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05BANGKOK1819 THAKSIN’S NEW CABINET FAMILIAR, BUT WITH SOME SURPRISES

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“28656”,”3/14/2005 0:07″,”05BANGKOK1819″,

 

“Embassy Bangkok”,”CONFIDENTIAL”,””,

“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 04 BANGKOK 001819

 

SIPDIS

 

E.O. 12958: DECL: 03/11/2015

TAGS: PGOV, PREL, TH, Cabinet Reshuffle

SUBJECT: THAILAND: THAKSIN\’S NEW CABINET FAMILIAR, BUT

WITH SOME SURPRISES

 

Classified By: Political Counselor Robert Clarke. Reason: 1.4 (d)

 

1. (C) Summary: Prime Minister Thaksin unveiled the first

cabinet lineup in his new administration on March 11. Many

faces are familiar, but there were some surprises. This

cabinet may only last until next June. If the list is

approved by the King (as is likely), Foreign Minister

Surikiart Sathirachai will be kicked upstairs to a Deputy

Prime Minister position and replaced at MFA by Dr. Kanthathee

Suphamongkol, the relatively unknown Thai Trade

Representative to the Americas, Europe, Australia and New

Zealand. As expected, Finance Minister Somkid Jatursripitak

will retain the Finance portfolio but with the additional

authority of serving concurrently as a Deputy Prime Minister.

Deputy Police Chief Chidchai Wannasathit will be elevated to

Interior Minister and will also serve as a Deputy Prime

Minister. General Thammarak Isaragkura na Ayudhaya will

become Defense Minister again as General Sumphon Boonyanan,

the incumbent, leaves the cabinet. In a switch she resisted

(despite it being widely regarded as a promotion), Ms.

Sudarat Keyuraphan, the Public Health Minister and Thai Rak

Thai (TRT) Bangkok faction leader, will become Agriculture

Minister, probably charged with cleaning it up. Commerce

Minister Watana Muangsook, who had been strongly rumored to

be out, will move to the Industry Ministry. He will be

replaced at Commerce by Thanong Bidaya, a former banker,

finance minister, and major TRT financier who is Thaksin\’s

personal financial advisor.

 

2. (C) Among other nominees, Education Minister Adisai

Bhodaramik is slated to retain his job (which is not being

received well by the academic community), as is Transport

Minister Suriya Jungrungreangkit (who is TRT

secretary-general). Other ministers are merely being

 

SIPDIS

reshuffled within the cabinet. Labor Minister Uraiwan

Thienthong, the spouse of powerful TRT faction leader Sanoh

Thienthong, will take over the Social Development and Human

Security Ministry. Uraiwan is exchanging ministerial

responsibilities with Sora-at Klinpratoom, who will take the

helm at the Labor Ministry. Deputy Prime Minister and TRT

Chart Pattana faction leader Suwat Liptapanlop is slated to

replace Pongthep Thepkanjana as Justice Minister. Somsak

Thepsuthin, now a Deputy Prime Minister, will become Tourism

and Sports Minister. Deputy Interior Minister Pracha

Maleenont will become Culture Minister.

 

3. (SBU) First-time cabinet members include Natural

Resources and Environment Minister Yongyuth Tiyapairat and

Suranand Vejajjiva, who will fill a re-opened cabinet slot as

Minister of the Prime Minister\’s Office. Other Ministerial

appointments forwarded to the King include former Petroleum

Authority of Thailand executive Wiset Jupiban for the Energy

Ministry, and Suvit Khunkitti for the Information and

Technology Ministry. The other Deputy Prime Ministers —

besides (soon-to-be former) Foreign Minister Surikiart,

retained Finance Minister Somkid and new Interior Minister

Chidchai — will be Visanu Kruengarm, Chaturon Chaisaeng and

Phinij Jarusombat, all holdovers.

