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09BANGKOK2289 THAI DOMESTIC POLITICAL ROUNDUP: ABHISIT,S POLITICAL CHALLENGES, POLICE CHIEF UPDATE, RED-SHIRTS ON 9/19

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“224175”,”9/9/2009 10:03″,”09BANGKOK2289″,”Embassy Bangkok”,”CONFIDENTIAL”,”09BANGKOK1491|09BANGKOK2125|09BANGKOK2180|09BANGKOK2260″,”VZCZCXRO1321

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SIPDIS

 

STATE FOR EAP/MLS, NSC FOR WALTON

 

E.O. 12958: DECL: 09/08/2019

TAGS: PGOV, PREL, KDEM, TH

SUBJECT: THAI DOMESTIC POLITICAL ROUNDUP: ABHISIT,S

POLITICAL CHALLENGES, POLICE CHIEF UPDATE, RED-SHIRTS ON

9/19

 

REF: A. BANGKOK 2260 (QUASHING THAKSIN PARDON SUGGESTIONS)

B. BANGKOK 2180 (RED SHIRTS ARE COMING)

C. BANGKOK 2125 (ABHISIT LOSES POLICE BATTLE)

D. BANGKOK 1491 (BELWETHER BY-ELECTION)

 

BANGKOK 00002289 001.2 OF 005

 

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

 

SUMMARY AND COMMENT

——————-

 

1. (C) Above and beyond the challenges associated with

steering Thailand out of the economic morass, PM Abhisit

continues to grapple with a seemingly endless litany of

political problems both inside and outside his party,

including in-fighting with Deputy PM Suthep. Questions about

possible election timing remain unresolved, with growing

evidence building that the Democrats and Phumjai Thai will

try to delay elections for at least another six months.

Hoping to accelerate that timeline, the \”red-shirts\”

announced they would hold their next protest on September 19,

a particularly auspicious date in red-shirt land as it marks

the third anniversary of the 2006 coup that toppled Thaksin.

Meanwhile, Thaksin was reported to be in good health, while

Deputy PM Suthep\’s hard charging pace has apparently begun to

take its toll. Rumors of a burgeoning Puea Thai-Democrat

alliance appear to be fanciful, however, and reports of

Yingluck Shinawatra\’s growing influence within Puea Thai

likely overstated. On an upbeat note, the PM\’s attempt to

push through his candidate for Police Chief may have taken a

positive turn with a rumor that the Queen has trumped the

Crown Prince\’s objections and backed Abhisit\’s nominee.

 

2. (C) Comment: PM Abhisit finds himself in a precarious

political position. Not only must he contend with the

constant drumbeat of criticism from Puea Thai and the ever

present specter of \”red-shirt\” protests on one side, but he

also faces growing pressure from within his own party and his

coalition partners. We are struck by the fact that his

\”allies\” in the coalition — Phumjai Thai — dismiss him as a

lightweight in private and mock him in public, while his

colleagues in the Democrat party are becoming increasingly

bold and assertive in their own public critiques of his

performance.

 

3. (C) Comment, cont: That said, PM Abhisit remains the only

politician in Thailand with favorability ratings that

approach those of ex-PM Thaksin. In fact, Abhisit is in many

ways the glue that holds this fragile house of political

cards together, and those complaining lack other viable

options. Whether his political partners wish to acknowledge

it or not, without his popularity, the government would be

hard pressed to fend off calls for an election much longer.

With Abhisit as the public face of the administration and the

2010 budget to be implemented, we suspect the administration

will be able to last at least another six or seven months

before calling for new elections. If Abhisit survives

another seven months in office, he will have served

approximately 15 months total, a term that is roughly average

by pre- and post-Thaksin era PM standards. End Summary and

Comment.

