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05BANGKOK6524 DEMOCRACY PROMOTION STRATEGIES FOR EAP FOCUS COUNTRIES – THAILAND

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“42631”,”10/14/2005 3:42″,”05BANGKOK6524″,

 

“Embassy Bangkok”,”CONFIDENTIAL”,”05BANGKOK6094|05SECSTATE169892″

 

“This record is a partial extract of the original cable.

 

The full text of the original cable is not available.”,

 

 

“C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 06 BANGKOK 006524

 

SIPDIS

 

E.O. 12958: DECL: 10/11/2015

TAGS: KDEM, PREL, TH, Democracy Promotion Strategies

SUBJECT: DEMOCRACY PROMOTION STRATEGIES FOR EAP FOCUS

COUNTRIES – THAILAND

 

REF: A) SECSTATE 169892 B) BANGKOK 006094

 

Classified By: AMBASSADOR RALPH L.BOYCE, reasons 1.5 (b),(d)

 

1. (C) Summary and introduction: Thailand is the most

democratic country in the neighborhood, with a lively press

and fiercely competed elections. Thailand\’s remarkable

political development, after a long period of military rule,

progressed in tandem with its impressive economic

development, which gave its citizens greater access to

education and mass media, reinforcing the transition to

democracy. In 1997, Thailand adopted a new constitution,

meant to consolidate yet further the country\’s democratic

progress.

 

2. (C) Things have not gone quite as expected. The 1997

Asian financial crisis discredited the Democrat Party in

power during the initial recovery stages, and left the

population uncertain and eager for a strong leader. Thaksin

Shinawatra and his Thai Rak Thai (TRT) party took advantage

of the opening, winning a commanding majority in the 2001

elections and an even larger one in 2005. Thaksin is the

strongest Prime Minister in Thai history — the only one, in

fact, to serve out his full term and be re-elected. One of

the goals of the 1997 Constitution was to build a more stable

parliamentary system and stronger political parties by making

it more difficult for MPs to jockey for political advantage

by changing party affiliation. Thaksin has cleverly used

these provisions to increase the cohesion and clout of TRT

and expand his personal power. Thaksin also built his

personal stature with populist programs, like cheap credit

and cheap medical care, that won the enthusiastic support of

the poorer voters, especially in the rural areas. Thailand\’s

opposition parties and NGOs have never come up against

anything quite like Thaksin, and they are playing political

catch-up. Thailand remains a democracy, but one in which the

balance among the political and social forces is unhealthy.

 

3. (C) Post works on many levels to promote greater

democracy in Thailand. We are not optimistic that major

changes can occur here in the 6-8 month timeframe requested

in ref A, but we believe that post\’s interventions and

programs are already having effect here and will continue to

do so. The information below responds to the questions in ref

A. Specific suggestions for additional resources or other

Washington action are contained in paras 7,11,14,15,17 and

19. End summary and introduction.

 

4.(C) IDENTIFY THE KEY AREAS OF DEMOCRATIC DEFICIT

 

— Media Freedom. Thailand still has some of the most

lively and vibrant media in the region, but it is being

constricted. The government\’s use of libel suits and the

purchase of media outlets by \’Friends of Thaksin\’ have

limited the public\’s access to independent news. The

government is attempting to shut down many community radio

stations on weak, technical pretexts. Journalists have

questionable ethics and sensationalize stories to sell papers.

 

— Muslim unrest. In the South, the government lacks a smart

policy to combat anti-government violence, insurgency and

separatism. Society lacks mechanisms to promote

reconciliation and ethnic harmony. The security problem in

the South is a threat to democracy around the country, as the

government uses terrorism as an excuse for \”emergency\”

regulations that could limit individual freedoms, especially

press freedom. Security forces are implicated in human

rights abuses.

 

— Rule of law/law enforcement/transparency. Weak corporate

governance and transparency regulations foster money politics

and corrupt the political system. The poor performance by

police, due both to lack of training and lack of motivation,

contributes to human rights abuses. The security forces are

hampered by poor coordination and interagency distrust. In

the South, the lack of access to justice is one of the key

elements feeding anti-government feeling.

 

— Voter education/election monitoring. Given the lack of

opposition access to broadcast media, voters may have limited

information about their choices, or about criticisms of the

conduct of the elections. Vote buying and, in some areas,

voter intimidation, still occur.

