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08BANGKOK1612 HOW HOT IS IT, ANYWAY?

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“155433”,”5/24/2008 11:37″,”08BANGKOK1612″,”Embassy Bangkok”,

“SECRET”,”06BANGKOK2991|06BANGKOK3916|06BANGKOK5929|08BANGKOK1293|

08BANGKOK1567″,”VZCZCXRO2738

OO RUEHCHI RUEHDT RUEHHM RUEHNH

DE RUEHBK #1612/01 1451137

ZNY SSSSS ZZH

O 241137Z MAY 08

FM AMEMBASSY BANGKOK

TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 3162

INFO RUCNASE/ASEAN MEMBER COLLECTIVE

RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC

RHHMUNA/HQ USPACOM HONOLULU HI

RHHMUNA/CDR USPACOM HONOLULU HI

RUEAIIA/CIA WASHINGTON DC”,”S E C R E T SECTION 01 OF 04 BANGKOK 001612

SIPDIS

NSC FOR PHU

E.O. 12958: DECL: 05/22/2018

TAGS: PGOV, PHUM, PREL, KDEM, TH

SUBJECT: HOW HOT IS IT, ANYWAY?

REF: A. BANGKOK 1567 (POLITICAL TENSIONS)

B. BANGKOK 1293 (LESSONS LEARNED)

C. 06 BANGKOK 5929 (THAILAND: DIVIDED)

D. 06 BANGKOK 3916 (WHAT\’S THAKSIN UP TO?)

E. 06 BANGKOK 2991 (STRUGGLE FOR THE SOUL OF

THAILAND)

Classified By: Ambassador Eric G. John, reason 1.4 (b) and (d).

1. (S) SUMMARY: The current state of political deadlock is

similar in many ways to the protracted statemate of 2006. Of

greatest concern are the repeated references in the media and

by contacts of a serious threat to the monarchy. This fear

is based on the increase in criticisms of the monarchal

institution in the media, internet and even from within the

current government. All sides of the political conflict are

trying to exploit the monarchy for their own ends, with the

military issuing warnings that they should stop. On a deeper

level, there is concern that some politicians, including

Thaksin, would try to abolish the monarchy if they could,

especially if they held power when the aged King finally

dies.

2. (C) There has also been a sharp increase in discussion of

the prospects of violent clashes between the contending

political camps. The announcement that the former

anti-Thaksin coalition will hold a demonstration on Sunday,

and that the pro-Thaksin side is preparing for

counter-demonstrations, has fueled anxieties and speculation

that the military might again intervene if the political

conflict turned violent. The press has identified the First

Army commander and a well-known Palace insider as two key

figures in the conspiracy; the intense scrutiny of these two

resulting from this media speculation, however, would seem to

make it harder for them to carry out such a plot, even in

Thailand. There is also speculation that the government

itself could be feeding coup rumors in order to justify a

pre-emptive move by its own supporters within the military.

Informed and reasonable interlocutors are extremely

discouraged, and warn of an impeding conflict more serious

than in 2006. It should be possible to resolve these

conflicts through peaceful and rational means, but few

politicians appear to be interested in trying. Unless this

changes, we can expect the political turbulence to continue

for the foreseeable future. END SUMMARY

3. (C) Thai politics have been in a state of tension for a

long time, leaving nerves frayed and anxieties high. The

extraordinary events of the past two years have made the Thai

public expect the worst. Despite the transition to an

elected government with a comfortable parliamentary majority,

politically-aware Thais seem to have little confidence that

there will be a stable political environment over the next

year. It seems that every politician\’s speech, academic

conference and editorial features dark prognostications about

imminent political clashes. While the public is concerned

about the economy, especially rising fuel and food prices,

the sources of deepest anxiety and fear are not practical

issues, but perceived threats to the country\’s unity and the

monarchy. These same fears dominated the political conflict

in 2006. The September coup was supposed to resolve those

issues: its failure to do so has left Thailand pretty much

back where it started in 2006. Then, a seemingly-intractable

political stalemate led to the military coup that was

accepted by many as the only way to break the deadlock and

move forward. Now the same kind of statemate seems to be

looming, and it is not clear that the Thai have yet figured

out a better way to resolve it this time (ref B).

THREATS TO THE MONARCHY

———————–

4. (C) The most dangerous element in the current conflict is

the repeated claim that the monarchy faces a serious threat.

