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06BANGKOK1180 MASSIVE PROTEST IN SANAM LUANG – POLITICAL OPPOSITION ADRIFT

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“54552”,”2/28/2006 0:05″,”06BANGKOK1180″,

 

“Embassy Bangkok”,”CONFIDENTIAL”,”06BANGKOK1091″,

“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 001180

 

SIPDIS

 

SIPDIS

 

E.O. 12958: DECL: 02/28/2016

TAGS: PGOV, PHUM, TH, Elections – Thai, Thai Prime Minister, Political Parties

SUBJECT: MASSIVE PROTEST IN SANAM LUANG – POLITICAL

OPPOSITION ADRIFT

 

REF: BANGKOK 1091 AND PREVIOUS

 

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

 

1. (SBU) SUMMARY. Late on Friday, February 24, Prime

Minister Thaksin dissolved the Lower House of Parliament and

announced snap elections to take place on April 2. While the

opposition political parties vacillate in their response to

Thaksin\’s latest maneuver, the demonstration led by the

People\’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) drew well over 100,000

peaceful protesters to Bangkok\’s massive Sanam Luang two days

later. Thaksin, sensing weakness on the part of the

opposition parties, will try to drive a wedge between them

and the street demonstrators. The protesters vow to remain

in Sanam Luang until Thaksin resigns, with or without the

help of the political parties. End Summary.

 

OUT OF MY HOUSE! AND PLEASE COME AGAIN.

 

2. (SBU) On Friday evening, February 24, after an audience

with the King, PM Thaksin announced that he was dissolving

the lower House of Parliament and calling snap elections for

April 2. Thaksin is confident that he retains enough support

in the provinces to go to the polls in April and return

victorious and with a renewed mandate – thus silencing the

critics who have been emboldened by his clumsy actions in the

Ample Rich controversy.

 

3. (U) Not taking victory for granted, Thaksin was out

campaigning over the weekend promoting his latest populist

programs. On Sunday, Thaksin traveled to Lat Krabang to hand

over housing units to low-income families. At the same time,

he continues to promote his latest initiatives to cut taxes

and raise salaries for government workers. Nevertheless,

tensions within the ruling Thai Rak Thai (TRT) are evident.

Disaffected former political \”kingmaker\” Sanoh Thienthong

finally announced his resignation from TRT, citing Thaksin\’s

decision to dissolve Parliament as an effort to evade real

reform. Sanoh and three other of his \”Wang Nam Yen\” faction

members (all relatives of Sanoh) announced their resignation

on Saturday. They will not participate in the April 2 snap

election.

 

100,000 PLUS DESCEND ON SANAM LUANG

 

4. (U) The People\’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) continues to

gather steam in its effort to drive Thaksin out of office.

Sunday, February 26 saw the largest crowd yet assemble in the

historically significant Sanam Luang – site of

anti-government rallies that ushered out unpopular

governments in the 1970s and 1990s. As has become customary,

estimates of crowd size varied dramatically. By our

estimates, more than 100,000 were almost certainly in

attendance at the evening\’s high point. Highlighting the

disparity between reality and what is being reported via the

Thai mass media, one TV channel reported that a mere

5,000-10,000 were in attendance.

 

5. (U) A long list of speakers took the stage to harangue

Thaksin with the usual laundry list of complaints – the Shin

Corp. sell-off, allegations of tax evasion, the US-Thai FTA,

corruption in mega-projects, and now the decision to dissolve

Parliament. Though nothing much new was said, the list of

groups and influential persons joining the movement continues

to grow. Chamlong Srimuang, a former military officer and

spiritual leader of the 1992 movement, and his Santi

Asoke/Dharma Army were highly visible with their blue

uniforms, setting up tents and facilities for the long-haul.

The protesters vow to remain in Sanam Luang until Thaksin

resigns from office. As the first night\’s activities drew to

a close at around 2:00am, The Nation newspaper estimated that

about 10,000 people remained camped out.

 

OPPOSITION PARTIES ADRIFT IN INDECISION

 

6. (SBU) Though the dissolution of Parliament was one widely

anticipated option for Thaksin, the political opposition

parties were caught without a clear, much less coordinated

response. The Democrats initially announced that they would

boycott the snap election, but when Chat Thai Party declined

to follow suit, the Democrats reversed their decision.

(Note: Democrat Party elder Chuan Leekpai was reportedly

opposed to a boycott and pressed Democrat leader Abhisit

Vejjajiva to reverse the Democrat\’s initial position. End

note.) After two days of meetings between the major

opposition parties (the Democrats, Chat Thai and the much

smaller Mahachon), the opposition finally came out with a

joint response that seemed to please no one. The political

parties now say that they will participate in the snap

elections as long as Thaksin agrees to sign a pact promising,

in ambiguous terms, to amend the Constitution.

7. (C) Reaction to this \”decision by committee\” was

predictable. The opposition parties\’ proposal infuriated the

protest leaders whose pressure tactics had forced Thaksin to

call snap elections in the first place. Key PAD leader

Suriyasai Katasila accused the opposition parties of

abandoning the people and siding with Thaksin for their own

benefit. Another leader, Phittaya Wongkul stated that the

protest movement could no longer rely on politicians or the

\”political sector\” to accomplish its goal. (Comment: Many

will view the politicians as driven first by their desire to

hang on to their salaries and perks as MPs. One hundred of

the 500 seats are awarded on a \”party list\” basis, which

means that the top members of the major parties are virtually

guaranteed a seat. And they\’re the ones making the decision.

End comment.)

 

8. (C) Thaksin initially ruled out the opposition\’s proposal

for a pact to cover political reform, noting that he had

already asked the country\’s university rectors to review the

Constitution and suggest amendments. However, Thaksin

quickly sensed an opportunity to drive a wedge between his

opponents; on Monday, February 27, Thaksin announced his

agreement to go along with a variation of the pact proposed

by the opposition parties.

 

9. (C) COMMENT: Thaksin has regrouped momentarily and chosen

the path that offers the best prospects for his political

survival. The popular movement to oust the Prime Minister

that started with Sondhi in Lumpini Park, has broadened and

may still be gaining momentum. For their part, the political

opposition parties have effectively remained on the sidelines

throughout the mounting crisis. By reversing their original

inclination to boycott the April 2 election and giving

Thaksin an escape hatch, the opposition parties undermine the

popular movement that has posed a serious threat to Thaksin\’s

administration. In ensuing days, we will likely see renewed

pressure by the protesters (led by prominent veterans of the

dissident movement) on the opposition parties to rectract

their \”sell out.\” Thaksin will likely try to seize the high

ground by promising vague reforms, all the while gearing up

the TRT machinery for the election campaign ahead. Although

the protesters in Sanam Luang are maintaining their peaceful

vigil for now, they may find that circumstances compel them

to take a more confrontational stance vis-a-vis Thaksin.

BOYCE

Written by thaicables

July 10, 2011 at 4:10 am

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