 

— Weak institutions. The 1997 Constitution calls for a

range of independent institutions, starting with a

non-partisan Senate and including agencies to combat

corruption, oversee media, etc. These new institutions are

still too weak to accomplish their goals. In some cases, the

Senate has moved too slowly to establish these agencies; in

other cases, the government has effectively blocked the work

of agencies that might limit its power, or co-opted them.

The Senators are not the independent \”wise men\” foreseen in

the constitution; most are partisan, with the TRT faction

dominant.

 

5. (C) IDENTIFY THE 3-5 MOST IMPORTANT DESIRED OUTCOMES OVER

THE NEXT 6-8 MONTHS

 

— Media. Desired outcome: Journalists/civil society better

able to resist efforts by government and political interests

in limiting press freedom. Longer term goals: fewer threats

to independent media.

 

— Justice/South. Desired outcome: International interest

and raised RTG awareness lead to a decrease in security force

abuses in the South; government officials recognize that

overreaction only fuels insurgent, anti-government feeling.

Improved access to justice for Southern Muslims. Longer

term goals: improved administration of justice, improvements

in police and peaceful resolution of the conflict in the

South. Greater public confidence in the probity of government

institutions.

 

— Rule of Law/Law enforcement. Desired outcome: we cannot

expect to have any measurable impact in 6-8 months. In the

longer term, current embassy programs should contribute to

improved professional ethics by judges and lawyers. The most

important, and hardest, outcome to achieve is improved

performance by police and other security forces, both in

terms of competence and in terms of respect for human rights.

Making progress in this area would require a significant

increase in USG resources addressed towards the basic police

training academies and refresher training for working

officers.

 

— Elections. Desired outcome: effective engagement by civil

society on voter education and election monitoring, leading

to a free and fair election for the Senate in April/May 2006.

 

SIX MONTH DIPLOMATIC AND PROGRAMMATIC STRATEGY

——————————————— –

 

MEDIA

—–

 

6. (SBU) Post has a range of programs already in place to

support free and objective media

 

— We are about to begin a $500,000 project to expand and

improve objective media coverage of social and political

development throughout Thailand, with particular attention to

broader, accurate coverage of minority concerns, regional

developments and social conflict.

 

— Post regularly sends journalists on IV programs and

includes them in other PAO outreach activities.

 

7. (SBU) Post has several pending requests that would

contribute to strengthening independent media:

 

— Post has requested funding to support English-language

education for journalists. This is the fastest way to get

journalists access to a variety of viewpoints on political

issues.

 

— For journalism support particularly relevant to the

problems in the South, please see paras 10 and 12 below.

 

8. (C) Other measures to achieve desired outcomes:

 

— Post has highlighted the encroachments on press freedom in

our human rights report, and in conversations with Thai

officials.

 

— The Senate finally named the new National Broadcasting

Commission (NBC) just last week. PAO and POL intend to work

together to encourage the new NBC to act fairly and

objectively as it makes decisions on spectrum allocation. In

particular, we will emphasize the importance of a workable

system to permit community radio, one of the most promising

avenues to getting independent, relevant news to the voters.

 

MUSLIM UNREST/THE SOUTH

———————–

 

9. (C) The situation in the South is one of post\’s top

priorities. Security concerns make travel and programming in

the South difficult, but post has so far been able to

maintain a regular travel program. Post frequently raises

the problem of the South with Thai officials and civil

society at all levels. Widespread distrust of the US by

southern Muslims is one of the biggest obstacles post faces

in its outreach efforts.

 

— Post sends officers to the South regularly to meet with a

wide range of residents — officials, religious leaders, NGOs

and others from both Muslim and Buddhist communities.

 

— Post is monitoring the trial of police implicated in the

disappearance of a prominent Muslim lawyer. Post is

cooperating with a range of NGOs to follow the trial

proceedings and to underscore international concerns

regarding the case of this well-known Muslim leader and the

alleged role of police in his disappearance and presumed

death.

 

— Post maintains close contact with the National

Reconciliation Commission (NRC), the organization set up by

the government to prepare recommendations to end violence and

resolve the problems in the region. The NRC enjoys

considerable respect and credibility, and post underscores in

discussions at all levels the importance of taking the NRC

recommendations into account in setting government policy to

respond to the unrest in the area.