 

COALITION DYSFUNCTION, NOT FATAL (YET)

————————————-

 

4. (C) Tensions continue to persist in the political marriage

of convenience between Prime Minister Abhisit\’s Democrat

party and coalition partner Phumjai Thai, according to

multiple mission contacts. Deputy Government Spokesman and

Phumjai Thai stalwart Suphachai Jaismut claimed to us

September 3 that PM Abhisit was responsible for most of the

inter-party dysfunction, dismissing him repeatedly as \”a

young man,\” who (only) \”speaks well.\” According to

Suphachai, Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban served as

the real brains behind the Democrat party operation and

routinely had to run interference for Abhisit and fix his

mistakes. Revealingly, Suphachai also referred to Phumjai

 

BANGKOK 00002289 002.2 OF 005

 

Thai at one point in the conversation as \”the only party in

the coalition that matters.\” (Note: The Democrat party has

171 seats in Parliament while Phumjai Thai — the junior

coalition partner — holds just 32 seats.)

 

5. (C) Suphachai\’s assessment of coalition tensions with PM

Abhisit tracked with what journalist Suranand Vejjajiva (PM

Abhisit\’s cousin, but political opponent) told us on August

28. Suranand predicted that PM Abhisit\’s indifference to

coalition maintenance would eventually come back to haunt

him. He suggested that his cousin was interested in

practicing a \”new brand of politics\” and said that the PM

believed that maintaining relations with Phumjai Thai was

essentially beneath him. According to Suranand, the PM had

all but given up on any pretense of harmony with Phumjai

Thai; he argued that, by sub-contracting coalition

maintenance to the Deputy PM, Abhisit had weakened himself

politically and made powerful enemies in the process.

 

6. (C) Former Deputy Prime Minister and close Thaksin ally

Sompong Amornvivat gleefully confirmed the wide-spread rumors

of Democrat-Phumjai Thai tensions, telling us September 3

that he could easily envision a scenario in which the Puea

Thai party and Phumjai Thai would coalesce again following

the next round of elections, thereby relegating the Democrats

to the political wilderness. (Note: Phumjai Thai and the

Thaksin-affiliated Puea Thai predecessor — the People\’s

Power Party (PPP) — were partners in the last government.

End Note.)

 

7. (C) According to Sompong, PM Abhisit was likely taken

aback by the greed and rapaciousness of PhumjaQThai\’s

appointees in the Ministry of the Interior: Minister (and

Party leader) Chavarat Charnvirakul; and recently appointed

Permanent Secretary Manit Wattanasen, seen as close to

Phumjai Thai de facto leader Newin Chidchob. Sompong told us

that Chavarat and Manit had instructed Phumjai Thai lackeys

at the provincial level to pocket 25 percent of all Interior

Ministry funds designated for developmental purposes, a

staggering percentage even by Thai standards.

 

PROBLEMS WITHIN PM\’S OWN PARTY

——————————

 

8. (C) Abhisit\’s political problems do not end with coalition

management headaches and constant sparring with the

opposition, as reported in Refs C and D. The PM has had to

deal with friendly fire from within his own party,

particularly from powerbroker party Secretary General, Deputy

PM Suthep. The two have been at odds on a range of issues,

including the approach on dealing with the south, and both

have had to fight the widespread perception that Suthep has

worked to undercut several aspects of the PM\’s agenda. When

we asked Deputy PM Suthep\’s Special Assistant Akanat Promphan

(Suthep\’s step-son) on September 1 about relations between

the two, Akanat\’s reflexive — and very revealing — response

was: \”they are still talking.\”

 

CORRUPTION COMMISSION DECISION TOPPLES POLICE CHIEF

——————————————— ——

 

9. (SBU) On September 8, the National Counter Corruption

Commission (NCCC) brought formal criminal charges against

Police Commissioner Patcharawat Wongsuwon for his role in the

October 7, 2008 crackdown on People\’s Alliance for Democracy

protestors (aka \”the yellow-shirts); also charged were then

PM Somchai, then DPM Chavalit, and then Bangkok Police Chief

Suchart Mueankaew. PM Abhisit reacted to the NCCC

announcement September 9 by transferring Patcharawat — who

was set to retire at the end of the month in any case — to

the Prime Minister\’s office. PM Abhisit then appointed

Deputy Police Chief Thanee Somboonsap to serve out the

remainder of Patcharawat\’s term; Thanee will also retire at

the end of the month and is therefore not eligible to replace

him on a permanent basis. The decision likely will add an

even greater sense of urgency to the PM\’s efforts to

 

BANGKOK 00002289 003.2 OF 005

 

designate Patcharawat\’s eventual successor (REF C).

