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06BANGKOK2048 THAKSIN TAKES A BREAK. WHAT NEXT?

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“59434”,”4/5/2006 11:53″,”06BANGKOK2048″,

 

“Embassy Bangkok”,”CONFIDENTIAL”,””,”VZCZCXRO2926

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INFO RUEHZS/ASSOCIATION OF SOUTHEAST ASIAN NATIONS

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E.O. 12958: DECL: 04/04/2016

TAGS: PGOV, PHUM, TH

SUBJECT: THAKSIN TAKES A BREAK. WHAT NEXT?

 

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

 

1. (C) SUMMARY: Thaksin announced on April 4 that he would

not seek another term as Prime Minister. He will remain as an

MP, and as head of his Thai Rak Thai (TRT) party. Although

we had heard for weeks that this was one possible outcome, it

appears that Thaksin was keeping his options open until the

last minute, and his decision surprised many after his feisty

TV appearance Monday night. Because he made his announcement

soon after an audience with the King, speculation abounds

that the King \”whispered in his ear,\” i.e., gave him the word

to step aside. We are not inclined to believe this. The

opposition protesters also agreed to \”take a break\” after

their \”victory rally\” on April 7, but threatened to come back

if Thaksin isn\’t really gone by the end of the month.

Thaksin sprang another surprise on Wednesday, when he

announced that he was taking some leave, and left his DPM to

look after the shop. Although Thaksin\’s decision defused

much of the dangerous tension in the country and, as such,

was welcomed by a wide spectrum of Thais, there are many,

many loose ends to be tied up. It is not clear how the new

parliament will be seated or how the new administration will

govern. END SUMMARY.

 

2. (C) Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra told the country

Tuesday evening that he would not seek another term as Prime

Minister. He said that he would remain as caretaker until the

new Parliament is seated and a new Prime Minister is named,

after which he would continue as an MP and as leader of his

Thai Rak Thai (TRT) party. He apologized to the voters who

had supported him in the election on Sunday, but said that he

would step aside in order to promote national reconciliation.

He highlighted the importance of the upcoming celebrations

for the King\’s 60th year on the throne, an extremely

auspicious anniversary, to which many crowned heads of states

and other foreign dignitaries have been invited).

 

DID HE JUMP OR WAS HE PUSHED?

—————————-

 

3. (C) Word had been circulating for weeks that Thaksin might

be considering \”taking a break\” after the elections.

However, it was clear that hard-liners within TRT were

pushing him to fight on, as recently as yesterday prior to

his announcement. Sunday\’s election results, while

disappointing for TRT, were hardly catastrophic, as TRT

appeared certain to take more than 50 percent of the vote.

The opposition boycott contributed to a number of

constitutional problems, but Election Committee officials

seem to have devised a gameplan to resolve most of them

(septel). Our assessment is that Thaksin was weighing his

options up until the last minute. From our contacts within

TRT, it appears that they also did not have much advance

notice of Thaksin\’s decision.

 

4. (C) Much has been made already of Thaksin\’s audience

with the King on Tuesday afternoon, shortly before he

announced his decision on national television. The domestic

and international news media have reported — and many Thais

seem to want to believe — that the King gave Thaksin \”the

whisper in his ear\” to tell him to take a break. They point

to the incongruity between Thaksin\’s \”resignation speech\” and

his defiant, tough talk on television the previous evening,

when he claimed victory, and said that he could not change

his position 180 degrees unless he was forced to by a higher

authority. More likely, Thaksin was following through on his

contingency plan, in case the election was not an

overwhelming victory, \”to take a break\” until the heat dies

down.

 

OPPOSITION STILL WARY

———————-

 

5. (C) After their initial skeptical reaction to the PM\’s

speech Monday night, elements of the opposition began to

shift their stance (perhaps in response to further contacts

from within TRT) By late Tuesday, the PAD was prepared to

say that they would stop their demonstrations if Thaksin

would step down. The opposition parties agreed to

participate in the next full election (whenever that will

be). PAD leader Sondhi Limthongkul told the press that PAD

would go ahead with their planned demonstration on April 7

(and make it a victory celebration), but would focus on

educating the public about the just concluded elections,

including questions of fraud. PAD leaders have said that

they will cease demonstrating, but with a caveat: if Thaksin

was still caretaker Prime Minister by the end of the month,

they would return in force. Sondhi also threatened that the

crowds would return if it became clear that Thaksin was

 

BANGKOK 00002048 002 OF 002

 

acting as the power behind the throne in the new Parliament,

despite his official demotion.

 

THINK I\’LL GO EAT WORMS

———————–

 

6. (C) Thaksin indicated his intention to stay on as

caretaker PM until the new government is formed. However,

after the Cabinet meeting on Wednesday, April 5, he again

surprised everyone by announcing that he was taking leave and

would place DPM Chidchai Vanasatidya in charge during the

interim. Chidchai was not officially appointed as acting PM,

he is just empowered to act on Thaksin\’s behalf during his

absence.

 

COMMENT – NOW WHAT?

——————

 

7. (C) Like the King\’s beloved jazz, Thai politics now rely

heavily on improvisation. The main focus in the immediate

term is how the Election Commission will treat the

outstanding constitutional issues that are impeding the

formation of a new Parliament (septel). The Parliament needs

to be seated by May, and a new PM named shortly thereafter.

Several possibilities for new PM have surfaced from within

TRT (DPM Somkid and Parliament Speaker Bhokin among others).

Royal intervention (the so-called invocation of constitution

Article 7) to name someone from outside TRT remains a

possibility, but seems unlikely. TRT may even try to form a

government of national unity, drawing on other parties for

ministers. However, there is still no solution in sight to

give legitimacy to this Parliament made up almost exclusively

of TRT members. It is widely presumed that, whatever

parliament and government result will be in caretaker mode,

until new elections can be held.

 

8. (C) Expectations for the new government will be high —

perhaps unrealistically so. It must figure out a way to heal

some of the major cleavages in the Thai polity by bringing

together credible figures who can hopefully come up with

recommended reforms (and quite possibly constitutional

amendments) to prevent abuses by future Thaksins — or maybe

even Thaksin himself. And, the new administration must focus

on governance, and restore some measure of normalcy to the

country, to reassure business interests, foreign tourists,

visitors and others. Participation by opposition leaders —

the PAD, Democrats, Chart Thai, etc. — will be key. So will

the role of the media, which feels emboldened. Against this

complicated backdrop looms the figure of Thaksin. He is down,

but not yet out. The Thai nation breathed a collective sigh

of relief last night when the PM announced he will not seek

the next term. But Thailand\’s political problems are far

from over.

BOYCE

Written by thaicables

July 11, 2011 at 7:40 am

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