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09BANGKOK2903 UPPER NORTHEAST – THIS IS THAKSIN COUNTRY

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“234572″,”11/13/2009 12:08″,”09BANGKOK2903″,”Embassy Bangkok”,”CONFIDENTIAL”,”09BANGKOK2418″,”VZCZCXRO7169

PP RUEHCHI RUEHCN RUEHDT RUEHHM

DE RUEHBK #2903/01 3171208

ZNY CCCCC ZZH

P 131208Z NOV 09

FM AMEMBASSY BANGKOK

TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 8941

INFO RUEHZS/ASSOCIATION OF SOUTHEAST ASIAN NATIONS PRIORITY

RUEHKO/AMEMBASSY TOKYO PRIORITY 2103

RUEHBJ/AMEMBASSY BEIJING PRIORITY 7693

RUEHUL/AMEMBASSY SEOUL PRIORITY 5972

RUEHBY/AMEMBASSY CANBERRA PRIORITY 0173

RUEHCHI/AMCONSUL CHIANG MAI PRIORITY 7289

RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY

RHHMUNA/CDR USPACOM HONOLULU HI PRIORITY

RUEKDIA/DIA WASHDC PRIORITY

RUEAIIA/CIA WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY

RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC PRIORITY”,”C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 04 BANGKOK 002903

 

SENSITIVE

SIPDIS

 

STATE FOR EAP/MLS, NSC FOR WALTON

 

E.O. 12958: DECL: 11/13/2019

TAGS: PREL, PGOV, TH

SUBJECT: THAILAND: UPPER NORTHEAST – THIS IS THAKSIN COUNTRY

 

REF: BANGKOK 2418 (RUBBER SAPLING VERDICT)

 

BANGKOK 00002903 001.2 OF 004

 

Classified By: DCM JAMES F. ENTWISTLE, REASON 1.4 (B) AND (D)

 

1. (SBU) SUMMARY: Fugitive former Prime Minister Thaksin

Shinawatra remains very popular in Thailand\’s upper

northeastern provinces, a recent traverse of three provinces

along the Mekong River revealed. Contacts consistently

asserted that the majority of eligible voters still support

Puea Thai and the United Front for Democracy Against

Dictatorship (UDD, or \”red-shirts\”), despite the fact that,

since April, Thaksin has provided minimal financial support

for their activities. Erstwhile red movement component but

current government coalition partner Phumjai Thai\’s efforts

to expand its footprint in this part of Isaan (the

Thai-language term for the northeast) have gained little

traction, damaged evidently by de facto leader Newin

Chidchop\’s behavior and his perceived lack of loyalty to

Thaksin. The return to politics of Isaan native son Chavalit

Yongchaiyut has apparently had minimal effect on red-shirt

activities in the region.

 

2. (SBU) COMMENT: Support for Thaksin is genuine and deeply

held. Despite red-shirt leaders\’ tendency to grossly

overstate the number of participants at various gatherings,

voters in Isaan do show a higher level of political

sophistication than often ascribed them by the pundits and

social elite in Bangkok. Such condescending

characterizations feed the discontent people in the Isaan

feel towards traditional elites and further fuel their

devotion for Thaksin, who they view as the one politician who

paid attention to them during his 2001-06 tenure in office.

END SUMMARY AND COMMENT.

 

WE AREN\’T IN BANGKOK ANYMORE, TOTO

———————————-

 

3. (SBU) PolOff traveled to the upper northeastern provinces

of Nong Khai, Sakon Nakhon, and Nakhon Phanom in early

October. Support for Thaksin–and by extension the Puea Thai

party and the UDD–remains robust in this part of Thailand.

Puea Thai holds all six of Nong Khai\’s seats in parliament,

four of Sakon Nakhon\’s six (Phumjai Thai won the other two),

and two of Nakhon Phanom\’s four seats (Phumjai Thai and Phuea

Phaendin have one seat each). Contacts in all three

provinces claimed that the Isaan is not as prone to heated

political confrontations as other parts of the country; our

interlocutors attributed this to the strong Buddhist

traditions of the region (Note: in fact, prior to the rise of

Thaksin and his Thai Rak Thai movement which united the Isaan

politically for the first time, the region\’s politics were

noted for regional barons who battled each other for local

dominance. End note). Two other significant factors,

however, explaining current dynamics are the dearth of

support for the Democrat Party (DP) and the People\’s Alliance

for Democracy (PAD, or \”yellow-shirts\”), and the rural,

agrarian demographic that characterizes the majority of the

Isaan population.

