06BANGKOK1214 PRIVY COUNCILLOR/FORMER ARMY COMMANDER ON STATE OF PLAY
,”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 BANGKOK 001214
E.O. 12958: DECL: 02/27/2016
TAGS: PGOV, PHUM, TH, Thai Prime Minister
SUBJECT: PRIVY COUNCILLOR/FORMER ARMY COMMANDER ON STATE OF
Classified By: Ambassador Ralph L. Boyce reason 1.4 (b) (d)
1. (C) SUMMARY: Retired Army Commander and current Privy
Counselor General Surayud Chulanont told the Ambassador on
February 28 that the political situation was \”a mess\” while
asserting that there was no interest on the part of the
military in getting involved. Similarly, he said that the
King was not choosing sides. He was critical of Thaksin\’s
corruption, but assessed that the PM still enjoyed strong
support among his core constituency up-country. End summary.
2. (C) The Ambassador met on February 28 with Gen. Surayud
Chulanont, a highly-respected member of the King\’s Privy
Council and a retired Army Commander, to discuss the current
political situation. Surayud described the political
situation as \”a mess.\” He said that two \”willful\”
characters, Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and Dharma Army
leader Chamlong Srimuang, were locked in a confrontation.
Surayud said that Chamlong was no longer as important as he
had been in 1992, when he led the democracy demonstrations
that brought down the military government, but he still has a
lot of influence. Chamlong\’s leadership of the \”Santi Asoke\”
religious sect gives him control of a large number of
followers (the Dharma Army) that he can turn out for
demonstrations. His sudden involvement in the anti-Thaksin
movement has exacerbated the \”no compromise\” nature of the
THE KING IS NEUTRAL
3. (C) Surayud said that the King was not taking sides.
Nonetheless, both sides were trying to drag him in. Media
firebrand Sondhi Limthongkul had taken the lead, with his
constant references to the King in his weekly demonstrations.
Thaksin has played this card as well. (Comment: For
example, in his weekly radio address right before the
February 4 demonstrations, Thaksin commented that the King
\”only had to whisper in his ear\” and he\’d resign. Surayud
said that Thaksin\’s comment caused great perturbation among
the Thai and was an inappropriate reference to the monarch.
End comment.) The King\’s focus is on preserving the
monarchy, according to Surayud. The King also, naturally,
wants there to be no violence.
THE ARMY IS NEUTRAL
4. (C) The military also doesn\’t want to intervene on either
side, according to Surayud. He admitted that there had been
\”some talk\” within the military about the option of a
\”one-day\” coup which would turn power over to the King. (Some
of this has been picked up by the press.) But Surayud said he
had spoken directly to Army Commander Sonthi (a Surayud
protege) and he absolutely did not support such a move.
Surayud noted with discomfort that his name has been
mentioned as a possible interim Prime Minister in case of a
coup, and said that he was keeping a very low profile in
order to avoid fueling such speculation.
5. (C) Surayud noted that, while the Democrats had been
trying to run the country in the wake of the 1997 financial
crisis, businessman Thaksin had made himself master of the
ins and outs of the new constitution. Once in office, he had
weakened the institutions set up by the constitution as a
limit on the PM\’s power. Surayud recalled talking to Thaksin
early in the PM\’s first term, and warning him that he had to
avoid the taint of corruption, since the Thai people would
not stand for that. Surayud, referring to the controversial
Shin Corp sale, commented, \”I guess he just couldn\’t help
himself.\” However, despite the outrage by the Bangkok elite,
Surayud felt that Thaksin was still popular with the people
who form the core of his support: the poor, farmers, and the
working class, particularly up-country.
6. (C) Comment: We think Surayud is right on all counts.
Rumors of coup plotting can be expected to circulate widely,
given the military\’s previous role. As things stand now, we
do not believe that the military wants to step in, nor does
the King want to be caught in the middle. Unfortunately, it
is not yet clear how this confrontation between the two
\”willful\” sides can be resolved.