Council member ACM

Siddhi, and former PM Anand,

to discuss the year ahead. Abhisit’s performance, issues related to the royal family,

and challenges posed by Thaksin/Hun Sen emerged as the primary themes. Prem

offered a more positive assessment of Abhisit’s performance than Siddhi, who

criticized Abhisit for a lack of resolve and the absence of an effective team to carry

out his policies. All three focused on the challenge posed by Thaksin to the

government and, indirectly, to the monarchy; Anand attributed part of the King’s

poor health to Thaksin, and both Prem and Siddhi were upset about Thaksin’s

alliance of convenience with Cambodian leader Hun Sen. All three had quite

negative comments about Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn. While asserting that

the Crown Prince will become King, both Siddhi and Anand implied the country

would be better off if other arrangements could be made. Siddhi expressed

preference for Princess Sirindhorn; Anand suggested only the King would

be in a position to change succession, and acknowledged a low likelihood

of that happening.

 

2. (S) Comment: On the two most difficult and sensitive issues of the day in

Thailand — Thaksin and the monarchy — the Thai elite appear as unsure

about the future as any other sector of society. The stakes are significant for

all sides, and resolution of the political divide and royal succession could

still be far over the horizon. Elite concerns about Abhisit in office appear

to reflect less on his performance than on general worries about the

ultimate resolution of issues. End Summary and Comment.

Mixed Views on Abhisit’s performance

————————————

3. (C) Privy Councilor Chair GEN Prem shared his assessments of PM Abhisit,

the Crown Prince’s relationship with Thaksin, and difficulties dealing with

Cambodia/Hun Sen with Ambassador over lunch January 13. Regarding

Abhisit, Prem referenced widespread criticism that the PM was too young and

not strong enough to be an effective leader in trying times. However, Prem

felt that Abhisit had proved in 2009 that he was up to the challenge of doing

what was necessary to run a fractious coalition government, no easy task.

In addition, there were no other politicians available who were more principled

and had more integrity than Abhisit, and Thailand needed such a leader at this

point. Prem expressed hope that Thais and foreigners alike would be more

patient with Abhisit, who he believed was the right man to serve as premier.

4. (C) Fellow Privy Councilor ACM Siddhi, hosting Ambassador at his home

January 11, was more critical of Abhisit than Prem. Siddhi said that he had told

Abhisit’s father, his own long-time personal physician, that his son needed to

be more decisive and “make more friends” in 2010. Abhisit spent too much time

at the podium and not enough time assembling an effective team to which he

could delegate action and rely on for well-thought out policy initiatives, in Siddhi’s

view. Abhisit also needed to get out to engage the grassroots, one of Thaksin’s

strengths. On Siddhi’s wish list: Abhisit pushing through a permanent appointment

for Acting Police Chief Pratheep; using his power over wayward coalition parties

by threatening parliamentary dissolution if they did not get in line; and telling

the Army to take action to dismiss renegade MGEN Khattiya, even if Defense

Minister Prawit refused to sign a dismissal order.

 

Political Year Ahead

——————–

5. (C) While GEN Prem expressed moderate concern about the potential for violence

and political discord in early 2010, he felt the situation was no worse than six

months ago. Prem asked about U.S. laws regarding demonstrations and avoiding

excessive disruptions of government functions and daily lives of citizens; Ambassador

explained the U.S. system of permits for protests which allowed for free speech but not

free access everywhere. Ambassador shared U.S. frustration about decisions negatively

affecting economic/investment climate, such as Ma Tha Phut and the digital lottery

cancellation; the uneven application of the rule of law, breaches of contract, and

regulatory shifts affected the investment climate more negatively at this point than

political turmoil.

 

6. (C) ACM Siddhi expressed more concerns than Prem about the security situation

in 2010, suggesting that Army Commander Anupong’s inability to control wayward

red-affiliated MGEN Khattiya’s M-79 attacks on yellow-shirt rallies and trips to

see Thaksin overseas was not a good harbinger (note: three days later, someone

attacked Anupong’s office at night with an M-79, with Khattiya widely seen as the

likely suspect, see reftel. End note). Siddhi said he had higher hopes for deputy

Commander Prayuth, widely expected to replace Anupong in October and seen as

particularly close to the Queen. Siddhi claimed Prem had sent a signal of his

displeasure with Anupong by snubbing him during a group call at Prem’s residence

to pass birthday greetings, not stopping to talk to Anupong personally as he did

with other key military commanders.

 

Royal Family: King, Crown Prince, Entourages

——————————————–

7. (S) Regarding King Bhumibol’s health, Prem indicated that the King was

exercising 30 minutes a day on a stationary bicycle at Siriraj Hospital and

passing a medicine ball with a physical therapist to build up strength and

regain weight. Prem acknowledged that he had not seen the King since the

hospitalization, but that the Queen and Princess Sirindhorn saw the King

daily. When Ambassador asked about the Crown Prince’s involvement,

Prem repeated: the Queen and Sirindhorn visit him daily.