 

4. (SBU) While Isaan is decidedly red–our interlocutors\’

estimated red-shirt support ranged between 70 and 90

percent–UDD organizers nevertheless tend to overstate

attendance at their events here. Most contacts also added

the caveat that the UDD supporters in Isaan tend to not be

devoted as their Bangkok counterparts (Note: since April, few

Isaan supporters have traveled to Bangkok for national

rallies, paralleling reports that Thaksin had cut funding for

transport and per diem payments to protesters. End note).

 

5. (SBU) Thanom Somphon, assistant to Puea Thai MP for Sakon

Nakhon Niyom Wachkama claimed that about two thousand people

regularly gather for red-shirt rallies in the province.

Chief of the Sakon Nakhon Provincial Administrative

Organization (PAO) Pitti Kaewsalupsri, on the other hand,

said that the UDD gatherings there generally attracted only

about four hundred people. While Nakhon Phanom is

undoubtedly the most red of the three provinces we visited,

provincial UDD leader and PAO member Manaporn Charoensri\’s

 

BANGKOK 00002903 002.2 OF 004

 

wildly optimistic claim that 50,000 red-shirts assembled in

September was countered by PAO chief Somboon Sonprapa, who

said there are never more than 10,000 at the provincial

rallies.

 

WHY IS THASKIN SO POPULAR HERE?

——————————-

 

6. (SBU) Three years after Thaksin\’s removal from power, the

popular support in the northeast that helped Thaksin become

the only prime minister in Thai history to complete a full

term and be reelected has not waned, and appears as strong as

ever. Chief among his virtues, from the Isaan perspective,

is that he listened and responded to the rural population,

with his populist planks delivering virtually free, universal

health care, village funds, limited farmer debt forgiveness,

and access to credit previously not enjoyed by poor rural

denizens. A sentiment commonly expressed in the northeast

and by many Bangkok cab drivers and housekeepers–many of

whom come from the northeast–is that while Thaksin was

corrupt, at least he gave some back to the poor.

 

7. (SBU) XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

XXXXXXXXX has conducted surveys throughout Isaan. He

told us that Thaksin, even overseas, retains a reputation of

being close to the grassroots; the people still appreciate

the results of his programs and policies. Sakon Nakhon PAO

chief Pitti separately concurred, adding that Isaan people

also appreciated how quickly his programs were implemented.

The PAO chief in Nong Khai said Thaksin\’s methods were so

effective that the Abhisit government continued them in an

effort to win over Isaan voters. Thongmar Balthaisong, the

UDD leader in Nong Khai Province and wife of Puea Thai MP

Somkkit Balthaisong, went one step further to claim that

while the DP was \”copying Thaksin\’s homework,\” the local

population could see right through it. Many people in Isaan

said the DP-sponsored programs would work much better if

Thaksin were in charge, according to Theerawat Champachaisri,

president of the Nakhon Phanom provincial assembly.

 

VOTE BUYING JUST AIN\’T WHAT IT USED TO BE

—————————————–

 

8. (SBU) One of the positive byproducts of Thaksin\’s

attention to Isaan is that voters have learned to expect

results from elected officials, according to our

interlocutors. This development has fundamentally altered

the concept of money politics in the northeast. Professor

Preecha said his research indicated that the view of

accepting money was often more sophisticated than it was

often portrayed by media and critics, something most of our

interlocutors confirmed. The traditional concept of vote

buying, in which villagers accept money from only one

candidate and then cast their ballot for that person, has

given way to a system where people can take money from

multiple politicians, but only vote for the person they

believed would provide the greatest benefits. Nakhon Phanom

UDD leader Manaporn summarized the Isaan attitude towards

money politics as, \”the sin is on the provider, not the

acceptor.\” (note: this cynical voter attitude of taking

inducements from all parties but voting one\’s conscience has

actually prevailed in southern Thailand for years).