 

4. (SBU) Familiar ministers who will not be returning to the

cabinet are Deputy Prime Minister Chavalit Yongchaiyut, who

claims to be retiring (but recently hinted at a Senate run in

2006) and Agriculture Minister Wan Mohammed Nur Matha. Wan

Nur is clearly tagged with responsibility for the TRT\’s

electoral debacle last month in his supposed stronghold in

the majority Muslim southern border provinces. Deputy Prime

Minister Purachai Piumsombun (long regarded as one of the

\”cleanest\” ministers), Science Minister Korn Dabbaransi,

Justice Minister Pongthep Thepkanjana, and Information and

Communications Technology Minister Surapong Suebwonglee are

also missing from the new cabinet. The two Chart Thai Party

ministers from the last \”coalition\” cabinet, Sontaya Kunplome

(Tourism and Sports) and Anurak Jureemas (Culture) have also

been removed, as has Energy Minister Prommin Lertsuridej, who

may yet get an important non-cabinet post. Thumbnail

sketches on some major ministers begin at para 5. End

Summary.

 

FOREIGN AFFAIRS: KANTHATHEE AS FM A PLEASANT SURPRISE;

PREECHA AS DEPUTY, A REWARD

 

5. (C) Kanthathee Suphamongkol\’s surprise appointment was

immediately well-received at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs

(MFA); several sources have told us that the atmosphere at

the Ministry is already more \”relaxed.\” Kanthathee is a

former foreign service officer who retired at Counselor rank,

cutting short a nine year diplomatic career. His assignments

included a stint with the Thai mission to the UN and as head

of the MFA\’s Policy Planning department, where he gained

experience in thinking about the MFA and Thai foreign policy

in big picture terms. Kanthathee entered politics as one of

the original founders of TRT and is still close to Thaksin.

He was also close to former Phalang Dharma founder Chamlong

Srimuang. Kanthathee received all his higher education in

the United States: a B.A. in Political Science from UCLA, an

M.A. in International Studies from American University, and a

Ph.D in International Relations from USC. He is regarded as

sharp and ambitious, but straight-forward and friendly to the

U.S.

 

6. (C) Some are attributing Surakiart\’s ouster as foreign

minister to his penchant for dropping the prime minister\’s

name too often in routine conduct of his job and to

widespread discontent among the professional diplomatic corps

with his autocratic ways in dealing with them. Others say

that Kanthathee just convinced Thaksin that it was his time.

Surakiart stays in the cabinet as Deputy Prime Minister and,

apparently, as Thailand\’s candidate to become UN Secretary

General.

 

7. (C) In contrast to Kanthathee, Preecha Laohapongchana,

the named Deputy Foreign Minister (a new position for the

Thaksin administration), has no foreign affairs experience.

He is a businessman, politician, and TRT party deputy leader

who has twice served as Deputy Industry Minister (in 1997 and

1998-99). Preecha was elected as a Chart Thai Party member of

Parliament (MP) from Ubon Ratchathani in the 1980\’s and 90\’s.

He defected to the TRT in 2001 and was elected as a TRT

party list MP that year. Preecha is believed to be a major

financier of the TRT. An MFA contact characterized his

latest appointment as a political \”reward.\”

 

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER AND FINANCE MINISTER – SOMKID

JATURIPITAK

 

8. (C) It is an open secret that Somkid Jaturipitak badly

wanted to leave behind the finance portfolio and the

operational and implementation demands of that job and become

\”economic czar\” of Thailand, overseeing economic strategy as

Deputy PM. Apparently unable to find anyone suitable to

immediately take on the critical Finance position (see

below), Somkid has agreed to remain as Minister in addition

to Deputy PM by creating additional Deputy Finance ministers

who will act as \”chief operating officers,\” implementing the

policies that Somkid and the PM hand down. Deputy Finance

Minister Varathep was said to be a favorite candidate to

become minister but was 1) considered too young and 2)

considered too close to the PM,s sister – an important

member of TRT and businesswoman. Somkid is probably

Thaksin,s closest economic advisor.

 

MINISTER OF DEFENSE – GENERAL THAMMARAK ISRANGKURA NA

AYUTAYA

 

9. (SBU) Gen. Thammarak,s reappointment as Minister of

Defense owes a great deal to his success — as chairman of

the TRT election campaign in the Northeast — in delivering

126 TRT candidates to the Parliament. His campaign strategy

was believed to play as pivotal a role in this latest Thaksin

electoral success as it did in the 2001 election. Thammarak

was one of the 25 co-founders of the TRT, and has taken an

active role in the party,s political activities and

strategies. Gen. Thammarak was elected as a party-list MP in

the January 6, 2001 election. After that election he was

appointed Minister attached to the PM,s Office, and was

promoted to be Minister of Defense in October 2002. He was

switched to a Deputy Prime Minister slot in March 2004 and

was removed from the cabinet in October in order to free him

up to exercise his considerable skills as a political

operative.