 

10. (C) Post has a vigorous outreach program in the South,

including three American corners at universities in the

region which have hosted DVCs and speaker programs. Through

the \”Shared Futures\” initiative, PAO has partnered with a

local Muslim organization to distribute \”branded\” backpack

kits to schoolchildren, and will work with a local vocational

institution to distribute 1,200 sewing machines to Muslim

villagers; this is aimed at empowering Muslim women

heads-of-household through micro-enterprise development.

Post involves members of the Muslim minority in the full

range of PAO programs, including IVs, and programs to promote

English-language study.

 

— Post also distributes information in the local Malay

dialect as well as Thai language, and has worked with the

broadcast media on programming, most recently supporting a TV

COOP project for a series of broadcasts on the American

Muslim community which will be airing over the next several

months. PAO is also using TV COOP programming from

Indonesia, which is has dubbed into local languages and is

currently being broadcast.

 

11. (SBU) We believe that several small steps could improve

Post\’s ability to reach out to this key community. First, we

could use publications geared to less-educated readers. Even

when translated, many Department publications are geared at

too high a level for these readers. Second, the local TV

stations in the Muslim area are hungry for additional

programming and we could place far more Department provided

broadcast programming if we had the English-language scripts

to facilitate translation.

 

12. (SBU) USAID is administering a $500,000 program for the

South implemented through Asia Foundation to help build

citizen engagement in and commitment to moderate democratic

values and institutions. The program, which is just getting

underway, focuses on efforts in three key areas –local

government, universities and Islamic schools. This

represents a major increase in USG resources directed toward

the problems in the South.

 

13. (C) Post has provided Department with a list of priority

projects for funding from the FY05 Supplemental Peacekeeping

Operations Allocations to Support the Global War on Terrorism

(ref B). One of post\’s top priorities for this funding is a

project to provide non-lethal weapons and civil disturbance

training for Thai military units deploying to the South. The

Thai military specifically requested this assistance, a sign

that its leaders are aware of the high cost of military

mistakes in responding to civil disturbances. Since late

2004, post has been cooperating with the Defense Institute of

International Legal Studies (DIILS) so that training through

the Joint Combined Exchanges and Training (JCET), Counterdrug

(Baker) and IMET programs include more comprehensive human

rights training for military forces before they deploy to the

South.

14. (C) If more resources were available: Post has also

requested support for conflict resolution and Muslim outreach

programs from the FY05 Supplemental PKO Allocations to

support the GWOT. We do not anticipate that all of these

projects can be funded with the available resources, but

believe that they all merit USG support (further details on

programs in ref B). These projects include:

 

— a program to study populist anti-terrorism movements and

to share other countries\’ approaches with Southern leaders

(cost: $29k)

 

— a program to promote journalistic responsibility and

investigative journalism in the South, in partnership with

the Association of Yala Journalists (cost: $25k)

 

— a program to support training for community radio

operators, in partnership with the Campaign for Popular Media

Reform (cost: $25k)

 

— a grant to a nascent NGO, \”Friends of Thai Muslim Women,\”

to help it establish itself and work to with Muslim women to

counter political extremism through development (cost: $7k)

 

15. (C) In addition, there are many Thai organizations

working to improve the administration of justice in the

South. Post would welcome the opportunity, for example, to

support the work of the legal aid alliance formed by the NRC,

the National Human Rights Commission and the Law Society,

which have set up legal aid centers in the South to provide

residents there with access to legal representation. There

would be many opportunities to work on projects like this

with good partners if additional funding were available.

 

RULE OF LAW/LAW ENFORCEMENT/TRANSPARENCY

—————————————-

 

16. (SBU) INL through the Narcotics Assistance Section (NAS)

takes the lead in these areas.

 

— NAS funds a ABA/CEELI program on judicial ethics; over

the next 8 months, this American Bar Association-conducted

program will hold seminars and training on Legal Ethics,

Judicial Ethics, and Prosecutor Ethics as well as a seminar

for the National Counter-Corruption Commission (NCCC). It

will provide expertise for professional ethics curriculum

development, and support other public awareness/outreach

activities.

 

— INL supports a resident legal advisor from the Department

of Justice, who works on issues of legal and procedural

reform and anti-corruption measures.

