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09BANGKOK2167 KING BHUMIBOL WARNS OF RUIN IN THE ABSENCE OF UNITY, BUT IS ANYONE LISTENING?

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“222484”,”8/27/2009 6:56″,”09BANGKOK2167″,

 

“Embassy Bangkok”,

 

“CONFIDENTIAL”,”09BANGKOK2034|09BANGKOK2125″,

 

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OO RUEHCHI RUEHCN RUEHDT RUEHHM

DE RUEHBK #2167/01 2390656

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O 270656Z AUG 09

FM AMEMBASSY BANGKOK

TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 8087

INFO RUEHZS/ASSOCIATION OF SOUTHEAST ASIAN NATIONS PRIORITY

RUEHBJ/AMEMBASSY BEIJING PRIORITY 7390

RUEHBY/AMEMBASSY CANBERRA PRIORITY 9906

RUEHNE/AMEMBASSY NEW DELHI PRIORITY 5749

RUEHUL/AMEMBASSY SEOUL PRIORITY 5722

RUEHKO/AMEMBASSY TOKYO PRIORITY 1853

RUEHWL/AMEMBASSY WELLINGTON PRIORITY 0067

RUEHCHI/AMCONSUL CHIANG MAI PRIORITY 6912

RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY

RHHMUNA/CDR USPACOM HONOLULU HI PRIORITY

RUEAIIA/CIA WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY

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RUEKDIA/DIA WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY”,”C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 BANGKOK 002167

 

SIPDIS

 

STATE FOR EAP/MLS, NSC FOR WALTON

 

E.O. 12958: DECL: TEN YEARS AFTER THE DEATH OF KING BHUMIBOL

TAGS: PGOV, PREL, KDEM, TH

SUBJECT: KING BHUMIBOL WARNS OF RUIN IN THE ABSENCE OF

UNITY, BUT IS ANYONE LISTENING?

 

REF: A. BANGKOK 2125 (ABHISIT LOSES POLICE CHIEF BATTLE)

B. BANGKOK 2034 (RED SHIRTS PETITION THE KING)

 

BANGKOK 00002167 001.2 OF 003

 

Classified By: AMBASSADOR ERIC G. JOHN, REASON: 1.4 (B) AND (D).

 

SUMMARY AND COMMENT

——————-

 

1. (C) On August 21, 81-year-old Thai King Bhumibol

carefully dipped his feet into Thailand\’s boiling political

waters, warning the Thai people that, among other things,

\”without cooperation, the country may actually fall to ruin.\”

The comments, delivered during an audience with civil

servants and broadcast on all the evening TV news shows, came

just four days after some 20,000 \”red-shirt\” sympathizers of

former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra had assembled across

from the Grand Palace in a show of support for a signature

gathering petition campaign seeking royal amnesty for Thaksin

(REF A). The King\’s comments were widely interpreted as an

admonishment to the redshirts to curtail anti-government

activities, though the actual word usage closely parallels

his only other two politically-related messages in the past

three years, in April 2006 and December 2007. Throughout his

60 plus years on the throne, King Bhumibol has assiduously

steered clear of an overtly political role and delivered only

the occasional politically-related speech, making this recent

foray all the more noteworthy.

 

2. (C) Comment: While there is no question the King is the

most widely revered figure in all of Thailand, his recent

influence on actual political events and actors is less than

either his supporters or detractors acknowledge. By one

count, he — either by himself or though his proxies — has

issued notable public politically-related entreaties as few

as a half dozen times since 2001 (birthday speeches in 2001,

2003, 2005, and 2007, plus April 2006, November 2008, and

April 21). Only his April 2006 speech to judges had any

discernible impact.

 

3. (C) Comment, cont: The King, for one, appears to recognize

the limitations of his rhetorical reach, apart from a fine

appreciation of the constitutional limitations on his actual

power; we know this from private comments made to American

ambassadors over the decades. We believe the King\’s

purported influence actually far exceeds his actual ability

to control events, and we expect this most recent speech to

have little practical effect. By all indications, the

redshirts appear ready to move forward with an August 30

anti-government protest (septel). For its part, PM Abhisit\’s

Cabinet approved an invocation of the Internal Security Act

in one district of Bangkok from August 29 through September 1

in order to hedge against the possibility of violence. Now

in the deep twilight of his long reign, the King remains

deeply venerated by the vast majority of his subjects, and

symbolically he remains the central pillar of Thai identity.

Despite this adulation and symbolic importance, however, the

evidence suggests his ability to influence current events in

his Kingdom, on the rare occasions he attempts to do so, is

on the wane. End Summary and Comment.

 

A MESSAGE FOR THE REDSHIRTS, OR THE NATION?

——————————————-

 

4. (SBU) King Bhumibol\’s August 21 \”the country may fall into

ruin\” line was embedded in comments about the need for

cooperation to civil servants presenting him with an

international patent for his rain-making technology. The

King linked the importance of cooperation to the country\’s

developmental efforts, stating in part: \”the country will

take a step towards development if there is cooperation among

people and government officials with neither side trying to

impose themselves upon the other.\” The King went on to say:

\”I assure you that those who are knowledgeable and determined

will bring true prosperity to the country if they work

together. Without their cooperation, the country may fall

into ruin. So everyone must help and with good determination

the country will make progress and not fall into ruin.\”

 

BANGKOK 00002167 002.2 OF 003

 

5. (C) With the King\’s appeal to \”work together\” in order to

avoid allowing the country to \”fall into ruin,\” the Thai

media quickly connected the dots and characterized the speech

as an attempt to convince the redshirt movement to stop its

damaging protests. Human Rights Watch Consultant Sunai

Phasuk agreed, telling us August 26 that he also viewed it as

the King\’s last ditch effort to initiate a political

reconciliation dialogue.