 

POLICE CHIEF IMBROGLIO — DOES QUEEN TRUMP PRINCE?

——————————————— —–

 

10. (C) The simmering feud over the National Police Chief

position continues to exacerbate the bad blood between the

Democrats and Phumjai Thai and expose the Abhisit-Suthep

fissures. Though PM Abhisit routinely asserts that he will

forward Police General Prateep Tunprasert\’s name for

consideration again as the nation\’s top cop, there are

indications that Phumjai Thai will not easily fall in line.

This time, however, they are looking to hide behind the

apparent desire of Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn to see Police

General Jumpol Manmai appointed Chief (Note: It is widely

believed former PM Thaksin, while in office, used Jumpol as a

bag man to deliver funds skimmed from the state lottery to

the Crown Prince\’s office to fund his lifestyle. End Note.)

 

11. (C) Phumjai Thai\’s Supachai coyly told us that Phumjai

Thai would \”support whomever Suthep and Niphol do.\” The

Crown Prince, currently in Germany, had recently summoned

Niphol Promphan, who handles his finances but is also a

Democrat MP and Secretary General of PM Abhisit\’s office, to

Germany to receive instructions to support Jumpol\’s

candidacy, according to a wide array of contacts and press

reports. (Note: Phumjai Thai Party Leader Charawat\’s son

Anutin, the Chair of construction giant Sino-Thai, is also

seen as very close to the Crown Prince, as a \”friend\” and

financier. End Note.)

 

12. (C) Intriguingly, the Crown Prince may not be the only

member of the Palace interested in shaping the race for the

Police Chief position. Deputy Democrat party leader Kraisak

Choonhaven told us September 5 that he had appealed to

several influential members in court circles to have Queen

Sikrit trump the Crown Prince\’s support for Jumpol. The

Queen had conveyed her support to Abhisit for Prateep,

Kraisak claimed; Supachai acknowledged to us September 4 that

they had heard the Queen may indeed be backing Prateep.

According to Kraisak, with the Queen\’s support in hand,

Abhisit would be able to push Police General Prateep through

at the next Royal Thai Police Office Board. Niphol\’s overt

promotion of the Crown Prince\’s desires was dangerous for

Niphol and the party, Kraisak fumed.

 

ELECTION TIMING: NOT SOON

————————-

 

13. (C) For all the inter-party discord between the Democrats

and Phumjai Thai, there does appear to be at least one point

on which they agree: the longer the delay before elections

the better. Suthep aide Akanat told us that the Democrats

would try to delay elections as long as possible; they needed

time to allow their reforms and initiatives to take root, as

well as to develop a governing record they could be proud of.

Up to this point, Akanat added, the Democrats had been

pre-occupied primarily with jumping from one disaster to the

next. Now that the triage phase of their stint in office had

ended, the government could begin to carry out its agenda.

According to Akanat, Deputy PM Suthep believed that the

Democrats needed at least another six to seven months before

they would be ready for elections. If elections were held

tomorrow, Akanat believed the Democrats would fare poorly.

 

14. (C) Supachai told us that Phumjai Thai\’s calculations

mirrored those of the Democrats. Phumjai Thai wanted time to

spend the new budget funds, revise the constitution, and

develop a strong governing record. Supachai freely admitted

that Phumjai Thai would do its part to delay elections until

the last possible moment, conceding that Phumjai Thai was

enjoying its current political positioning and would gain

nothing from re-shuffling the deck. When we asked whether

Phumjai\’s delay strategy was partially influenced by the

party\’s lackluster performance in recent by-elections (REF

D), Supachai purported to be unfazed by the results and

 

BANGKOK 00002289 004.2 OF 005

 

confident in the party\’s prospects going forward.

 

15. (C) Meanwhile, the Prime Minister has given conflicting

public signals on the election timing issue. Following the

August 20 setback on the Police Chief vote, PM Abhisit

publicly claimed that he was ready to call an election at any

moment. On other occasions, he has been far more

circumspect, arguing that Thailand would not be ready for

elections until the economy was stabilized, all parties were

satisfied with the electoral ground rules, and the security

situation had improved. Most of our contacts believe the PM

will do his best to delay elections as long as possible as he

is well aware that dissolving Parliament would benefit Puea

Thai more than anyone else. Puea Thai contacts, for their

part, have all told us they would like to see elections as

soon as possible.