 

MINISTER OF INDUSTRY – MR. WATANA MUANGSOOK

 

10. (C) Speculation abounds as to why Watana was moved from

Commerce minister over to the Ministry of Industry. Many

observers consider that his performance at Commerce was

mediocre and expected him to be dropped from the cabinet. He

was also caught up in some scandal allegations that he

provided favors to the Charoen Pokphand (CP) Group of

companies, which is owned and run by people to whom he has a

family connection. A common explanation for Watana\’s

survival is that Thaksin wanted to keep him as a minister

because of the PM,s own close relationship with CP. Watana

previously served in the Prime Minister\’s office. By

shuffling Watana,s portfolios, the PM manages to maintain

this corporate connection while deflecting public attention

from Watana,s actual record. Watana is also recognized as

an effective money-raiser for TRT.

 

JUSTICE MINISTRY A \”REWARD\” FOR TRT FACTION LEADER SUWAT

 

11. (C) Suwat Liptapanlop is former leader of the previous

TRT government\’s erstwhile coalition partner Chart Pattana

Party (also CP) Since bringing the CP party into the TRT

last year, Suwat has enjoyed a growing influence in TRT as

head of his former CP members\’ faction and as Deputy Prime

Minister. The Justice Ministry is a big political payoff for

Suwat. Suwat will be an important interlocutor with the U.S.

on issues such as human rights, good governance and

democracy. As a powerful political player Suwat can be

expected to exercise a considerable degree of personal leeway

in running the ministry. The Justice Ministry oversees law

enforcement, including probation, rights and liberties

protection the Special Investigation Department, forensic

investigation, narcotics suppression and immigration.

 

DEPUTY POLICE CHIEF CHIDCHAI TAKES OVER POWERFUL INTERIOR

MINISTRY AND DPM SPOT

 

12. (C) Once approved by the King on March 11, Deputy

Police Chief Chidchai Wannasathit will head Interior, one the

RTG\’s \”power ministries,\” and become a Deputy Prime Minister.

He is reportedly very close to the Thaksin, with a past of

obliging him on carrying out \”dirty\” activities. Their

association dates from the time they studied together at the

Police Cadet Academy and later when they pursued their

studies in the US together. As Minister, Chidchai will

oversee all 75 provincial administrations (save for Bangkok)

including all provincial governors, district chiefs and local

officials. The ministry oversees community development, land

planning, disaster prevention, public works and local

administration.

 

COMMERCE MINISTER – DR. THANONG BIDAYA

 

13. (C) A longtime banker and academic with advanced

degrees in economics and management from Northwestern, Dr.

Thanong was most recently Chairman of Thai Airways. He was

Minister of Finance during the Chavalit government when the

RTG devalued the Baht, giving him a popular image of being

weak in the face of the IMF. According to street talk, he

tipped off Thaksin about the devaluation, which saved Thaksin

millions while others lost their shirt in the Asian financial

crisis. Thanong is believed to have been a generous banker

when Thaksin was starting out in business. He has

essentially functioned as Thaksin\’s personal financial

advisor since then. Rumors are already circulating that

Thanong will act as Commerce minister for a period long

enough to rebuild the public,s faith in him and then be

named Finance minister. Aside from the personal connections,

Thaksin is said to have considerable confidence in Thanong,s

abilities, considering him a \”Mr. Fix-it\”. Thanong was made

President of Thai Military Bank during a period when the bank

had liquidity problems, and the PM,s family later bought

shares. He was appointed by the PM as Chairman of the

National Economic and Social Development Board early in the

first Thaksin administration following criticism from this

government think-tank of Thaksin,s economic policies.

 

MINISTER OF TRANSPORT – SURIYA JUNGRUNGREANGIT

 

14. (SBU) Suriya Jungrungreangit, another Thaksin loyalist,

is a major party financier and the TRT Secretary-General. His

rise to this important party leadership position in January

2002 came as a surprise, and was attributed to his relatively

neutral status among factions in the TRT party. Suriya

joined the newly-formed TRT party in August 2000 and has been

a party insider since. He ran in the January 2001 election

as a TRT Party List candidate, and was elected. He was

subsequently selected by PM Thaksin as Industry Minister and

then, in the October 2002 cabinet reshuffle, was given a new

portfolio as Minister of Transportation. In the February

2005 election, Suriya contested again as a TRT Party List

candidate, was re-elected, and will stay in charge of the

transport portfolio.

