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05BANGKOK 7197 THE KING AND HIM; THE OPPOSITION PLAYS THEIR KING AGAINST THE PRIME MINISTER

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“45515”,”11/18/2005 8:42″,”05BANGKOK7197″

 

“Embassy Bangkok”,”CONFIDENTIAL”,””,

 

“This record is a partial extract of the original cable

 

 

The full text of the original cable is not available.

 

180842Z Nov 05

“,”C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 BANGKOK 007197

 

SIPDIS

 

DEPT FOR EAP, EAP/MLS

PACOM FOR FPA HUSO

 

E.O. 12958: DECL: 11/17/2015

TAGS: PGOV, PHUM, TH, Political Parties, TRT – Thai Rak Thai

SUBJECT: THE KING AND HIM; THE OPPOSITION PLAYS THEIR KING

AGAINST THE PRIME MINISTER

 

REF: A. BANGKOK 7100 AND PREVIOUS

 

B. BANGKOK 6958

C. BANGKOK 6119

 

Classified By: POLITICAL COUNSELOR SUSAN M. SUTTON reason 1.4 (b) (d)

 

1. (C) SUMMARY AND INTRODUCTION. Evidence suggests that

Prime Minister Thaksin is alienating an ever-growing segment

of the political class. The antipathy that started with NGOs

and journalists is spreading; by some accounts, it includes

many in the military leadership and reaches even to the

palace. At the same time, Thaksin\’s populist policies are

winning him acceptable numbers in the public opinion polls.

His nationalist rhetoric on the South makes him look strong,

(even if the government\’s policies are ineffective.) In any

case, his lock on the National Assembly — 375 out of 500

seats — hamstrings the organized political opposition, which

cannot stop the PM\’s legislative program. Thai Rak Thai\’s

(TRT) strong position in the allegedly non-partisan Senate

means that the Senate-appointed agencies that should act as a

break on the PM\’s power are suborned before they are even

established. What\’s a Thaksin opponent to do?

 

2. (C) The anti-Thaksin forces are reduced to hoping for

help from two extremes — the street, and the palace. There

is some irony here: the democratic opposition and civil

society are pinning their short term hope on rather

undemocratic solutions. This fight so far is waged mostly in

arcane (to foreign observers, at least) skirmishes over the

views of elderly monks or obscure constitutional procedures.

The opposition appears to be looking for a way to provoke

Thaksin into taking one step too far in encroaching on the

prerogatives of the much-loved monarch, and provoking public

outrage in response. (Septel reports on yesterday\’s gag order

against one of these provocateurs.) A few others even raise

the (highly unlikely) possibility that Thaksin opponents

might arrange \”an accident\” to remove the PM. We believe

that Thaksin is still in a strong position, but he is

impulsive; a major misstep — or a series of them — would

embolden Thaksin\’s critics and increase his vulnerability.

END SUMMARY AND INTRODUCTION.

 

3. (C) Thaksin\’s latest \”proxy confrontation\” with the

palace involves an ancient monk from northeast Thailand, and

a businessman-cum-journalist (both of whom used to be Thaksin

supporters). The monk, Luangta Maha Bua, delivered a sermon

in September that compared Thaksin to a \”powerful giant with

savage power to swallow the country\” that \”puts its feet on

the people\’s heads, eating their lungs and livers.\” Most

seriously, he accused Thaksin and his cabinet of trying to

\”swallow the country, religion and King\” and \”lead the

country to a presidential system.\” The

businessman/journalist, Sondhi Limthongkul, owner/publisher

of several Thai newspapers, printed the text of the sermon in

the news daily \”Manager\” on September 28. On October 11,

Thaksin filed civil and criminal libel complaints against

Sondhi, seeking 500 million baht in compensation. (Septel

reports on a subsequent 11/17 civil court \”gag order\” against

Sondhi.) Thaksin did not, however, sue the venerable monk,

saying that Luangta Maha Bua had helped him in the past.