 

8. (S) Prem acknowledged Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn probably maintained

some sort of relationship with fugitive former PM Thaksin, “seeing him from

time to time.” Prem, clearly no fan of either man, cautioned that Thaksin ran

the risk of self-delusion if he thought that the Crown Prince would act as his

friend/supporter in the future merely because of Thaksin’s monetary support;

“he does not enjoy that sort of relationship.” When Ambassador asked where

the Crown Prince was currently, in Thailand or Europe, Prem replied

dismissively: “You know his social life, how he is.” (Note: a presumed reference

to Vajiralongkorn’s preference to spend time based out of Munich with his

main mistress, rather than in Thailand with his wife and son).

 

9. (S) ACM Siddhi, in a similar vein, noted that the Crown Prince frequently slipped

away from Thailand, and that information about his air hostess mistresses was

widely available on websites; he lamented how his former aide, now Thai

Ambassador to Germany, was forced to leave Berlin for Munich often to receive

Vajiralongkorn. Siddhi raised Thaksin’s controversial November Times

On-line interview, which Siddhi claimed cast the King in a bad light and

attempted to praise the Crown Prince as broad-minded and educated abroad,

hinting that Vajiralongkorn would be ready to welcome Thaksin back to

Thailand once he became King.

 

10. (S) Ambassador mentioned to Siddhi the Crown Prince’s more engaging

approach in the early December King’s Birthday reception with Ambassadors,

shaking each envoy’s hand and appearing more at ease than in the 2008

reception. Siddhi stated that succession would be a difficult transition time

for Thailand. According to Palace Law, the Crown Prince would succeed

his father, but added after a pause, almost hopefully: “if the Crown Prince

were to die, anything could happen, and maybe Prathep (Sirindhorn)

could succeed.”

 

11. (S) Ambassador similarly raised the Crown Prince’s more confident

demeanor with former PM Anand in late December, seeking Anand’s

assessment of the dynamics in play as succession inevitably drew nearer.

Anand’s response was similar to Siddhi’s, but more detailed and blunt.

Anand said that he had always believed that the Crown Prince would succeed

his father, according to law. However, there could be complicating factors —

if Vajiralongkohn proved unable to stay out of politics, or avoid embarrassing

financial transactions. After a pause, Anand added that the consensus view

among many Thai was that the Crown Prince could not stop either, nor

would he be able, at age 57, to rectify his behavior. After another pause, Anand

added that someone really should raise the matter with the King, before adding

with regret that there really was no one who could raise such a delicate topic

(note: implied was the need for an alternative to Vajiralongkorn).

 

12. (S) ACM Siddhi expressed his personal concern about the declining image of

the royal family in Thailand, noting that something as simple as excessive

motorcade-related traffic jams caused by minor royals was an unnecessary

but enduring irritant. Personal Private Secretary Arsa Sarasin had raised this

with the King about eight years ago, according to Siddhi, and the King had agreed,

authorizing Arsa to talk to royal family members and to set up new rules limiting

entourages and occasions when traffic would be stopped. Nothing had changed;

Siddhi noted that he had been caught up in traffic for 45 minutes the previous

week returning for a meeting with the Chinese Ambassador, due to a royal

motorcade. Stories that the Crown Prince now ordered second story windows

closed as his motorcade passed achieved nothing but additional popular r

esentment, Siddhi added sorrowfully.

 

Thaksin and Hun Sen

——————-

13. (C) Thaksin clearly remained on the mind of all three “establishment” figures.

Former PM Anand asserted that the King’s health and mood remained poor

“primarily because of Thaksin” and the challenge Thaksin posed to the stability

of the country. GEN Prem asked Ambassador what the U.S. would do in the

situation Thailand found itself, with a neighboring country appointing as an

adviser a former leader bent on bringing down the government. Ambassador

replied that while former U.S. Presidents did occasionally give paid speeches

overseas, they would never work for another government; he advised Prem and

Thai officials to take the high road in their public comments about Cambodia,

and not to be drawn into a tit for tat with Thaksin and Hun Sen. (Note: Prem

seemed to be musing out loud, but he clearly was focused on what he perceived

as a threat from Thaksin and Hun Sen’s facilitation of Thaksin’s efforts).

 

14. (C) ACM Siddhi said that PM Abhisit had called him on his 90th birthday

recently and had indicated that now that Thailand was no longer ASEAN Chair,

Abhisit would feel less constrained in responding to Hun Sen’s bullying rhetoric

more freely. Siddhi expressed concern that in addition to Cambodia and Brunei,

clearly in Thaksin’s camp due to his close personal ties with Hun Sen and the

Brunei Sultan, Laos and Vietnam might back Hun Sen in the ongoing

Thai-Cambodia diplomatic spat.

 

15. (C) ACM Siddhi attacked Thaksin as trying to use money, red-shirt protests,

and Hun Sen to “destroy our country,” but he predicted Thaksin would not succeed.

Thaksin never had tried to negotiate, Siddhi alleged, but only issued demands;

had he been willing to come back and spend a nominal time in jail for his conviction,

Thaksin likely would have been quickly pardoned/released as a former PM. Now

Thaksin would try to create chaos, possibly sparking the use of force. While Siddhi

expected Thaksin to lose the February 26 decision on his 76 billion baht ($2.3 billion)

in frozen assets, he claimed his sources indicated Thaksin still had 240 billion baht

($7.3 billion) overseas. Rather than live overseas quietly, Thaksin had decided to

fight, funding websites attacking the King and Queen to stir up

anti-monarchy views. JOHN

Written by thaicables

December 16, 2010 at 2:24 am

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