 

MINISTER OF NATURAL RESOURCES AND ENVIRONMENT – MR. YONGYUTH

TIYAPAIRAT

 

15. (SBU) Yongyuth Tiyapairat, a first time minister coming

in as Minister of Natural Resources and Environment, is a

Thai Rak Thai party list MP. Like the Prime Minister, he

comes from the northern part of Thailand, the area around

Chiang Rai, and is considered one of the closest political

advisors to Thaksin. Yongyuth served as Government Spokesman

for the first half of Thaksin,s first administration and as

the PM,s secretary-general for the second half. Attentive

observers believe Yongyuth,s elevation to a ministry is a

result of his electoral efforts this past year that resulted

in Thai Rak Thai winning all eight seats in Chiang Rai and

three seats in Phayao districts. His particular environmental

interests include forest conservation, addressing illegal

logging and conserving water resources.

 

AGRICULTURE MINISTER SUDARAT – AN UNWILLING APPOINTEE?

 

16. (C) Agriculture Minister Sudarat Keyuraphan was

reported by some of the media on March 11 to be disappointed

that she will not remain at the Ministry of Public Health

(MOPH), even though Agriculture is considered by most to be a

more important ministry. Sudarat has no real agriculture

background but has supposedly been chosen because Thaksin

needs someone he can trust in this scandal-ridden portfolio.

He insisted that she take the job. Sudarat, a TRT faction

leader (in Bangkok) in her own right, is the polite, smart

face of TRT. Under her ministership, the MOPH had a good and

open relationship with the USG. Hopefully, Sudarat will

bring a fresh awareness of the need for transparency and

dialogue with Thailand\’s trading partners to the Agriculture

Ministry. Sudarat has had experience in her former Ministry

of Public Health portfolio in dealing with institutional

corruption somewhat effectively, but the Ministry of

Agriculture is a bigger portfolio in terms of money and

power, and has a long history as a playpen for the venal. An

immediate question is how well she will work with her Deputy,

Newin Chidchob. Newin has been almost continually involved

in scandals, and as a political operative been accused of

vote buying and worse, including in the recent general

elections. Newin\’s bad reputation, plus his generally

abrasive personality, could quickly lead to tensions between

the two.

 

ADISAI STAYS AS EDUCATION MINISTER

 

14. (C) Many academics and educators are disappointed with

the retention of Adisai Bhodaramik as Education Minister.

They regarded him as not being interested in this portfolio

and slow to make decisions, even those necessary for the

day-to-day running of the ministry. His selection is

particularly unfortunate as Thailand in general badly needs

comprehensive educational reform, and revision of the

curriculum in the South in particular has taken on special

urgency. The choice of Adisai seems at odds with Thaksin\’s

recent declaration that overall education reform will

highlight his second term. The bright spot at Education is

the naming of Rung Kaewdaeng, a well-known and respected

educator, as Adisai\’s deputy.

 

LONGTIME TRT SPOKESPERSON GETS MINISTRY OF THE PRIME

MINISTER\’S OFFICE

 

15. (C) Suranand Vejajjiva has been Thaksin\’s principal

spokesperson and flak catcher over the past several years.

He has been handed another difficult job. Suranand told the

Embassy on March 11 that he has been asked by Thaksin to be

in charge of the \”human rights issue\” as the Minister of the

Office of the Prime Minister. This could involve the public

relations savvy and very glib Suranand putting the best face

on bad human rights policies. On the plus side, Suranand is

close to Thaksin and has been a regular contact of the

Embassy. He could prove to be a good channel to the PM on

our human rights concerns. Suranand, who is a cousin of

opposition Democrat Party (DP) Leader Abhisit Vejajjiva, was

considered too junior for a Deputy Prime Minister position so

the Minister of the Prime Minister\’s Office, previously

abolished in the wake of state sector reforms, was

\”recreated\” for him.

BOYCE

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Written by thaicables

July 6, 2011 at 7:50 am

Posted in Confidential, Thaksin

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