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06BANGKOK1034 GANGING UP ON THAKSIN — SNAP ELECTIONS NEXT?

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“53665″,”2/21/2006 12:41″,”06BANGKOK1034″,

 

“Embassy Bangkok”,”CONFIDENTIAL”,

“06BANGKOK538|06BANGKOK922|06BANGKOK969”,

“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 02 BANGKOK 001034

 

SIPDIS

 

SIPDIS

 

E.O. 12958: DECL: 02/20/2016

TAGS: PGOV, PHUM, TH, Thai Prime Minister

SUBJECT: GANGING UP ON THAKSIN — SNAP ELECTIONS NEXT?

 

REF: A. BANGKOK 969

B. BANGKOK 922

C. BANGKOK 0538

 

Classified By: Ambassador Ralph L. Boyce, reason 1.4 (b) (d)

 

1. (C) SUMMARY: Things are getting worse for the Prime

Minister. A prominent leader of the 1992 democracy movement

has joined the anti-Thaksin coalition, calling on Thaksin to

resign and promising to join the protest on Sunday. Retired

General Chamlong Srimuang\’s political influence has declined,

but he is still famous and respected as a deeply religious

anti-corruption campaigner. More significant, he is

Thaksin\’s political mentor, having brought him into politics

twelve years ago. As the PM\’s woes mount, we believe that he

is considering calling a snap election. It is unclear if

this move would quiet his opponents, who understand the

difficulty of beating TRT, even in a fair contest. END

SUMMARY.

 

ONWARD, BUDDHIST SOLDIERS…

—————————–

 

2. (C) Bit by bit, the coalition against Prime Minister

Thaksin Shinnawatra continues to grow. On Saturday, a leader

of the 1992 movement that ousted the military government

announced his support for the anti-government coalition and

called on Thaksin to resign. Chamlong Srimuang, a retired

general and former governor of Bangkok, was a prominent

political figure in the 1980\’s and 1990\’s; his political

influence has waned, but he still has star power. His

criticism of Thaksin is especially noteworthy as he was the

PM\’s first political mentor: Thaksin got his start in

Chamlong\’s Palang Dharma party twelve ago. Chamlong is an

outspoken critic of government corruption, a \”Mr. Clean\” who

adheres to strict Buddhist precepts and organizes his

supporters to demonstrate against social evils like alcohol.

He says he will lead his \”Dharma Army\” to participate in the

next protest rally on Feb. 26.

 

3. (C) Chamlong brings some baggage along with him. After

leading the popular uprising against the military

dictatorship in 1992, he was blamed by some for contributing

to the violence and the deaths of demonstrators. He stepped

down from political life for several years to atone for his

role in the bloodshed. Some press and NGOs are raising

concerns that his participation on Sunday could spark

violence in what have been, up to now, largely peaceful

protests.

 

4. (C) Following Chamlong\’s announcement, the PM convened an

emergency cabinet meeting at his house the next night, then

called for a special joint session of Parliament next month

to debate the recent criticisms of the government. The move

was dismissed as \”too little, too late\” in one newspaper

headline: this probably reflects the general view of the

opposition, which smells blood.

 

5. (C) During a meeting with visiting US Senator Feingold on

February 20, the PM was clearly tense and preoccupied. Asked

about the political climate, he shrugged off the threat to

his government and maintained that he was still in a strong

position. The Ambassador heard a different viewpoint in a

surprisingly candid comment from a Deputy Permanent Secretary

at the Ministry of Defense, following the Senator\’s call on

the Minister. Admiral Banawit, while walking the Ambassador

out of the meeting, noted that the demonstration on Sunday

would be big and that \”the government would fall\” because

\”Chamlong is very effective.\” He seemed pretty cheerful

about it. (Comment: Banawit is an acolyte of Privy Council

Chairman Prem Tinsulanonda, which makes his enthusiasm for

Thaksin\’s downfall doubly interesting. End Comment.)

 

SNAP ELECTIONS

————–

 

6. (C) It appears that the PM is considering calling snap

elections. A government spokesman over the weekend said that

dissolving parliament might be a way out of the political

crisis. Thaksin has denied he is considering the option. He

is left with few other ways, however, to slow the momentum of

the opposition. Thaksin will assume, like most observers,

that his Thai Rak Thai (TRT) will be able to garner a strong

majority again in new elections. TRT support seems to be

declining, but its majority (375 out of 500 seats) is so

large that it can slip a long way and still be ahead. Over

the weekend, one of the more credible polling organizations

here (ABAC) reported a precipitous fall in Thaksin\’s

popularity rating, from 58 percent four months ago to 34

percent now. Some of this decline is probably due to the

modest but notable shift in the media. While pro-government

messages still dominate the broadcast media, print media is

showing some more independence. Papers that formerly ignored

political stories or toed the government line are cautiously

increasing their coverage of criticism, particularly of the

Shin Corp deal. And even the broadcast media cannot ignore

the fact of the large and repeated anti-Thaksin rallies.

Nonetheless, TRT has money, power and a grass roots structure

that would be hard to beat.

 

7. (C) In a meeting with the Ambassador on Friday, February

17, a close advisor to Thaksin discussed TRT\’s options.

Pansak Vinyaratn blamed the PM\’s problems on a failure to

communicate. He said that Thaksin had not explained the

\”conventional\” nature of the Shin Corp transaction well

enough. The opposition is making untrue accusations, or

criticizing things which are \”normal business practice.\” TRT

will respond by counter-attacking against questionable

business practices by the opposition and by clarifying the

questions around Shin Corp. Pansak said that the party had

good polling data which showed it was still strong. The

worst case scenario, he said, is to call new elections, which

\”TRT will win\” anyway. The Ambassador asked what would

happen if the situation got worse and something provoked an

intervention by the Palace. Pansak replied that TRT would

not allow this to happen, tacitly acknowledging that such an

intervention would be inimical to Thaksin\’s interests.

 

COMMENT – IS IT ENOUGH?

————————-

 

8. (C) Calling snap elections is probably Thaksin\’s smartest

move, but it may not be enough. The opposition can also read

the polling data; they didn\’t go to all this trouble just to

get stomped by TRT on election day again. Thaksin\’s

manipulation of the institutions of government have left the

opposition with little faith in the Electoral Commission or

other official bodies to carry our fair elections. We

understand that some of the opposition forces are still

hoping for a scenario in which the King intervenes, sets up a

caretaker government for an interval (in part to allow

consideration of amendments to the Constitution) and which

then serves as an impartial administrator of the next

elections. We still see little sign as yet that the King or

his closest advisors want to get drawn into this kind of

political role.

 

9. (C) We believe that Thaksin and TRT are still weighing

their options on early elections. Thaksin will be extremely

reluctant to show any weakness or make any concession to the

opposition; it\’s just not his style. But he has very few

other cards to play against an opposition movement that,

although not enormous, just won\’t quit. End Comment.

BOYCE

 

Written by thaicables

July 10, 2011 at 4:01 am

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