06BANGKOK1208 PERSPECTIVES ON CURRENT POLITICAL STALEMATE
“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 001208
E.O. 12958: DECL: 02/27/2016
TAGS: PGOV, PHUM, TH, Thai Political Updates, Thai Prime Minister, Elections – Thai
SUBJECT: THAILAND: PERSPECTIVES ON CURRENT POLITICAL
REF: A. BANGKOK 1091
B. BANGKOK 0538
C. 05 BANGKOK 7197
Classified By: Ambassador Ralph L. Boyce, reason 1.4 (b) (d)
1. (C) Summary and Introduction: The Thai political system
is working through its biggest crisis since 1992. Prime
Minister Thaksin Shinawatra enjoyed a precipitous rise to
power in 2001. Since then, he has dominated all the elements
of government that were intended to balance the increased
powers given the PM in the 1997 constitution. This has
revealed weaknesses in the constitution and the political
system that Thaksin has no interest in fixing, since they
benefit him. Faced with a tilted playing field, the
opposition, at least for now, has resorted to a time-honored
tactic of minority parties: to boycott elections in order to
highlight their inherent unfairness. This move may force an
impasse that takes Thai politics into territory uncharted by
the constitution. At this point, we believe there is a
reasonably good chance the Thai will work through this
problem peacefully, and in a way that will be considered
generally acceptable and legitimate here. This may involve
some creative interpretations of their constitution; a role
for the King is entirely conceivable. Embassy recommends
that the USG message emphasize:
1) respect for democratic process;
2) importance of restraint and peaceful methods; and
3) resolution that reflects the will of the Thai people.
We are in a good position. We have frank communications with
the government, NGOs and the opposition parties. We have
used our contacts with police and military to caution against
the use of force against peaceful demonstrators, a coup, or
other illegal intervention by the security forces. We should
allow the players here to work through the problem, carefully
limiting our statements to avoid being seen as taking sides.
End Summary and Introduction
IVORY TOWER MEETS SMOKY BACK ROOM
2. (C) Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra has changed the
nature of Thai politics. The 1997 constitution sought to
strengthen the role of the Prime Minister in order to avoid
continuation of weak, short-lived and often ineffective
governments that had plagued Thailand under civilian rule.
The constitution also called for the creation of a range of
institutions to counterbalance that increased power. For
example, the state was supposed to divest itself of control
of broadcast media by allocating broadcast frequencies in a
transparent manner through an independent regulatory agency.
It was supposed to have strong anti-corruption watchdogs in
the National Counter-Corruption Commission (NCCC) and the
Auditor General. A non-partisan Senate, composed of
respected and well-known leaders of society, was supposed to
be involved in the selection of the members of these
institutions, with the King approving them.
3. (C) The problem is, it didn\’t work. The Senate is not
an independent body. A large number of the senators are
unabashed TRT supporters, whether through conviction or out
of self-interest, in exchange for pay-offs or other favors.
In a cascade effect, one after another of the watchdog
institutions has either succumbed to TRT control or been
strangled at birth. The Election Commission and the
Constitutional Court are widely believed to be excessively
influenced by TRT. The NCCC and the National Broadcasting
Commission are not functioning, due to bureaucratic problems
in a Senate that lacks the commitment to push through
credible appointments to these important oversight bodies.
Money politics is nothing new here, but Thaksin is one of the
richest men in Thailand, and he has played the game expertly.
The drafters of the Constitution clearly underestimated that
ability of a strong, determined Prime Minister to turn these
institutions into toothless tigers.
4. (C) As we have reported (ref A, C), the opposition parties
see no way to break through the TRT\’s control of the media
and other institutions. Given only a month to organize a
electoral challenge, the main opposition parties have opted
— for the time being — not to lend legitimacy to this
process by participating in it. As they further point out,
the problem is not with the Parliament, the problem is with
Thaksin. Meanwhile, the demonstrators are not calling for
new elections, they are demanding Thaksin\’s removal,
primarily because they believe, with some justification, that
he violated the law with some aspects of his Shin Corp sale
(ref B), and that he will get away with it because no
institution is strong enough to hold him accountable.
HIT THE \’RESET\’ BUTTON
5. (C) What will happen now? It is possible that Thaksin and
the TRT will hang together and barrel forward to elections on
April 2, without the participation of the boycotters.
However, we think that this is an unlikely outcome at this
point. Without the three opposition parties, the elections
will clearly lack legitimacy.
6. (C) At one end of the spectrum, there are solutions to
the impasse that bring the opposition parties back to the
table. Thaksin may finally offer a compromise acceptable to
them. Yesterday, he announced he was willing to discuss
constitutional reform issues, but his offer fell so far short
of the opposition party demands that they could not accept
it. Today, he said he was willing to delay the elections to
give the opposition more time to prepare. Thaksin knows that
the opposition parties decided on the boycott strategy with
great reluctance, and may be open to compromise. The NGOs
that are leading the charge against the PM will keep the
pressure on the parties to hold the line, however.
7. (C) Or, the Thai ship of state may sail off into uncharted
territory for a while. Commentators are referring to the
constitution\’s Article 7: \”Whenever no provision under this
Constitution is applicable to any case, it shall be decided
in accordance with the constitutional practice in the
democratic regime of government with the King as Head of
State.\” This seems to be a very Thai provision that
essentially says, \”do whatever works as long as most everyone
can agree on it, and the King will approve it.\” Solutions at
this end of the spectrum could involve more direct pressure
on Thaksin to resign, the appointment of some kind of
interim, compromise government under the royal aegis to
oversee constitutional changes and new elections, or some
other option we haven\’t thought of yet.
OUR ROLE – DON\’T GET IN THE MIDDLE OF THIS
8. (C) Our first interest is to use our influence to ward
off any move by the security forces to use force against
peaceful protesters or to intervene in the political process.
We have been emphasizing this concern with our RTG contacts.
So far, we believe that the police have made the decision to
behave responsibly in policing the demonstrations, and the
Army is reluctant to intervene. This is encouraging.
9. (C) Our next interest is to ensure that the U.S. is not
seen as taking sides in a political contest that needs to be
decided by the Thai people. Both sides have looked for ways
to drag the U.S. into this fight. Our FTA negotiations have
been used to whip up a frenzy of opposition to the Prime
Minister, who in turn likes to highlight his close
relationship with the U.S. In our statements, we should
emphasize the need for a peaceful outcome, but avoid getting
drawn into discussions about what is or is not constitutional
here. Because the TRT is attempting to paint the opposition
boycott as unconstitutional and illegal, we need to be
particularly careful about the words we choose.
SUGGESTED PRESS GUIDANCE
10. (C) — We urge all parties in the current confrontation
in Thailand to refrain from the use of force and to find a
peaceful solution to the current impasse.
— Thailand has experienced a series of large demonstrations.
They have been peaceful. The police have behaved
responsibly. We believe that the Thai people have the
political maturity to continue to work toward a solution to
the political questions they are facing.
Q: Do we support the opposition\’s boycott of the elections?
A: — It is up to the Thai people to decide whether to
support the boycott or not.
Q: If the opposition parties don\’t participate in the
elections, are they free and fair?
A:– We are not going to speculate. We believe the Thai
people and their leadership can work through this problem.