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07BANGKOK2280 AMBASSADOR AND CNS GENERAL WINAI DISCUSS POLITICAL SITUATION

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“105331”,”4/23/2007 10:28″,”07BANGKOK2280″,”Embassy Bangkok”,”CONFIDENTIAL”,”06BANGKOK7594|07BANGKOK1538|07BANGKOK1715″,”VZCZCXRO3453

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SIPDIS

 

SIPDIS

 

E.O. 12958: DECL: 04/23/2017

TAGS: PREL, PGOV, PHUM, ECON, EINV, KDEM, KJUS, ASEC, TH

SUBJECT: AMBASSADOR AND CNS GENERAL WINAI DISCUSS POLITICAL

SITUATION

 

REF: A. BANGKOK 1715 (SURAYUD ON CIVIL LIBERTIES)

B. BANGKOK 1538 (AMBASSDOR MEETS WITH CHATURON)

C. 06 BANGKOK 7594 (BUILDING CASE VS. THAKSIN)

 

Classified By: Ambassador Ralph L. Boyce, reason: 1.4 (b) and (d).

 

SUMMARY

——-

 

1. (C) A top military officer expressed concern that

opposition politicians are fomenting trouble, including by

manipulating opposition to the draft Constitution. In an

April 20 meeting, Council for National Security (CNS)

Secretary General Winai Phattiyakul told the Ambassador that

 

SIPDIS

deposed Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra\’s activities

remained of concern, but by the end of May the government

would have established grounds for his prosecution for

financial improprieties. There also were solid grounds for

dissolving Thaksin\’s former party, although Winai

acknowledged Thai Rak Thai (TRT) would be able to

reconstitute itself after dissolution; Winai hoped the stigma

of a ruling that the party cheated in an election would

impede a TRT comeback. Winai said Prime Minister Surayud was

becoming more decisive and would carry out a major cabinet

reshuffle in a month, if the current cabinet continued to

languish. CNS Chairman General Sonthi was considering a move

into elected politics after retirement from the Army. At

Winai\’s request, the Ambassador explained the USG had no

interest in internationalizing the security situation in

southern Thailand. The Ambassador also explained that the

draft revisions to the Foreign Business Act were harmful to

the investment climate. End Summary.

 

WORRIED ABOUT THAKSIN AND HIS CLIQUE

————————————

 

2. (C) General Winai opened his discussion with the

Ambassador by expressing concern about the overall situation

in Thailand, noting mischievous politicians were roiling the

waters and trying to take advantage of the difficulties

encountered by the Council for National Security (CNS) and

Prime Minister Surayud\’s administration. When pressed,

though, Winai admitted he was uncertain whether former Prime

Minister Thaksin Shinawatra was trying to direct events, or

whether close allies of his (e.g., Newin Chidchob and Prommin

Lertsuridej) were trying to further Thaksin\’s interests.

Another possibility was former PM Chavalit, who has rekindled

dreams of becoming PM again. Winai expressed concern about

rumors that former Natural Resources Minister Yongyuth

Tiyapairat has appeared at certain points in the Thai-Lao and

Thai-Cambodian border areas. (Yongyuth currently holds a

U.S. student visa, issued subsequent to the coup, and we

understood he was pursuing studies in the U.S.)

 

3. (C) Thaksin had written to King Bhumibol, pledging to quit

politics, Winai recounted. Thaksin had claimed his wife,

Potjaman, would divorce him if he sought to return to

political life. Thaksin also had contacted the Thai

Ambassador in London to try to arrange an audience with Crown

Prince Vajiralongkorn during the Crown Prince\’s April visit

to the United Kingdom. Winai said that when the Thai

Ambassador denied this request, Thaksin waited in the lobby

of the Crown Prince\’s hotel, inserting himself into the

receiving line of hotel staff. On arrival, according to

Winai, the Crown Prince had a very brief exchange with

Thaksin in this public setting. But when Winai later told

unspecified figures from Thaksin\’s Thai Rak Thai (TRT) party

that the deposed PM was acting inappropriately, Winai\’s TRT

interlocutor claimed that the Crown Prince had summoned

Thaksin for a lengthy audience. Winai claimed this story

illustrated an unacceptable effort by Thaksin to force

himself upon the royal family — and then misrepresent his

interactions.