 

4. (C) This was the second lawsuit filed against Sondhi by

the prime minister in October. On October 3, the PM filed a

suit against Sondhi following the broadcast of his popular

(and subsequently canceled) television program, \”Thailand

Weekly.\” On that broadcast, Sondhi repeated his previous

criticism that the government had undermined the King\’s

prerogatives and the Sangha (the Buddhist leadership) by

controversially appointing an \”acting Supreme Patriarch\” in

January 2004 (allegedly to \”assist\” the ailing Supreme

Patriarch appointed by the Sangha and the King). Sondhi

accused Thaksin of choosing a monk who is close to his wife\’s

family to take this position. Sondhi then read a pointed

allegory, comparing a \”good father\” who raises his 60 million

children virtuously to an \”eldest son\” who lets the other

children be \”spoiled and enslaved by wealth, headphones and

gambling.\” That suit also sought 500 million baht in

compensation. (Channel 9 canceled the show. Sondhi sued

Channel 9.)

 

5. (C) Sondhi continues to hammer on the theme of Thaksin\’s

purported challenge to the King. Although \”Thailand Weekly\”

is off the air, Sondhi continues to stage the \”show\” each

week before eager crowds at public venues. Last week,

thousands of people turned out in Bangkok\’s main park to hear

Sondhi, who wore a T-shirt with the motto, \”I will fight for

the King.\” (Most of the government-controlled (or co-opted)

media have not given much play at all to these rallies;

Sondhi\’s own \”Thai Day\” English-language newspaper reported a

crowd of at least 10,000, but this may be inflated.) Sondhi

in the meantime continues to rack up legal problems and other

headaches. A high-ranking police official filed a

lese-majeste complaint against Sondhi on November 8, after

Sondhi\’s show the previous week, in which he compared the

PM\’s desire for a personal aircraft unfavorably to the King\’s

modest personal requirements. A group of lawyers called

\”Lawyers Fighting for Country and King\” has leapt to Sondhi\’s

defense in this instance, and it is not clear that this suit

actually has the backing of the PM. Also not clear is the

reason for the small explosion that occurred one night

recently in front of Sondhi\’s office. On November 16, the

commander of an important military unit (and a classmate of

Thaksin\’s from the Armed Forces Academy) turned up the heat

still further, sending Sondhi a protest letter. Maj. Gen.

Prin Suwwanadhat told the press that he and \”nearly 14,000

royal guards under his command are not happy with Mr.

Sondhi\’s remarks about the King.\” On November 17, the PM got

an injunction from the civil court, requiring Sondhi to stop

all criticism of Thaksin (septel).

 

6. (C) In a recent conversation with Sondhi, he was upbeat

about the situation. He boasted that he\’d been sued many

times, and never lost a case. He said that Thaksin was

\”unbalanced\” in his reaction to criticism, and that, with

this latest suit, he had gone too far. In the previous

lawsuits against the press, some other entity (Shin

Corporation, or a government ministry or agency) brought the

suit. In this case, Thaksin brought the suit himself,

claiming that Sondhi had defamed him. Therefore, according

to Sondhi, when the case comes to court (perhaps early next

year), Thaksin himself will have to testify, and explain how

he was defamed. Sondhi believes that he will then have a

chance to ask Thaksin directly the kinds of questions he has

raised in his shows and publications, and Thaksin will have

to answer under oath. Sondhi speculates that Thaksin did not

think this through before he lashed out with the lawsuits.

 

7. (C) The accusations against Thaksin also keep coming.

The anti-Thaksin papers have resurfaced an accusation against

Thaksin from earlier this year. In April, the PM presided

over a ceremony in the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, one of

the most sacred sites in the kingdom. The press claimed

first that no commoner had the right to preside over such a

ceremony. When the government produced a signed

authorization from the palace, Thaksin\’s opponents raised

further objections about the authenticity of the documents

and whether they allowed Thaksin to preside over, or just

participate in, the ceremony. This week, a retired general

sued Thaksin for lese-majeste over the incident.