These claims are based on several developments. One is the

proliferation of anti-monarchy statements appearing on the

internet, both on anti-royalist websites and on more

mainstream ones. Senior military officials recently warned

the government to do more to shut down or block such

websites. The recent case of a young activist who refused to

stand up to show respect when the royal anthem was being

played in a movie theater has sparked a wave of violent

emotion – both for and against — including threats against

the young man\’s safety (septel). The case of Minister in the

Prime Minister\’s Office Jakrapob (septel) has caused special

concern. Jakrapob\’s repeated public attacks on the

\”patronage system\” and \”feudalism,\” as well as on the King\’s

BANGKOK 00001612 002 OF 004

advisor, Privy Council President Prem, do not seem (to us, at

least) to violate the letter of the lese majeste law.

However, \”everybody knows\” that Jakrapob is opposed to the

monarchy, and his careful avoidance of direct, open criticism

of the King has not helped him to avoid lese majeste charges

and the suspicion that he would like to make Thailand a

republic.

5. (S) Although the King is genuinely beloved and respected,

he and the institution of the monarchy have been subject to

criticism regularly over the years. Even academics from

\”good\” families and universities have gotten into trouble for

their \”leftist,\” anti-royal views. Yet, there is a feeling

that the situation is different, and more serious, this time.

In the first place, the internet and other independent media

make the spread of such views so easy. The discussion of the

King\’s role in Thai politics has left the classroom and

academic journal, and is accessible to anyone. This is

dangerous both because it facilitates the gathering of

support for these views, and it mobilizes opponents who are

outraged to read such scandalous reports. Second, the King

himself is old, frail and ill, and the monarchal institution

is weakening with him. The love for the Thai king is very

personal — fostered by a concerted effort by the Palace for

sixty years — and does not extend, at all, to his son and

presumed heir. Whoever controls political power when the

King dies could be in a very strong position to sway the

destiny of the country – to preserve the monarchy or to turn

Thailand into a republic. For the military and the

royalists, it is a cause of deep concern to have known

anti-monarchists like Jakrapob in important government

positions. Threats to the monarchy tend to provoke an

irrational overreaction from the military.

THAKSIN REDUX

————-

6. (C) Which brings us back to former Prime Minister Thaksin.

He has been keeping what, for him, is a reasonably low

profile. However, his involvement in the ongoing political

struggle is no secret, and his alleged attempts to set

himself up as the King\’s rival are not forgotten. During the

recent vote on the new House Speaker (ref A), Thaksin showed

that he is still directly involved in politics by personally

calling MPs to rally support for a candidate who is the

father of one of his most loyal henchmen. His role in

choosing the current ministers is also clear. Despite

Thaksin\’s repeated claims that he was done with elected

office, other stories circulating cause many to doubt his

claim. As one example, a retired advisor to the Ministry of

Finance – a \”Bangkok elite\” — told us a story recently:

Thaksin was trying to persuade a local lawyer to charge

Thaksin less for his legal services. Thaksin reportedly told

the lawyer to accept a lower fee now, but promised that when

Thaksin returned to power he could give the lawyer a good

government position as a reward. Stories like this cannot be

verified, but they are easily repeated and widely believed.

The current plan to amend the 2007 Constitution, led by the

pro-Thaksin People\’s Power Party, is particularly seen as

part of the larger strategy to pave the way for Thaksin\’s

return (ref A).

BLOOD IN THE STREETS

——————–

7. (C) Another dangerous theme reprised from 2006 is the

visceral fear of violent confrontation between the two

political camps. This prospect evokes for many Thai the

traumatic events of 1992, which resulted in dozens, if not

hundreds, of deaths when the security forces shot protesters.

Just like in 2006, there are repeated warnings in the media

that there will be bloodshed when the rival political forces

finally clash openly (ref C). In 2006, the coupmakers tried

to justify the coup in part by saying that they had acted to

prevent imminent violence, an excuse that was met with

skepticism from many quarters. Respected military analyst

Dr. Panitan Wattanyagorn told the press earlier this month

that this time the military will wait \”until there is a

bloodbath. …I have heard some senior generals say: \”This

time we should let them clash for a while and allow bloodshed

to happen. Then we will come out.\”

8. (C) This particular fear has been fanned this week by the

announcement that the anti-Thaksin People\’s Alliance for

Democracy (PAD) will hold a large rally this Sunday against

BANGKOK 00001612 003 OF 004

the planned constitutional amendments. A human rights NGO

source told us that a pro-Thaksin group will hold their own

event on Saturday, to test and see how big a crowd they can

turn out in preparation for confronting the PAD – maybe this

weekend, maybe another time. Interactions between the PAD

and pro-Thaksin demonstrators have already been more heated

than during the remarkably orderly protests of 2006, with the

two sides throwing projectiles at each other during a March

rally. Even if the leadership on both sides tries to exercise

restraint, large crowds will be hard to control, perhaps

harder than in 2006; the mood is just uglier now than it was

then.