 

4. (C) Winai was optimistic that the government would take

effective legal action against Thaksin by the end of May.

The Asset Examination Commission (AEC) had clear evidence

that Thaksin had inappropriately evaded taxation, and it

would impose a substantial penalty on him for doing so. The

AEC also would present a strong case that Thaksin had

improperly used cutout firms (\”nominees\”) to evade certain

provisions of law. Winai admitted, however, that efforts to

prosecute Thaksin over his wife\’s purchase of land from a

state agency (ref C) might flounder, especially as former

 

BANGKOK 00002280 002 OF 004

 

Deputy PM Pridiyathorn Devakula had recently testified before

the AEC that the Prime Minister had no formal authority over

the state agency in question. (Pridiyathorn subsequently

complained that news reports casting his testimony as

favorable to Thaksin\’s side were unfair, as he had simply

provided facts without offering his opinion or

interpretation.)

 

THAI RAK THAI\’S FATE

——————–

 

5. (C) The Constitutional Tribunal had seen strong evidence

that TRT had engaged in fraudulent and undemocratic acts

during the April 2006 election, Winai said, citing

conversations he had with members of the Tribunal. While

Winai believed the Tribunal had sufficient cause to rule

against TRT and order the party\’s dissolution (as Winai has

predicted in previous meetings with the Ambassador), he

mentioned that at least two of the nine Tribunal members had

been offered very substantial bribes by Thaksin\’s associates.

When the Ambassador noted that TRT figures planned to

reconstitute the party after dissolution (see ref B), Winai

admitted this was likely, but he believed that a formal

ruling that TRT had cheated in the last election would

meaningfully harm the party\’s reputation and impede it from

making a comeback.

 

SURAYUD IN CHARGE

—————–

 

6. (C) The Ambassador asked Winai if he was disappointed with

PM Surayud\’s performance. Winai said he felt more of a sense

of pity, rather than disappointment; Surayud\’s cabinet had

failed to perform. The Ambassador noted that, because

Surayud did not have a wide circle of civilian acquaintances

from the political class, he appeared to have relied on Privy

Council President Prem Tinsulanonda to identify figures for

his cabinet. Consequently, Prem — age 86 — had recommended

people relatively advanced in years (average age 64). Winai

agreed this was part of the problem. He derided the cabinet

as inept, saying that the cabinet\’s poor performance had

contributed to unfounded rumors of a rift between the CNS and

Surayud\’s administration. Winai said that the PM and CNS

leaders had agreed to meet more often and to try to show the

public that they were working together.

 

7. (C) Winai was optimistic that Surayud, after his recent

extended medical check-up, appeared more energized and

determined. (Comment: This tracks with what we have heard

from other contacts. End Comment.) He was acting more

decisively, and would carry out a complete reshuffle of his

cabinet in a month if it continued its poor performance.

Addressing Surayud\’s imminent plan to add a handful of deputy

ministers to the cabinet, Winai said that this was Surayud\’s

way of taking a more limited measure, so he would not have to

fire anyone, but could still inject new blood into the

cabinet.

 

SONTHI RECONSIDERING HIS FUTURE

——————————-

 

8. (C) The Ambassador asked about the plan, floated in the

press and subsequently rejected, for a new cabinet position

of Deputy PM for Security Affairs. Winai admitted that the

creation of this position had been his own idea; he believed

it would be useful, to bridge the gap between the CNS and the

administration, if CNS Chairman Sonthi Boonyaratglin were to

take this job. Surayud was willing to go along with the

plan, Winai claimed, but Sonthi was against it, at least in

part because of the negative reaction from foreign quarters.

The Ambassador said in clear terms that it would be a mistake

to place General Sonthi in a cabinet position; if Sonthi had

gone along with this plan, it would have created headaches

for the friends of Thailand who supported maximum civilian

influence in this government and the earliest possible return

to elected civilian leadership.

 

9. (C) Winai added that General Sonthi was reconsidering his

earlier determination to avoid a political role for himself

in the future. He might run for elected office after his

retirement from the Army later this year. Until Thaksin\’s

future disposition was clear, CNS figures could not rule out

the deposed PM returning and wreaking havoc on the country —

and possibly acting vengefully against CNS members. The

 

BANGKOK 00002280 003 OF 004

 

Ambassador expressed surprise that Sonthi might turn to

elected politics, noting he lacked the background and

instincts to be an effective politician. A move by Sonthi

along these lines would complicate efforts of his associates

to argue that he was motivated simply by the political crisis

of 2005-06, rather than a desire to institutionalize a more

powerful role for the armed forces.