 

8. (C) What is the point of all of this? Sondhi, a

flamboyant but appealing political gadfly, clearly relishes

his one-man crusade against the PM. He does not appear to be

working actively in concert with any of the opposition

parties or civil society groups. But he is carrying yet

further the tactic already used in the long controversy over

the Auditor-General (AG) (ref A.) In the AG case,

anti-Thaksin forces did not highlight the most obvious

accusation — that the government\’s allies in the Senate were

trying to replace an active and effective official fighting

corruption. Rather, they focused on the claim that the

replacement of the AG challenged the King\’s authority, since

the King had appointed her. During the first phase of the

controversy, opposition politicians allowed themselves to

hope the issue would bring the students and others onto the

streets in a real challenge to the government. This was, of

course, misguided thinking and stirred up little public

enthusiasm for protest. But some Thaksin opponents continue

to think that hammering on these issues will soon provoke a

outburst from the public that could, ultimately, unseat the

PM.

 

9. (C) Sondhi told us he predicts Thaksin will run into

serious trouble, and that there would be violence, before the

end of the year. An associate of the Auditor General made a

similar prediction. One journalist told us he was surprised

that Thaksin dared to leave the country for so long in

September (for the UNGA and White House meeting). Several

contacts have even hinted darkly that Thaksin \”might have an

accident.\” On top of this, some claim that Thaksin has so

alienated the military – by favoring the police over the

army, and by his bungling of the problems in the south —

that the military would not support him if there were a

crisis.

 

10. (C) So, what does the palace really think? It\’s not

easy to tell what the King actually wants. It is widely

presumed among the political class that the King and his

closest councillors loathe Thaksin. However, the King

conveys his views in signs so subtle that much of the

ordinary Thai public probably misses them, even if they do

make it into a news report. For example, the King reportedly

takes care to be photographed calling on the \”real\” Supreme

Patriarch. The King\’s daughter, Princess Chulabhorn, visited

the crotchety monk in October in a ceremony broadcast on TV,

and raised money for his temple. The King\’s refusal to

respond to the nomination of a replacement for the Auditor

General was taken as a slap in the face to TRT and the PM,

presumed to be behind the move. The palace delayed the

approval of the military promotions list proposed in October;

because Thaksin had reportedly meddled with the list, this

delay was likewise seen as a subtle rebuke to the PM. The

King\’s annual birthday speech in December seems to contain

barely-veiled digs at Thaksin each year. This may not seem

like much to an outsider, and care must be taken to not read

too much into royal gestures (or lack of them). But the

King\’s every action is carefully scrutinized — at least by

the political class — and his moral authority is unequaled

among the Thai.

 

COMMENT

——-

 

11. (C) Thaksin\’s opponents can\’t unseat him (at least, in

the short term) through the ballot box, so they feel they

have to try something. There isn\’t much hope of seriously

splintering TRT, which seems to be largely sticking by the PM

that brought them to power. It is difficult to evaluate the

hints that Thaksin \”might have an accident.\” Violence is a

feature of political life here even today, and Thaksin has

plenty of enemies. Still this strikes us as extreme and

unlikely. The opposition parties and NGOs remember 1992, when

the power of street demonstrations, coupled with the

resulting loss of royal support, helped oust a despised PM;

those who are virulently anti-Thaksin hope such tactics might

work again. They are overestimating, in our view, the

resonance of their issues with a public more preoccupied with

economic livelihood. Even for the Thai who are aware of

tensions between the King and PM, TRT\’s populist programs

seem to outweigh other considerations. And so far, people

don\’t really have to choose between the King and the PM; they

are happy to take the government\’s 30 baht health scheme, its

village development fund, its million cow program and all the

rest, and then show their veneration to the King at the same

time. It is hard to see how Sondhi and the political

opposition can inflict serious political damage on Thaksin

with these current tactics. However, they are clearly set to

keep provoking the PM with accusation after accusation,

knowing that Thaksin, with his tendency to speak and act

before he thinks, is frequently his own worst enemy.

BOYCE

 

Written by thaicables

June 24, 2011 at 2:03 pm

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