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05BANGKOK2087 AMBASSADOR CALLS ON NEW DEMOCRAT PARTY LEADER APHISIT

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“29382”,”3/23/2005 9:16″,”05BANGKOK2087″,

 

“Embassy Bangkok”,”UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY”,”05BANGKOK1933″,

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

The full text of the original cable is not available.

“,”UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 BANGKOK 002087

 

SIPDIS

 

SENSITIVE

 

DEPARTMENT FOR EAP/BCLTV, INR/B

PACOM OF FPA (HUSO)

 

E.O. 12958: N/A

TAGS: PGOV, PREL, TH, Political Parties, Southern Thailand, US-Thai FTA, BIO Info

SUBJECT: THAILAND: AMBASSADOR CALLS ON NEW DEMOCRAT PARTY

LEADER APHISIT

 

REF: BANGKOK 1933

 

1. (SBU) SUMMARY: On March 21 the Ambassador met with

newly installed Democrat Party (DP) leader Aphisit

Wetchachiwa. Aphisit spoke candidly about mistakes made by

the DP during the election and discussed how he hoped to form

the party into an effective opposition to Prime Minister

Thaksin\’s Thai Rak Thai (TRT) party. Acknowledging the

seriousness of the situation in southern Thailand, Aphisit

said the creation of a National Reconciliation Commission

(NRC) offered the Thaksin administration a rare opportunity

to change its current failing policy; but the DP was not

convinced Thaksin would turn from populist calls for a

continued hard-line approach. Aphisit said Free Trade

Agreements would continue to be the government\’s highest

external priority. Aphisit is young, smart, telegenic,

articulate, and ambitious and could develop into a serious

future challenger for Thaksin. END SUMMARY

 

AFTER THE ELECTION DISASTER, A NEW DEMOCRAT LEADER

 

2. (U) On March 21 the Ambassador met with newly installed

Democrat Party (DP) leader Aphisit Wetchachiwa at the party\’s

headquarters. Aphisit assumed leadership of the DP after

Banyat Bantadtan stepped down (along with the entire DP

Executive Board) on February 8, 2005 following the party\’s

staggering defeat in the general election. The DP\’s 96 seats

in Parliament leave them unable to raise censure motions

against Prime Minister Thaksin\’s ministers.

 

3. (U) The DP, with more that 3.8 million registered

members, is Thailand\’s oldest active political party and has

deep roots in modern Thai democratic history (reftel).

However, the party has struggled with its current role as the

opposition party and has developed few successful approaches

to confront Thaksin and the TRT. During the election, the DP

was unable to pose a strong alternative to Thaksin, offering

policies that mimicked the TRT\’s while virtually conceding

defeat more than a year in advance.

 

WHAT HAPPENED TO THE DEMOCRATS IN THE ELECTION?

 

4. (SBU) Discussing the recent election, Aphisit admitted

the DP never offered a credible alternative to Thaksin and

Thai Rak Thai (TRT). He said the DP had \”no clear message,\”

and didn\’t offer policy ideas clearly different from

Thaksin\’s populist measures. Aphisit said the DP would not

be an effective opposition party until they convinced the

public that they could effectively govern the country. He

promised that the DP would start offering alternatives to

Thaksin and TRT, instead of just criticizing from the

sidelines.

 

5. (SBU) Aphisit has indicated publicly that he is serious

about restructuring the DP to be more pro-active and capable

of dealing with the new style of politics that Thaksin has

introduced. He has also set a target of attracting at least

14 million votes in the 2009 general election; almost double

the votes the party received in February of this year.

Aphisit told the Ambassador that the DP would learn from

Thaksin and TRT\’s sophisticated campaign methods.

 

BECOMING AN EFFECTIVE OPPOSITION

 

6. (SBU) Aphisit agreed that Thai politics is evolving into

a two party system. However, the DP has a long way to go

before it is a credible alternative to Thaksin\’s TRT.

Aphisit said that the DP\’s goal was to establish a \”shadow\”

cabinet within two years, and within four years to have

developed enough credibility with the public to be viewed as

a real alternative to TRT.

 

WILLING TO WORK WITH THAKSIN ON THE SOUTH

 

7. (SBU) The Democrats won decisively in southern Thailand,

winning 52 of the region\’s 54 seats. They did especially

well in the three troubled provinces of Pattani, Yala, and

Narathiwat, winning 10 of 11 seats — including six held by

TRT incumbents. The DP\’s strong regional victory seems to

indicate a popular backlash to the Government\’s heavy-handed

security policy. Following the election, Aphisit has

traveled to the region, and has publicly discussed

alternatives to Thaksin\’s policies.

 

8. (SBU) Aphisit told the Ambassador the situation in

Thailand\’s far south is a \”national problem,\” and that he is

willing to work with the Thaksin administration. He said

there had been some hopeful recent developments in the South,

leading to a more conciliatory atmosphere. Aphisit said as

members of the National Reconciliation Commission (NRC) are

publicly announced — and as new policies were presented —

the DP would offer suggestions and would not be overly

critical.

