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06BANGKOK2991 MANICHAEAN STRUGGLE FOR THE SOUL OF THAILAND

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“64503”,”5/18/2006 9:51″,”06BANGKOK2991″,”Embassy Bangkok”,”CONFIDENTIAL”,””,

“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 002991

 

SIPDIS

 

SIPDIS

 

SINGAPORE PLEASE PASS A/S HILL FROM AMBASSADOR BOYCE

 

E.O. 12958: DECL: 05/17/2016

TAGS: PGOV, PHUM, TH, Thai Political Updates

SUBJECT: MANICHAEAN STRUGGLE FOR THE SOUL OF THAILAND

 

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

 

1. (C) Summary and introduction: The Thai political crisis

has grown increasingly complicated, as multiple lawsuits work

their way through the three high courts, charged by the King

with finding a solution to the \”mess\” created by the

\”undemocratic\” April 2 parliamentary elections. Thailand will

spend most of 2006 in a protracted political crisis. I would

like to take a break from our play-by-play reporting to look

at the longer term prospects for Prime Minister Thaksin, and

for Thai democracy, as a result of the crisis.

 

2. (C) At issue is not just who will be the next prime

minister. Rather, this is a confrontation between different

models for Thai society, playing out in the struggle between

the beloved King, and all he represents, and the popular

prime minister, and what he portends. Right now, the

momentum is running against Thaksin, who may have to pay a

high price for his hubris. But in the longer run, the King

is old and the Thailand he represents is changing. Thaksin

faces serious challenges right now, but he, or someone like

him, is likely to be back. That said, we think that Thai

democracy may be stronger, as a result of the event of this

year, the next time around. End summary and introduction.

 

THE KING

——–

 

3. (C) On the one hand, the King represents traditional

Thai values: respect for age and authority, moderation,

modesty, and Buddhist values. He is the father of the people,

his country is the Thailand of the rice farmers. He champions

\”sufficiency economy,\” in which people eschew debt and dreams

of quick riches, and instead build their lives around honest

labor and prudent investment. Pictures of him are everywhere

in the country, iconographic images often showing him with

the elderly, the poor, and children.

 

4. (C) On the other hand, to some the King represents an old

and perhaps out-dated order. His periodic interventions in

Thai politics may, as in 1992, have had a positive influence,

but he has also supported military governments and condoned

their human rights abuses in the past. Governments come and

go, but the King has been there since before most Thai were

born. Knowing this to some degree discourages the Thai from

taking the training wheels off their democracy, building

strong institutions and relying on them, instead of the

monarch, to unify their nation and defend their rights.

 

THE POLITICIAN

————–

 

4. (C) On the one hand, Thaksin Shinawatra represents a

modern political and economic order. He is decisive, not

risk-averse, confident about himself and about Thailand\’s

place in the world. He is the CEO of Thailand, Inc. His

Thailand is best symbolized by Bangkok\’s many luxury shopping

malls — it\’s big! it\’s modern! everything here is imported

and expensive! He advocates a mixture of capitalism (red in

tooth and claw) with populism. He tells the rural people to

do what he did — borrow money, think big, leave behind your

rural roots, play the system, and strike it rich. I did, and

so can you. People don\’t put up his photos, but his Shin

Corp. products are everywhere — its cell phones in every

shopping center and many pockets, its TV station beamed to

every TV set.

 

5. (C) On the other hand, to some people Thaksin represents

everything that is wrong with development in southeast Asia.

He is greedy, corrupt, inherently undemocratic under his

facade, (did we mention corrupt?), conceited and

self–promoting. In his heart, he defers to no one — not to

age, not to Buddhist hierarchy, and not to the King. He

introduced many positive aspects to Thai politics: his party

had a platform that attracted rural voters, and he kept many

of his promises to them, introducing the 30 baht health

scheme and cheap credit for farmers. But the cost was high

— a Prime Minister who, in the end, disdains many of the key

features of a democracy, such as a free press and civil

society, and was eager to grasp power more openly and

greedily than any civilian PM before him.

 

THE STRUGGLE

————

 

6. (C) The conflict between these two political orders has

played out under the surface for several years, as Thaksin\’s

power grew. It is now being fought out in the daily

headlines, as the Courts demolish the April parliamentary

elections and attempt to dismantle Thaksin\’s political

machine, starting with the Election Commission (EC). With

the annulment of the elections, we may never know to what

extent elements of the Electoral Commission actually abused

their power. However, the EC decisions as they administered

the April elections so effectively favored TRT — whatever

their reason — that the EC lost all credibility. The

refusal of the majority of the commissioners to resign, even

in the face of the King\’s statement and the courts\’

direction, is almost unbelievable, and lends credence to

suspicions that they are staying in order to prevent a new

commission from finding the skeletons in their closet.

 

7. (C) Right now, the momentum is all on the side of the

courts. Almost everyone here presumes that the EC will be

forced to resign. The information about the role of the

ruling Thai Rak Thai (TRT) party in subverting the elections

(by paying off microparties in order to avoid the mandatory

20 percent minimum in one-party races) will likely come out

completely. If the leaked information available so far is

correct, there is a very good prospect that TRT will be

dissolved and the party leaders, including Thaksin, banned

from politics for five years.

 

SOME LIVES HAVE SECOND ACTS

—————————

 

8. (C) Of late, Thaksin has begun complaining that he was

the victim of a palace coup and that he could not return as

prime minister as long as this King lives. Melodramatics

aside, we think that Thaksin may wind up taking a \”political

break\” that is rather longer the year or so he anticipated.

Even if Thaksin somehow successfully wards off the attacks on

himself and his party and emerges as prime minister in the

next government, he would be constrained by the

newly-invigorated courts and press, and the knowledge that he

is not as invincible as he thought. But Thaksin is only 57.

The King is 78. Even if \”the worst\” happens — Thaksin is

banned for five years, or truly cannot return until the King

dies — he knows he has time to make a comeback. He has

cultivated a good relationship with the Crown Prince,

expected to take the throne upon his father\’s death. He is

enormously rich. Thaksin cannot be counted out for the long

term, whatever happens over the next few months.

 

9. (C) However, just as the King\’s Thailand of poor but

honest rice farmers is slipping into history. the

circumstances that allowed Thaksin so seize so much power are

also changing, and have been altered by the current crisis.

Many Thai intellectuals view the current crisis

philosophically, and feel that the democracy here will be

strengthened by what has happened. In particular, the vigor

with which the courts have taken on the entrenched power of

the ruling party is unprecedented and encouraging. The

Peoples\’ Alliance for Democracy and opposition political

parties have taken to the country road to try to bridge the

perception gap on Thaksin and his policies between the city

and the countryside, an important step to building broader

support for real democracy.

 

CONCLUSION

———-

 

10. (C) There is always a price to be paid for change. The

Thai have, amazingly, avoided bloodshed and are using

constitutional means to solve an extremely complicated

problem. True, they will be without a \”real\’ government for

most of 2006, and this will have implications, particularly

for the economy. If this investment pays off, however, it

means that the next wealthy politician who tries to arrogate

excessive power to himself will face a tougher challenge,

even if this King is no longer there to call him to account.

BOYCE

Written by thaicables

July 11, 2011 at 8:20 am

One Response

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  1. […] posted on any Wikileaks material for a while, and it is time to get back to the cables. In this cable, dated 18 May 2006, U.S. Ambassador Ralph L. Boyce looks at the deeper meanings of the political struggle going on in […]


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