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07BANGKOK311 COUPMAKERS’ HAUNTED DREAMS: BANGKOK INSIDER GIVES DISTURBING ASSESSMENT OF POLITICAL SITUATION

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“92719”,”1/16/2007 23:53″,”07BANGKOK311″,”Embassy Bangkok”,”CONFIDENTIAL”,”07BANGKOK234″,”VZCZCXRO9348

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E.O. 12958: DECL: 01/15/2016

TAGS: PGOV, PHUM, PREL, KDEM, TH

SUBJECT: COUPMAKERS\’ HAUNTED DREAMS: BANGKOK INSIDER GIVES

DISTURBING ASSESSMENT OF POLITICAL SITUATION

 

REF: A. BANGKOK 234

 

B. BANGKOK 152

C. 05 BANGKOK 1470

 

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

 

1. (C) SUMMARY and INTRODUCTION: One of Thailand\’s most

respected jurists, with close ties to both the Thaksin

administration and the current leadership, expressed serious

concerns about the ability of the interim government to hold

together and complete the transition to democracy according

to the plan laid out by the coupmakers in September. During

a meeting with the Ambassador on January 12, Borwornsak

Uwanno warned that the challenges the current leadership

faces could derail the transition back to democracy. He

complained that Prime Minister Surayud was too much like an

\”English gentleman.\” The government\’s economic failures had

undermined its credibility, as had the lack of progress on

the investigation of the New Year\’s bomb attacks. He said

that some of the junta members \”had been approached\” to stage

another coup, presumably in response to the growing sense of

political impasse which has undermined support for the

interim government. Although the constitution might be

finished faster than planned, there was a real possibility

that it might not pass the referendum, potentially leading to

yet further political crisis.

 

2. (C) Borwornsak was the Cabinet Secretary-General under

Thaksin. He quit the position in 2006 to distance himself

from the PM, but is still viewed with great suspicion by

civil society and the opposition political parties for his

role as one of Thaksin\’s advisors. He is close to CNS

General Secretary Winai Phatthiyakul, in part because both of

them were detained together by the military during the 1991

coup d\’etat. A consummate insider and representative of the

\”Bangkok elite,\” he is well-positioned to comment on the

internal workings of the interim government/CNS, and we think

his concerns are well-founded. End summary and introduction.

 

3. (C) During a January 12 meeting with Ambassador,

Borwornsak Uwanno joined the chorus of criticism of the

interim government as \”too soft\” and ineffective. Bemoaning

the slow pace of action on a host of important issues such as

the corruption investigations, he complained that Prime

Minister Surayud Chulanont was too much like an \”English

gentleman.\” Borwornsak said that he had raised his concerns

with Surayud directly, who had reacted by saying that, if he

was not good enough, he was prepared to resign. Borwornsak

did not want Surayud to resign, but was frustrated by the

many missteps of his administration.

 

ECONOMIC MISSTEPS

—————–

 

4. (C) Borwornsak started with economic problems. \”No

governor has any budget to do anything,\” he said. The budget

has just been promulgated, and funding will eventually reach

the provinces, but there is another problem: no one knows

what to do about the Thaksin-era spending plans for the

so-called \”mega-projects\” and other populist programs. The

government \”has not given any signal\” about whether it favors

the continuation of all these projects, so the provincial

officials are afraid to proceed with them, for fear of being

tarnished as Thaksin supporters. This would have an effect

on economic growth.

 

5. (C) Borwornsak was also highly critical of Deputy Prime

Minister Pridyathorn\’s proposals for the amendment of the

Alien Business Act (ref B). \”I want to tell Pridyathorn not

to do anything without consulting political people,\” he said,

in order to avoid the kind of public relations blunders that

have characterized Pridyathorn\’s initiatives. Borwornsak

said that the Council of State (legal and technical advisors

to the government) would \”freeze\” the amendments so that the

draft \”would not even get to Parliament.\” If/when the

amendments were submitted to the Parliament, they would not

pass. The plan by opponents of the bill was to call for the

 

BANGKOK 00000311 002 OF 003

 

creation of a committee to study the bill, and thereby delay

it for an extended period of time.

 

CONSTITUTION COULD FACE OBSTACLES

———————————

 

6. (C) The Ambassador told Borwornsak we were pleased to see

the statement by the head of the 100-person Constitution

Drafting Assembly (CDA) saying that the drafters might be

able to finish their work faster than the 180 days set out in

the interim charter. Borwornsak agreed that this was

possible, but also underscored some serious problems ahead.

He identified two very sensitive issues: Would Buddhism be

named the state religion, and would the PM have to be

selected from among the elected members of Parliament? We

noted that the idea of an unelected prime minister seemed to

excite very violent opposition, and there might be persistent

street protests against such a provision. Borwornsak agreed.

On the state religion, Borwornsak said that there were

\”Buddhist extremists\” who would try to push through a

provision making Buddhism the state religion — this issue

came up with every new constitution. Borwornsak said that

there would be opposition from the King on this issue,

particularly because of concerns about the response in the

Muslim-majority far South. While some of these issues would

require time for debate, Borwornsak felt that, if the

soon-to-be-named 35 member Drafting Committee had a competent

chairman who was a good manager, it could finish the work

quickly.