 

9. (SBU) In Sakon Nakhon both XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX and Senator

Pradith Tanwatthanaphong cited the outcome of the June 2009

provincial by-election as proof of this new version of money

politics. Phumjai Thai far outspent Puea Thai in the

campaign trying to buy votes, they said, but the Puea Thai

candidate won. Pradith said the outcome showed the enduring

support for Thaksin and Puea Thai was based on results, not

just money thrown at voters. Red-shirt organizers in Sakon

Nakhon and Nakhon Phanom reinforced the sentiment that

neither party affiliation nor personal influence alone was

sufficient to guarantee election victory. On a cautionary

note, Manaporn Charoensri said Puea Thai needed to field

viable candidates that could produce tangible results,

otherwise the people would not vote for them (note: indeed,

 

BANGKOK 00002903 003.2 OF 004

 

Phumjai Thai bested Puea Thai in Isaan by-elections earlier

in 2009, when Puea Thai was having difficulty finding good

candidates).

 

NEWIN HURTS PHUMJAI THAI, CHAVALIT BOOSTS PUEA THAI?

——————————————— ——-

 

10. (SBU) Phumjai Thai\’s efforts to expand in upper Isaan

were evident by the numerous party signs along the highways.

A political science professor at the Sakon Nakhon Commercial

School said it was an indicator that the party was preparing

for elections, which he believed would be held in the coming

months. Pitti Kaewsalupsri in Sakon Nakhon told us the two

MPs from Phumjai Thai had won their seats because of their

prior affiliation with Thaksin and the Thai Rak Thai party.

Some of our contacts predicted Phumjai Thai could retain

those seats, while others said that Puea Thai would take

those seats, claiming de facto Phumjai Thai leader Newin

Chidchop was a liability to his party.

 

11. (SBU) XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

said that people in the upper northeast did not trust Newin.

Preecha said Newin\’s behavior revealed that he was looking

out only for himself. XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

told us that people in the Isaan valued loyalty, and

viewed Newin\’s alignment with the Democrat-led coalition as a

betrayal. The XXXXXXXXXX also related a recent incident in

which Newin publicly slapped a local Phumjai Thai figure,

damaging his reputation in the province. Many in Isaan also

believed that Newin benefited from a double-standard in the

Thai justice system, claimed XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX. He said many people

wondered why Newin has been allowed to be so openly involved

in politics, and noted that Newin\’s acquittal in the rubber

sapling case (REFTEL) only fuelled resentment against him.

 

12. (SBU) The return to politics of former Prime Minister and

Nakhon Phanom native son Chavalit Yongchaiyut has been

largely positive for Puea Thai in the upper northeast,

according to those we talked to, even though his net effect

nation-wide is debateable. Contacts in Nong Khai and Sakon

Nakhon indicated that Chavalit would have little impact

locally, but suggested his popularity in his home province

would be a boost to Puea Thai. UDD leader Manaporn said that

while Chavalit was an important figure, his return would not

be enough to guarantee Puea Thai would win all of the

regional parliamentary seats in the next election. Somboon

Sornprapha, Nakhon Phanom PAO Chief, said that Chavalit\’s

influence has already turned some local Phumjai Thai

supporters to Puea Thai. He predicted that this shift,

combined with local troubles for Puea Phaendin, meant Puea

Thai could easily win all four of the provincial parliament

seats in the next election.

 

KING STILL REIGNS SUPREME

————————-

 

13. (C) King Bhumibol remains very popular in the northeast.

All of our interlocutors said there was no truth to rumors

that residents in Isaan had removed pictures of the King from

their homes. XXXXXXXXXXXXXX said that if asked to choose

between Thaksin and King Bhumibol, the people of the

northeast would choose the King. We did note, however, that

there was not a portrait of the King visible at the coffee

shop owned by Nong Khai UDD leader Thongmar Balthaisong

(Note: not all commercial establishments and residences

nationwide have portraits of the current King. In many

areas, King Chulalongkorn\’s portrait occupies the place of

honor).

 

14. (C) Queen Sirikit and Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn clearly

do not command the same level respect in Isaan as King

Bhumibol, however. Senator Pradith from Sakon Nakhon said

the resentment many in the Isaan felt towards the Queen was

plainly evident in their discussions; it was not as harsh as

the criticism from neighboring Udon Thani Province, however,

where he said some of her portraits had been spray-painted.

 

BANGKOK 00002903 004.2 OF 004

 

According to XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX, the Crown Prince is not as

popular as his father, and the people would have a difficult

time accepting his current wife Princess Srirasmi as their

queen, based largely on a widely distributed salacious video

of the birthday celebration for the Crown Prince\’s white

poodle Fufu, in which Sirasmi appears wearing nothing more

than a G-string in front of other guests and still

photographers.

JOHN

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Written by thaicables

June 23, 2011 at 2:51 am

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