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05BANGKOK1969 THAI PRIME MINISTER SKIPS LUNCH DATE WITH ASSEMBLY OF THE POOR

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“28991”,”3/17/2005 8:31″,”05BANGKOK1969″,

“Embassy Bangkok”,

“UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY”,””,

“This record is a partial extract of the original cable.

The full text of the original cable is not available.

“,”UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 BANGKOK 001969

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE

DEPARTMENT FOR EAP/BCLTV

E.O. 12958: N/A

TAGS: PREL, PHUM, TH, TRT – Thai Rak Thai

SUBJECT: THAI PRIME MINISTER SKIPS LUNCH DATE WITH ASSEMBLY

OF THE POOR

1. (U) SUMMARY: Newly sworn-in Prime Minister Thaksin

Shinawatra disappointed a three-day gathering of mostly rural

villagers from the Assembly of the Poor NGO by going on

vacation in Japan rather than stopping by for lunch. The

900-strong peaceful demonstration in front of Thailand\’s

Parliament attracted some media attention and some prominent

political opposition figures, but was mostly ignored by

Members of Parliament. A nearly nonstop array of speakers

addressed the protesters and called for greater public

participation in decision-making on large scale development

projects and for Thaksin to make good on promises he made in

his first administration. END SUMMARY.

PEACEFUL RALLY FEATURES VARIETY OF SPEAKERS AND ISSUES

2. (U) A group of approximately 900 grassroots demonstrators

from about 30 of Thailand\’s 76 provinces gathered for three

days in front of Parliament in Bangkok to press for a greater

voice for ordinary people in the democratic process.

Organized by the NGO Assembly of the Poor and seven other

local NGOs, villagers traveled to Bangkok from all parts of

Thailand via bus on the night of March 14 and set up a small

stage with a few microphones on the sidewalk across the

double lane street from the front gate of Thailand\’s

Parliament building. They camped out under blue plastic

tarps on either side of the stage and sat on straw mats

interspersed with small charcoal grills used to cook pots of

rice and fish. They endured temperatures of over 100 degrees

Fahrenheit, and an unusual heavy rain on the morning of March

16 added a thick humidity to the already steamy atmosphere.

The Assembly of the Poor, a nationwide NGO, is comprised of

over 200 smaller grassroots organizations concerned about

various government programs that have led to land use

disputes.

3. (U) Poloff spoke to Assembly of the Poor organizers

Somkhuan Phromthong and Wannida Tantiwitthayapitak who told

him that they originally planned to hold the rally in early

January during the February 6 general election campaign. But

the December 26, 2004 tsunami affected many of the member

groups from Phuket and Phangnga provinces, so the earlier

plans had to be postponed. The organizers said that for this

demonstration they had received good cooperation from the

City of Bangkok, which provided drinking water and mobile

toilet facilities. They also had no complaints about the

police or other security officials, whom Poloff observed

taking pictures of his movements and conversations from

across the street. Somkhuan did say they had been fined 200

baht ($5.25) for making too much noise the first day but had

not been troubled by police since paying the fine.

FAMOUS GRANDMA ACTIVIST MISSES LUNCH WITH THE PM

4. (U) One of the featured speakers and organizers at the

rally was a Northeast Thailand legend known as \”Yai Hai\” or

Grandma Hai from Ubolratchathani Province. Her twenty-year

struggle to reclaim her farm, which she claimed had been

illegally taken from her for a government dam project, has

been featured in local and international media as a victory

for grassroots organizing in rural Southeast Asia. She asked

why the Prime Minister had turned down the Assembly\’s offer

for lunch remarking, \”He likes \’plaa tip\’ (raw fish, meaning

sushi) more than \’plaa taek\’ (Northeastern fish paste).\” The

Prime Minister had departed for Japan on a family vacation

the day before and did not stop by the rally or send a

representative to meet with the villagers. Yai Hai did

testify to the House of Representatives Subcommittee on Human

and Social Welfare about rural economic issues. Notably

absent from the rally, according to its organizers, were

Members of Parliament from any of the provinces or areas

represented by the demonstrators, except for one Thai Rak

Thai MP from Lamphun Province. Some noted Thai Senators,

such as Thaksin critics Kraisak Choonhavan, Chermsak Pinthong

and Democrat Party Leader MP Abhisit Vejjajiva did stop by

the rally to listen and show their support.

KEEPING WATCH ON THAI RAK THAI

5. (U) The Assembly of the Poor speakers presented a wide

array of grievances against the government, but all

reiterated the need for increased citizen participation in

the democratic process. Many complained of environmental

problems associated with locating of coal fired power plants

or industries, such as paper mills near their homes. Others

spoke about misuse of development funds and of policies to

develop the country at the expense of the forests, water and

other natural resources. One group opposed the joint venture

Thai-Malaysia pipeline in southern Thailand, claiming

government corruption in land allocation for laying the

pipeline. Wannida noted that Thaksin\’s populist policies,

such as the 2003 war on drugs, or the 30-baht health scheme,

were quick fixes or \”tiger balm\” (a soothing Asian medicinal

rubbing balm) that temporarily allayed public worries but did

not provide systemic solutions to social problems. On March

17, the group will submit recommendations to the Parliament

and hold a press conference. They also plan to release a set

of alternative national policy objectives once the Thaksin

government reveals its policy planning statement in

Parliament on March 23. Most important, the Assembly for the

Poor will establish a People\’s Social Policy Monitoring

Committee to assess the effect of government infrastructure

projects on villagers in the hope of serving as a check on

Thaksin\’s large majority in the Thai parliament.

A MISSED OPPORTUNITY?

6. (SBU) Comment. Less than one week after stating in his

inaugural address that he would seek greater public

participation in the democratic process in Thailand, Thaksin

has missed an excellent opportunity to make good on his

words. While his snub of the lunch offer from the grassroots

Assembly of the Poor has not resulted in massive criticism or

rowdy demonstrations, he has let down a group of down-home

country Thai folks committed to their families and

communities and to participating in the future of Thailand.

New Democrat Party Leader did not miss his chance to

demonstrate that he will keep an ear open to their critiques

of Thaksin administration policies. End Comment.

BOYCE

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Written by thaicables

June 13, 2011 at 2:21 am

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  1. […] THAI PRIME MINISTER SKIPS LUNCH DATE WITH ASSEMBLY OF THE POOR (March 2005) 1. (U) SUMMARY: Newly sworn-in Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra disappointed a […]


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