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07BANGKOK2304 DEMOCRAT OFFICIAL WARNS OF SONTHI’S AMBITIONS, SURAYUD’S WEAKNESS

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“105479”,”4/24/2007 10:50″,”07BANGKOK2304″,”Embassy Bangkok”,

 

“CONFIDENTIAL”,””,”VZCZCXRO4848

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RUEHBY/AMEMBASSY CANBERRA PRIORITY 7042

RUEHWL/AMEMBASSY WELLINGTON PRIORITY 1733

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SIPDIS

 

SIPDIS

 

E.O. 12958: DECL: 04/24/2017

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

SUBJECT: DEMOCRAT OFFICIAL WARNS OF SONTHI\’S AMBITIONS,

SURAYUD\’S WEAKNESS

 

REF: A. BANGKOK 2280 (MEETING WITH WINAI)

 

B. BANGKOK 964 (SOMKID APPOINTMENT)

 

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

 

SUMMARY

——-

 

1. (C) There is mounting evidence of serious rifts between PM

Surayud and junta leader General Sonthi. An experienced

politician told us on April 23 that Sonthi has at least

considered replacing Surayud. Democrat Party (DP) Secretary

General Suthep Thaugsuban recounted a discussion in early

April in which Sonthi recruited him for a ministerial slot,

and raised the possibility of heading something like a

national unity government. Although Suthep believed the

tensions might have eased since then, he said that Surayud

faced a hostile alliance that includes military officers and

other high profile activists who organized large protests in

Bangkok in 2005 and 2006. Suthep said the CNS wanted to

establish its own party and therefore had a shared interest

with others who would like to weaken the DP or see a change

in the party\’s leadership. Suthep declined to predict how

the Palace would react to a change in government leadership,

but he claimed the King only signaled his support for the

2006 coup after the fact, when urged by the Queen. Suthep

said he disagreed with some key provisions of the draft

constitution, but he would be willing to accept the current

draft in order that elections can be held in 2007. End

Summary.

 

WARNING ABOUT SONTHI

——————–

 

2. (C) Democrat Party Secretary General Suthep Thaugsuban

warned in an April 23 meeting of serious rifts between CNS

Chairman General Sonthi Boonyaratglin and PM Surayud

Chulanont. While Sonthi previously appeared apolitical,

Suthep said that events subsequent to the coup had affected

Sonthi\’s ambitions. Being in a position of greater power

also had stoked interest on the part of Sonthi and other CNS

figures, such as CNS Secretary General Winai Phattiyakul, in

using their influence to accumulate wealth. Surayud,

however, remained clean, Suthep claimed.

 

3. (C) Suthep said he had dined with Sonthi prior to the

April 13-17 Songkran holidays. At that dinner, Sonthi

invited Suthep to join a cabinet which Sonthi might form, in

the event that Sonthi were to replace Surayud and install

himself as Prime Minister. Suthep said he had declined

Sonthi\’s offer, saying the Democrats would not serve any

government installed by a coup. At one point in the meal,

Sonthi took out a pen and paper to note down whatever names

Suthep might suggest as suitable cabinet members, indicating

his interest in perhaps forming some kind of national unity

government.

 

KEY FIGURES OPPOSING SURAYUD

—————————-

 

4. (C) Suthep said that Surayud faced a number of prominent

opponents; Sonthi was just the most prominent of these

figures, who are united primarily by opposition to Surayud\’s

relative restraint and reliance on legal procedures in

efforts to punish Thaksin for abuses of power during his time

in office. Included in this group were CNS Secretary General

Winai, CNS Deputy Secretary General Saprang Kalayanamitr,

media mogul Sondhi Limthongkul, retired General Chamlong

Srimuang, and perennial plotter (and Constitution Drafting

Committee Chairman) Prasong Soonsiri. (Note: Sondhi and

Chamlong were the highest profile members of the People\’s

Alliance for Democracy — PAD — which was instrumental in

mobilizing members of the middle and upper class against PM

Thaksin; the PAD has in recent weeks been publicly critical

of Surayud. End Note.) Suthep believed that it would not be

necessary to stage a coup to oust Surayud — he did not want

to be PM anyway, and he would be ready to resign if asked.

 

5. (C) Suthep noted that Prasong Soonsiri hoped to become

Prime Minister. In the event of Surayud\’s resignation,

however, Suthep felt it was certain that Sonthi would take

the top job for himself. Suthep claimed the anti-Surayud

camp\’s plan for seizing power was dubbed as the \”1-4-4\”

formula: elections would be delayed for one year, and then a

 

BANGKOK 00002304 002 OF 003

 

CNS figure or proxy would serve as PM for two full four-year

terms.

 

6. (C) Privy Council President Prem Tinsulanonda — widely

seen as a key figure behind the September 2006 coup d\’etat —

had recently signaled his displeasure with Sonthi, according

to Suthep. Suthep related that Prem had spoken warmly with

Surayud at a Songkran event; by contrast, when in Sonthi\’s

presence, Prem refused to address the CNS Chairman. Suthep

interpreted Prem\’s shunning of Sonthi as reflecting

displeasure with Sonthi\’s growing ambitions.