 

CONSTITUTION

————

 

10. (C) The Ambassador requested Winai\’s views on the draft

constitution. Winai noted the draft was under attack from

many quarters, for different reasons. Issues of concern

included the nature of the Senate, the creation of

multi-member districts, a revamping of the party list system,

and especially the decision (consistent with all previous

constitution drafts) not to establish Buddhism as Thailand\’s

official religion. This last issue was being exploited by

some of the government\’s foes, Winai lamented — principally

former Prime Minister Chavalit Yongchaiyudh, who was working

behind the scenes to promote public opposition to the draft

constitution. Winai observed that Chavalit\’s ambition to

return as Prime Minister remained, and that many of his

former New Aspiration Party associates (such as current TRT

Party Leader Chaturon Chaiseng and Deputy Leader Sudarat

Keyuraphan) remained in contact with Chavalit. The former

PM\’s residence buzzed with activity, just as it had when he

was in office, Winai observed.

 

11. (C) The Ambassador asked Winai about the recent trip he

had taken to Europe over the (mid-April) Songkran holiday.

Press reports had surmised that Winai and his traveling

companions — National Legislative Assembly President Meechai

Ruchupan and leading constitutional scholars Borwornsak

Uwanno and Wissanu Krea-ngam — had worked on a new

constitution draft. Winai told the Ambassador that the trip

was purely a sightseeing vacation, devoid of political

plotting. (Comment: We remain skeptical. End Comment.)

 

12. (C) Recalling PM Surayud\’s explanation that the RTG would

restore full civil liberties after the passage of a new law

on security affairs (ref A), the Ambassador said that, if

such a law was indeed a prerequisite for returning to

normalcy, it would be good for the government to ensure

speedy passage. Winai offered no substantive reply.

 

SOUTH

—–

 

13. (C) Alluding to recent public comments by a senior U.S.

military officer, Winai asked the Ambassador to explain

recent foreign interest in the security situation in southern

Thailand. He said he was asking this at the request of

General Sonthi. The Ambassador explained that the USG had no

intention of promoting a foreign presence in southern

Thailand; the U.S. military officer\’s remarks had been

sensationalized by an aggressive journalist who had pressed

the officer in order to get material for an article. Winai

said he was relieved to hear this explanation, which he would

relay to General Sonthi.

 

INVESTMENT CLIMATE

——————

 

14. (C) The Ambassador closed the meeting by expressing

concern about the draft revision to the Foreign Business Act

(FBA), which would have a negative impact on the investment

climate in Thailand. The Ambassador noted that U.S.

corporations would in effect be penalized for following

long-established practice that benefited the Thai economy.

The Ambassador related that a major U.S. agricultural

corporation had cancelled a planned 100 million USD expansion

because of concern about the uncertain regulation of foreign

ventures. The USG understood the RTG\’s motivation to address

irregularities relating to the Shinawatra family\’s sale of

the Shin Corporation to Singapore\’s Temasek investment firm.

But such measures would scare away U.S. corporations, which

had other options for investment in the region. Winai

conceded that the investment climate was suffering as a

consequence of the many problems affecting the country and

the administration.

 

COMMENT

 

BANGKOK 00002280 004 OF 004

 

——-

 

15. (C) Winai\’s claim that CNS opponents are stoking

opposition to the draft constitution is not surprising.

Winai\’s allegation that General Sonthi would like to remain

in a position of political influence is also plausible;

septel will report further concerns we have heard on this

issue. Finally, we understand Winai\’s logic in arguing that

a finding by the Constitutional Tribunal against TRT would

harm the (reconstituted) party\’s prospects in the next

election. However, Winai may not realize that the Tribunal,

as a new institution created post-coup, has a questionable

degree of moral authority; regardless of the facts of the

case, TRT officials may be able to convince their supporters

— not to mention more neutral voters dismayed by the inept

performance of the Surayud administration — that their party

never received a fair hearing.

BOYCE

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Written by thaicables

June 23, 2011 at 2:01 am

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