 

RED-SHIRT RALLY

—————-

 

16. (C) According to media reports and contacts within the

anti-government United Front for Democracy against

Dictatorship (UDD), the \”red-shirts\” will stage their next

big rally on September 19. UDD leader Vira Musikapong has

announced that the red-shirts plan to assemble in the Royal

Plaza area of Bangkok in the afternoon, before marching to

former PM Prem Tinsulanonda\’s house (adjacent to the Royal

Plaza) and then finally dissolving early the next morning.

The red-shirts had initially planned to stage a protest on

August 30 (REF B), but later re-scheduled it for September

19, the third anniversary of the 2006 coup that toppled

former PM Thaksin. As was the case in the lead-up to the

planned August 30 rally, the government has signaled that it

intends to invoke the Internal Security Act in conjunction

with the September 19 rally.

 

THAKSIN FIT AS A FIDDLE – WHAT ABOUT SUTHEP?

——————————————–

 

17. (C) Contrary to the widespread rumors about former Prime

Minister Thaksin\’s deteriorating health (some speculate he

has had prostate cancer), Sompong claimed to us that Thaksin

is in fact in excellent shape. Sompong reported that Thaksin

had no health concerns and was as energetic and active as

ever. Sompong said he visits Thaksin in Dubai an average of

twice a month and has never seen any evidence of a health

concern.

 

18. (C) On the other hand, Deputy PM Suthep has begun to show

signs of the stress associated with juggling his job as

Deputy and role as Democrat party heavyweight, his aide

Akanat confided. Between the intractable battle with the

red-shirts, the discord within the Democrat party, coalition

fence mending, and dealing with problems in southern

Thailand, Suthep had been operating on overdrive since the

beginning of the year. Making matters worse, Akanat said

that Suthep refused to take any days off to rest and worked

late into the night almost every day. As a result, Suthep

was looking increasingly haggard and unhealthy, and his

family was urging him to dial back his unsustainable pace.

Akanat worried aloud about the possibility of serious health

problems in the near future if Suthep did not heed the

advice.

 

OPPOSITES UNLIKELY TO ATTRACT

—————————–

 

19. (C) Last week there was wide spread media speculation

about the possibility of an imminent deal between the

Democrat party and Puea Thai (REF A). Our contacts uniformly

dismissed this as far fetched. According to Sompong, though

Puea Thai leaders maintained a more or less constant dialogue

with the Democrat party leadership, because \”we all know each

other,\” there was almost no chance the two parties could bury

their differences and work together as part of a governing

coalition. Sompong noted that such a proposal would be met

 

BANGKOK 00002289 005.2 OF 005

 

by widespread rebellion within the Puea Thai party ranks as

the average PuQ Thai party member had been conditioned to

view the Democrats as enemies. As a result, it would be much

easier to work together with any other party, including

Phumjai Thai.

 

YINGLUCK OUT OF LUCK?

———————

 

20. (C) When we asked Sompong about the apparent upward

trajectory of Thaksin\’s youngest sister — Yingluck

Shinawatra — within the Pheu Thai party ranks, he told us he

did not envision a big role for her in the party. (Note: When

we met with Yingluck last month at Pheu Thai party

headquarters, she was joined by former Foreign Minister

Noppadon Pattama, who repeatedly referred to her as a rising

party star. End Note.) According to Sompong, Thaksin

himself was not eager to raise her profile within the party,

and was more focused on finding ways to keep his own hand

active in politics. According to Sompong, Yingluck had no

experience in politics and didn\’t even have a formal job in

the party as of yet. Other contacts, including Suranand

Vejjajiva, were similarly dismissive of her political

prospects, noting that in some ways she had the worst of both

worlds: the burden of inheriting reflexive animosity from

influential circles because of her name, coupled with none of

the charisma and charm that allowed her brother to develop a

groundswell of support.

JOHN

Written by thaicables

June 23, 2011 at 2:14 am

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