 

A RELATIVELY RARE FORAY INTO POLITICAL ISSUES

———————————————

 

6. (C) Such pronouncements are relatively rare, particularly

in the last decade. The speech represented the King\’s first

political comments since December 2007, when he used very

similar phraseology during his annual birthday speech calling

for unity to avoid national ruin. Since 2001, he has only

rarely tackled political issues in the public domain,

generally during his annual birthday message. In 2001, his

\”double standards\” speech was interpreted as criticism of the

high-handed approach of then-PM Thaksin Shinawatra; in 2003,

his \”accountability\” speech demanded a review of the more

than 1000 murders of Thai citizens during Thaksin\’s War on

Drugs; in 2005, his \”criticize me\” speech rejected an

interpretation of lese majeste which prevented any critical

commentary about the monarch or monarchy; in April 2006, his

\”do your duty\” address to judges was interpreted as a charge

to annul the April 2006 election; and in late 2008, two

trusted proxies gave public comments that were intended to

tell the People\’s Alliance for Democracy to cease their

protests/occupation of Bangkok\’s airports. With the

exception of the April 2006 speech, his generally thoughtful

advice has been widely ignored.

 

DOUBLE STANDARDS (2001) – IGNORED

———————————

 

7. (C) Consider his December 4, 2001, birthday speech, for

instance, delivered before local dignitaries including then

PM Thaksin. The King ominously warned of the perils of

mixing \”ego and double standards,\” stating that \”those who

have double standards will keep stumbling because one leg

tends to get in the way of the other.\” The speech appeared

to be at least in part a warning shot fired in Thaksin\’s

direction as he consolidated executive power and bullied

domestic opponents, yet nothing changed in subsequent months.

Revealingly, when outgoing U.S. Ambassador Richard

Hecklinger complimented the King on his speech during a

farewell audience two weeks later, the King demurred,

comparing himself to the proverbial Buddhist abbot giving a

well-intentioned but largely ignored Sunday sermon at the

village wat. All the villagers think the admonitions apply

to everyone but themselves; once they file out of the wat, he

said, nothing changes. \”I feel like that abbot,\” he told the

Ambassador.

 

DO YOUR DUTY (2006) – HEEDED

—————————-

 

8. (C) On the other hand, the King\’s words have not always

fallen on deaf ears. On April 25, 2006, just a few weeks

after Thaksin had secured re-election through a disputed

election, the King delivered a speech directed squarely at

Thailand\’s judiciary, in what was largely seen as his most

overt political guidance since he literally called a Prime

Minister and a protest leader on the carpet in May 1992 after

bloody protests.

 

9. (C) Speaking before Thailand\’s Supreme Court, the King

said \”we are currently having a great crisis. Therefore you

have duties to perform, to consult with experts in order to

rescue the nation. Right now it has not fallen, (the goal)

should be to prevent it from falling, so that we will not

then have to rescue it.\” The speech was interpreted as a

clear signal to the Supreme Court to take direct action to

resolve the electoral impasse that was gripping Thailand at

 

BANGKOK 00002167 003.2 OF 003

 

the time, and his message clearly found its mark. On May 8,

2006, the Constitutional Court declared Thaksin\’s April 2,

2006 election victory null and void, arguing that it had

contravened the Constitution.

 

UNITY (2007-9) – NOT YET

————————

 

10. (C) During his December 4, 2007 birthday address (on the

occasion of his 80th birthday), the King issued an appeal for

national unity, warning that without unity, the nation would

face disaster. The King said: \”People have complained that

Thailand is in trouble, so we must be careful. Foreign

analysts have also made dire predictions, so we must be

united. If not, the ship will sink.\” Despite his speech,

Thailand\’s political and social divide continued, though

elections later that month returned an elected government to

office shortly thereafter.

 

11. (C) Most recently, in late October 2008, the King

directed two of his proxies to carry his water for him, Sumet

Tantivejakul, the Secretary-General of the King\’s Chai

Pattana Foundation, and Disathorn Wathcharothai, Chair of the

Rajanukhrao Foundation. Speaking October 26 before a group

of academics closely associated with the yellow shirt

movement laying siege to Thailand at the time, supposedly in

defense of the monarchy, Sumet called on protesters to \”stop

violence and secure peace via dialogue.\”

 

12. (C) Disathorn was even more direct three days later, on

October 29 at a seminar in Chumphol. \”No matter whether the

PAD or UDD, I wish to say that if we love the King, please

don\’t go farming at Government House. Don\’t go to show

forces anywhere….If you love the King, go back home.

Showing your power over there makes no benefit at all.

Worse, it just creates disunity. I dare to say it here

because I am a real man and a real voice. I carry the King\’s

message.\” Instead of responding positively to the King\’s

message, however, PAD leader Sondhi Limthongkul denounced

Sumet and Disathorn\’s \”meddling.\” Three weeks later, the

yellow shirts escalated their activities by seizing the

airports.

 

NEGLIGIBLE IMPACT?

——————

 

13. (C) For better or for worse, throughout his 62 year

reign, King Bhumibol has traditionally tried to keep his

powder dry when it comes to politics. His decision to avoid

offering a public commentary on the September 2006 coup or

the airport seizures in November 2008 underscores this

reality, as much as both his supporters and his detractors

try to spin a larger role with more power and influence for

him. The fact that the King has decided to issue another

appeal for unity right now speaks to the sense of urgency he

may feel in his twilight, with his mobility and even ability

to speak coherently increasingly limited. If recent history

is any indication, it seems unlikely this most recent

commentary will prove to have much lasting impact on

Thailand\’s political and social divide.

JOHN

 

 

Written by thaicables

June 23, 2011 at 3:13 am

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