 

7. (C) However, completing the draft quickly would not end

Thailand\’s constitution woes, Borwornsak warned. He believed

that there was a good chance that the draft new constitution

would not pass the required referendum. He pointed to the

controversy over the state religion as one of the issues that

might sink the new charter. (Comment: others have pointed

out that vote-buying could play a role as well, if particular

interest decided that sinking the constitution would work in

their favor. End comment.)

 

OH NO, NOT AGAIN – \”RE-COUP?\”

—————————

 

8. (C) Borwornsak launched into a convoluted account of the

investigation into the New Year\’s Eve bombings. He joined the

criticism of national police chief Kowit, implying that he

had been in the south on December 31 because he had some kind

of foreknowledge of the bombing and wanted to shift the

responsibility for the response to his deputy. But

Borwornsak also claimed that the Council for National

Security (CNS) thought they had identified Thaksin supporters

behind the bombing, not General Chavalit or the police (two

popular recent suspects.) A military source told Borwornsak

that the bombs were like those planted last year at the

Democrat party and at the residence of Privy Council

president Gen. Prem (ref C). Surayud is feeling the pressure

to do something in response to the lack of progress by police

in the investigation; Borwornsak predicted that the police

chief would be out of his job shortly. (Comment: We keep

hearing different stories about these bombs (ref A) and will

try to get more definitive information from the forensics

team, which should have a final report ready this week. Most

sources are saying the bombs are constructed like those in

the south; this is the first claim we\’re heard linking them

to the previous bombs in Bangkok. End comment.)

 

9. (C) Given the political tensions and uncertainties,

Borwornsak warned that a \”re-coup\” was possible. He said

that both Gen. Sonthi and Gen. Winai \”had been approached\” to

stage a further military intervention. Borwornsak did not go

into detail on what this would entail, but the idea has been

circulating in Bangkok, even cropping up in the Thai press as

\”the only way out\” of what is beginning to feel like another

political impasse. Presumably, the \”re-coup\” would involve

some bolder members of the junta taking over, easing out the

more cautious leaders, and putting in place \”a new gameplan.\”

This would likely include a faster track in the Thaksin

 

BANGKOK 00000311 003 OF 003

 

corruption investigations — perhaps seizing assets first,

and justifying it later — and maybe dropping the

constitution drafting process. (Comment: Although a coup

against one\’s own government sounds ridiculous, this has

happened here before: elected prime minister Thanom launched

a coup against his own government in 1971. Thanom dissolved

Parliament, banned political parties and strengthened

military rule until he was forced to flee the country two

years later in the wake of violent protests. End comment.)

The Ambassador said that such a move would be disastrous for

Thailand, and Borwornsak agreed. \”Talk to Winai,\” he said.

Borwornsak – who was brought in by the junta in the early

hours of the September 19 coup to assist with legal issues —

said he told Winai, \”If you do this, don\’t call on me; I

won\’t help you.\”

 

OH NO, NOT AGAIN — THAKSIN RETURNS?

———————————–

 

10. (C) And then there\’s Thaksin. Borwornsak said that he

had gotten an odd call on January 1 from Thaksin. During the

call, Thaksin made a point of saying that the New Year\’s

bombs looked like the work of southern insurgents. He

complained about the accusations raised against him and

speculated over whether he should come back to Thailand to

refute them. Borwornsak said that this was the first call he

had gotten from Thaksin since he had resigned his government

job last year; he thought the call from Thaksin \”not

natural,\” but he didn\’t know quite what to make of it.

 

COMMENT

——-

 

11. (C) Borwornsak told the Ambassador, \”the CNS is not

sleeping well at night,\” and we believe it. Before the new

year\’s bombing, many of the coup\’s early supporters were

disillusioned and impatient; since the bombing, many seem

angry and afraid. The government\’s popularity has plummeted,

as has confidence in its ability to deliver on its promises.

While the idea of a \”coup within the coup\” seems outlandish,

but there is a growing feeling that the interim

government/CNS have painted themselves into a corner, are

\”weak,\” \”feeble,\” and \”too gentlemanly,\” (to quote from some

of the headlines.) They are hemmed in by provisions of the

interim constitution and the legal procedures they themselves

established; now they find that they may be unable to achieve

the goal of their putsch – ensuring that Thaksin cannot

return to power again — unless they make, at a minimum, a

drastic course change. Stopping the wayward ministers from

wasting political capital on their pet peeves about morality

issues, accelerating the anti-corruption investigations, and

convincing the public they have gotten a grip on the security

situation would be a start, but probably not sufficient to

win back the good will they have lost through their

ineffective leadership. Although the talk about another coup

is still pure speculation, we will continue to let people

know the unequivocal USG view: that another \”coup\” or related

action would be whole unjustified and indefensible, and

disastrous for Thailand\’s relations with the U.S. and other

countries.

BOYCE

Written by thaicables

June 23, 2011 at 1:28 am

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