 

— In designing upcoming police training through the

International Law Enforcement Academy (ILEA), NAS will

strengthen the human rights and professional responsibility

elements in its courses.

 

— For law enforcement training specifically oriented to the

situation in the South, please see para 13, above.

 

17. (C) If additional resources were available: Post

believes that increased resources for police training,

correctly used, could have an impact over the medium-to-long

term. INL currently restricts the training of provincial

police, in response to a series of extra-judicial killings

connected to an anti-drug campaign conducted in 2003.

Historically, the provincial police have had a poor record,

with cases of corruption, human rights abuses and ineffective

policing too common. Other elements of the security forces,

including National Police, have a somewhat better record,

although the lack of accountability is a pervasive problem

affecting all the security forces. There are officials

within the National Police who understand the need to

professionalize the force and who would work seriously with

us toward that goal. As an interim measure, post will review

the range of USG-sponsored training for security forces and

counter-terrorism, and look for ways to use existing programs

to also promote more responsible and accountable policing.

Following this review, post may advocate for a

carefully-considered expansion of USG police training,

perhaps along the model of ICITAP\’s Indonesia program.

 

VOTER EDUCATION/ELECTION MONITORING

————————————

 

18. (SBU) Post will monitor upcoming by-elections and the

Senate elections early next year.

— Post has regular contact with representatives of all the

main political parties and closely follows allegations of

unfair practices by the government to restrict their

activities, raising issues with RTG officials as appropriate.

 

— Post meets regularly with the main voter education and

monitoring organization, Pollwatch.

 

19. (C) If additional resources were available: Pollwatch

is underfunded and would benefit from additional support

through grants or collaboration with an appropriate US NGO,

such as NDI or IFES. Post will encourage Pollwatch to apply

for PAO-sponsored grants through the Democracy

Commission/small grants program, if funding for these is

available this year.

 

INSTITUTION BUILDING

——————–

 

20. (C) Post cannot expect to make much impact over the next

6-8 months on the building of stronger institutions. Many of

the agencies established in the 1997 Constitution to

safeguard civil liberties are appointed by the Senate, whose

term will end in March. Incumbents cannot run for

re-election, so all 200 seats will be open when the

elections are held in April or May 2006. Once we see the

composition of the new Senate, post will evaluate the

efficacy of possible programs, such as IV or speakers, that

might assist reformers. Given budget constraints, we will

probably be unable to do much programming with the new Senate

before the new fiscal year, but can begin outreach to the new

members immediately after the elections.

 

MAJOR NEEDS/MAJOR IMPEDIMENTS

—————————–

 

21. (C) Thailand is still significantly ahead of its

neighbors in its democratic development, and therefore it is

appropriate that the lion\’s share of democracy-building

resources are used elsewhere. Nonetheless, our strategy

outlined above shows that some additional resources could be

well-used to promote our democracy goals here.

 

SIGNIFICANT INFLUENCES

———————–

 

22. (C) The most significant influences contributing to

democratization here is Thailand\’s own civil society.

Thailand has a wealth of NGOs and advocacy groups, with

relatively few limits on their activities. Public awareness

of civil/human rights issues has grown with increased access

to media and education. Human rights NGOs maintain contacts

with international partners. Political parties campaign

vigorously. The push for more progress on democracy can and

must come from the Thai people. The US can provide support

by targeted diplomatic interventions and programs of the kind

outlined above.

 

CONSEQUENCES

————

 

23. (C) The US and Thailand enjoy an excellent relationship.

We have long and close ties to most sectors in Thai society,

from the political leaders of all parties, through the

military and up to the royal family. Thais and Americans are

connected by family ties, alumni associations, business

interests: we do not believe that there will be long-term

negative consequences to our efforts to support democracy

here. In the short term, we must recognize that the current

Prime Minister is famously sensitive to criticism and quick

to use nationalist and populist messages to build support for

his positions. Even though his soaring popularity has

sagged somewhat recently, he remains genuinely popular and

effective at using his office to rally support. Efforts

based on confrontation and direct public criticism of the PM

and his policies are unlikely, in our view, to be as

effective as those that build on the genuine progress

Thailand\’s other institutions have steadily built in recent

years.

 

BOYCE

 

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Written by thaicables

June 24, 2011 at 1:28 pm

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