WHO COULD POSSIBLY BE DUMB ENOUGH TO TRY THIS?

——————————————— –

9. (C) Press speculation has already identified some likely

culprits in a coup scenario. First Army commander Prayut

Chan-ocha is regularly named as the soldier most likely to

putsch the government. This is probably in part just because

the First Army has the resources in or close to the capital

that would be needed to pull the coup off. Prayut supported

the 2006 coup, and he, like Army Commander and former

coupmaker Anupong, is formerly of the Queen\’s Guard and

believed to be close to the Queen. (Prayut is close to the

Anupong as well, but virtually all sources, public and

private, believe that Anupong is trying to keep the military

out of politics, at least for now.)

10. (C) Speculation also links Palace insider Piya Malakul to

the coup plot (ref D). Piya appears to be quite close to the

Queen, and was a very vehement opponent of Thaksin, although

one who remains somewhat behind the scenes. Piya\’s

involvement in the September 06 coup is not clear. In July

2006, however, Piya told us that the military might intervene

if the political confrontation at that time was not otherwise

revolved. (Comment: In our limited experience with him, Piya

appears to be a very odd character who could well be screwy

enough to be drawn into a misadventure of this kind. End

comment.)

WHO COUPS?

———-

11. (C) Even in Thailand, it seems like a bad idea to have

your coup plotting regularly discussed in the daily papers.

The prevalence of public commentary, and the resulting close

scrutiny of the First Army, would seem to have a deterrent

effect on successful coupmaking. Like in 2006, however,

there is also some speculation that the government itself

might be looking for an excuse to use military forces loyal

to its side to stifle opposition and safeguard its position.

In such a case, the constant drumbeat of coup warnings could

ultimately benefit the current government, perhaps giving a

justification for a military intervention (declaration of a

state of emergency or martial law, for example) in support of

the government. If the process of amending the constitution

is yet further tangled up and bogged down (ref A), some kind

of \”auto-coup\” might be one of the few ways to put a stake

through the heart of the 2007 Constitution, allowing the

government to return to the 1997 charter, or something like

it. In this scenario, the persistent reports of threats

against the monarchy could be used by the government as a

further excuse to justify a state of emergency. (Note: In

1976, a bloody assault on a university by right-wing

paramilitaries was provoked in part by false reports that the

students had hanged the Crown Prince in effigy. This kind of

manipulation of alleged threats to the monarchy is not new

here. Neither is the \”auto-coup\” – a tactic that was employed

in 1971 in response to a somewhat similar time of political

deadlock and tensions. End note.)

COMMENT – NO EXIT, AGAIN

————————-

12. (C) This is a society in desperate need of reconciliation

and a political leadership willing to put the people\’s

interests first. Both these commodities are in short supply.

Politicians on all sides continue to play politics with the

monarchy, engaging in dangerous and destabilizing

brinksmanship. Smart, moderate contacts are inclined to a

striking pessimism, casting the current crisis as even more

serious than 2006. One told us that the 2006 coup was just a

preliminary round and the coming clash will be a \”once in 50

years event.\” In Dr. Panitan\’s interview (para 7), he warned

BANGKOK 00001612 004 OF 004

that, \”If there is a military coup again, there will be a

more serious crisis. This time, things are far more serious

than last time.\”

13. (C) We will continue to warn senior contacts of the

disastrous effect another coup or military intervention would

have, but these decisions will probably not, in the end, be

driven by rational calculations. Personal ambitions –

particularly the interests of senior military officers and

politicians contending for the top jobs — will play a role.

But the political dynamic is driven more by a deep-seated

fear that, depending on how this conflict plays out, it could

change the very nature of Thailand. Unless the country\’s

leadership finds a way to achieve some kind of political

truce, at least, we can expect the current turbulence to

persist for the foreseeable future.

JOHN

Written by thaicables

June 29, 2011 at 6:36 am

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