 

9. (SBU) Aphisit opined that the creation of the NRC gave

the government a small window of opportunity to change its

approach to the problems of southern Thailand. Aphisit said

Anand Panyarachun, the universally respected former Prime

Minister and designated Chairman of the NRC, will give the

government good advice, and would not be unduly influenced or

bullied by Thaksin. Aphisit is worried, however, that

Thaksin will \”respond\” to public opinion — which clamors for

a hard-line approach — and end up ignoring the NRC\’s

findings.

 

10. (SBU) Aphisit blames Thaksin for the deteriorating

situation in the south and the widening gap between the

Buddhist and Muslim communities. He cited Thaksin\’s decision

to dissolve the combined civilian, military and police

command (CMP-43), which had been successful in building trust

among the local populace and coordinating security forces,

and his insensitive statements about Muslims. He said

Thaksin\’s hard-line approach plays right into separatist

hands by further alienating the population.

 

U.S./THAI RELATIONS – FOCUS ON THE FTA

 

11. (SBU) Turning toward the state of U.S./Thai relations,

Aphisit noted that much of the public\’s perceptions of the

U.S. would be influenced by developments in Iraq. He said

the government, however, is focused on the FTA. Aphisit

believes that Thaksin wants Thailand to become the first

country to have an FTA with China, India, Japan, and the U.S.

He said that the FTA will be the focus of our bilateral

relationship, and is correspondingly at the top of the DP\’s

agenda.

 

COMMENT

 

12. (SBU) Aphisit is very articulate and speaks in a crisp

English accent. He has made for TV good looks, and appears

even younger than his 40 years. With his appearance,

intellect, and experience, Aphisit could evolve into a

formidable political presence. However, he has yet to

demonstrate a forceful personality needed to counter

Thaksin\’s. Aphisit also has a huge challenge in crafting the

often fractious Democrats into a real opposition party, with

national reach, that can stand up to Thai Rak Thai and

recapture Government House. END COMMENT

 

BIOGRAPHIC NOTE

 

13. (U) Aphisit was born on August 3, 1964, in Bangkok.

His father, Dr. Atthasit Wetchachiwa, was Deputy Public

Health Minister in the Anand Panyarachun Administration. He

completed junior and senior high school at Eaton College,

England. Aphisit continued his studies in England, receiving

a bachelor\’s degree in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics

(with First Class Honors) from Oxford University in 1986.

Upon returning to Thailand he taught economics for two years

at Chulachomklao Royal Military Academy, earning the rank of

Army Sub-Lieutenant. During this period he earned a LL.B.

from Ramkhamhaeng University. Aphisit then returned to

England where he completed a master\’s degree in Economics at

Oxford University, ranking first among 200 graduates.

 

14. (U) Due to his extraordinary academic record Aphisit

was admitted to the Economics Faculty of Thammasat University

in 1990 without undergoing the normal written examination.

During his two-year teaching stint at Thammasat he was well

regarded by both colleagues and students. During a one-year

period after the 1991-coup d\’etat Aphisit joined the

well-known economist and TV commentator Dr. Choemsak Pinthong

in running a political-oriented TV program \”Mong Tang Mum\” or

\”From Different Angles\”. Aphisit was an active academic

during this period, and publicly stood against the

military-dominated regime.

 

15. (U) Aphisit began his political career in March 1992

when he won a close race over a Phalang Tham Party candidate

to become the DP\’s only Bangkok MP. His decision to enter

politics came as no surprise to colleagues familiar with his

political ambition. He won successive elections in September

1992, July 1995, and November 1996. In the January 2001 and

February 2005 elections, he was elected from the DP Party

List.

 

16. (U) Aphisit was Government Spokesman from 1992-1994,

Deputy Secretary to the Prime Minister in 1995, Chairman of

the House Standing Committee on Education during 1996-1997,

and Minister attached to the PM\’s Office from 1997-2001 —

his first ministerial assignment. At the DP\’s general

meeting on April 20, 2003, he lost a bitter leadership

contest to Banyat Bantadtan after former Prime Minister Chuan

Leekpai stepped down as DP leader. In that meeting, he was

chosen as the first deputy party leader.

 

17. (U) Following the TRT\’s landslide victory in the

February 2005 general election, the DP General Assembly

elected Aphisit as the new Party Leader with veteran southern

MP Suthep Thuaksuban as the Party Secretary General.

 

18. (U) Aphisit is married to Phimphen, the daughter of a

political scientist of Chulalongkorn University, Phongphen

Sakuntaphai, and a Bank of Thailand Assistant Governor,

Praphaiphan. They have 2 young children. END BIOGRAPHIC NOTE

BOYCE

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Written by thaicables

July 6, 2011 at 7:59 am

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