 

7. (C) After the Songkran holidays, Suthep told us, he had

greeted Sonthi at a wedding reception. At that event, Sonthi

reportedly told Suthep that he was feeling more comfortable

with the political climate. Nevertheless, Suthep felt the

political situation remained unstable, and he suggested that

we do what we can to bolster Surayud\’s position, so as to

decrease the likelihood of Sonthi taking full control of the

government.

 

VIEW OF THE KING\’S POSITION

—————————

 

8. (C) We asked Suthep how he believed the Palace would view

efforts by the CNS to force Surayud — a former member of the

Privy Council — out of office. Suthep declined to

speculate, but he said King Bhumibol had not favored the 2006

coup. Suthep claimed that, on the night of the coup, the

King had resisted meeting with the Generals who overthrew

Thaksin. In the end, the King gave in to the entreaties of

Queen Sirikit, but he publicly signaled her role in the coup

by approving the release of a photograph of that audience

which showed the King, casually dressed, in profile, while

the Queen faced the camera.

 

PRESSURE ON THE DP LEADERSHIP

—————————–

 

9. (C) We asked about the possible dissolution of the

Democrat Party; the Constitutional Tribunal\’s verdict is due

to be announced at the end of May. Suthep said there were

many outside and even inside the DP who hoped for its

dissolution. Sonthi and Winai were working with former TRT

official Phinij Jarusombat to establish a new political party

that would act as the CNS\’s political vehicle, Suthep said.

(Note: Ref B reported Phinij\’s participation in a new

political grouping. End Note.) Intending to use this new

party to compete for power when elections take place, the CNS

had a clear interest in weakening the Democrat Party and

other rivals, Suthep said. In this respect, CNS and Thai Rak

Thai (TRT) interests overlapped.

 

10. (C) Former PM Chuan Leekpai also had supporters who hoped

for Chuan\’s return to preeminence in the DP, and they would

welcome a Constitutional Tribunal ruling dissolving the

party. Such a ruling would pave the way for Chuan, now

sidelined as a senior advisor, to head a reconstituted

version of the DP. Suthep — whose allegedly improper

actions lie at the core of the Constitutional Tribunal

proceedings against the DP — declined to predict the

Tribunal\’s ruling. However, he noted that Thaksin had

budgeted 500 million Baht (over 14 million USD) in order to

influence the Tribunal members, and Suthep alleged that the

wife of Tribunal President (and concurrently Supreme Court

President) Panya Thanomrod had accepted a portion of this

money.

 

CONSTITUTIONAL ISSUES

———————

 

11. (C) When asked for his views on the draft constitution,

Suthep decried it as an unsatisfactory compromise product.

He joked that the draft was so poor that it was almost as if

the drafters themselves wanted the public to reject it. (In

a more serious tone, he suggested that General Sonthi likely

had an alternate constitution prepared in the event that he

needed one.)

 

12. (C) Suthep said the drafters should have abolished the

Senate rather than making it an appointed body. He also

expressed dissatisfaction with provisions that establish in

unclear terms a new method for election to the House from one

or more party lists. Suthep advocated abolishing the party

 

BANGKOK 00002304 003 OF 003

 

list system entirely, saying that party lists improperly

signal that those elected by virtue of their positions on the

lists are more elite than their colleagues who are elected on

a constituency basis. The party list MPs generally fail to

attend community events and disregard the electorate, Suthep

complained.

 

13. (C) The DP was currently assembling its formal reaction

to the draft constitution, Suthep said. Nevertheless,

despite his dissatisfaction, he told us if he had to choose

today, he would vote in favor of this constitution, simply to

make it more likely that elections would take place this

year, as planned. After elections, the legislature could

amend the constitution.

 

COMMENT

——-

 

14. (C) Suthep\’s discussion mirrors others we have been

hearing here. People are worried that the political

situation is precarious, and they do not trust any of their

political leaders. Despite claims to the contrary, there

appear to be serious differences between Surayud and Sonthi,

and it is widely believed Sonthi has at least considered

taking over from Surayud. (Even General Winai recently

confirmed to the Ambassador that Sonthi\’s interest in

pursuing elected politics had grown — ref A.) In the longer

term, the CNS has to be worried about how to ensure their

continuing safety from reprisal from Thaksin. More

immediately, it has to figure up how to shore up the public\’s

dwindling confidence in the interim government and somehow

stumble through the current transition back to elected

government. The Ambassador has scheduled a dinner with

Sonthi on May 2 and will use the occasion to reinforce

strongly our interest in civilian governance during the

interim administration, elections in 2007, and fair treatment

of political parties and their constituents.

BOYCE

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Written by thaicables

June 23, 2011 at 3:02 am

Posted in Confidential, PAD, Sonthi

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