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06BANGKOK4041 STEAK WITH THAKSIN

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“70592”,”7/7/2006 11:16″,

 

“06BANGKOK4041”,

“Embassy Bangkok”,”CONFIDENTIAL”,

“06BANGKOK2991|06BANGKOK3349|06BANGKOK3538|06BANGKOK3916”,

“VZCZCXRO1806

OO RUEHCHI RUEHDT RUEHHM

DE RUEHBK #4041/01 1881116

ZNY CCCCC ZZH

O 071116Z JUL 06

FM AMEMBASSY BANGKOK

TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 9997

INFO RUEHZS/ASSOCIATION OF SOUTHEAST ASIAN NATIONS

RHEFDIA/DIA WASHDC

RHHMUNA/HQ USPACOM HONOLULU HI

RHHMUNA/CDR USPACOM HONOLULU HI

RHFJSCC/COMMARFORPAC”,”C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 BANGKOK 004041

 

SIPDIS

 

SIPDIS

 

STATE PASS TO USTR

 

E.O. 12958: DECL: 07/06/2016

TAGS: PGOV, PHUM, TH

SUBJECT: STEAK WITH THAKSIN

 

REF: A. BANGKOK 03916 (WHAT\’S THAKSIN UP TO?)

B. BANGKOK 03538 (THAILAND CELEBRATES ITS KING)

C. BANGKOK 03349 (NOODLES WITH THAKSIN)

D. BANGKOK 02991 (MANICHAEAN STRUGGLE FOR THE SOUL

OF THAILAND)

 

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

 

1. (C) SUMMARY: Thaksin told me again that he would not be

back as prime minister, but he still plans to lead his party

to election victory before he steps down. I suggested that

he could lower political tensions and preserve the option to

return as PM in the future if he stepped down soon; he said

that he might do that (or he might not.) Thaksin expressed

no desire to be PM again, but seemed committed to staying on

through the elections. Thaksin defended his lightly veiled

attack on Privy Council president Prem as an effort at

transparency, i.e., revealing the \”unconstitutional\” palace

intrigue against him. He extolled his Thai Rak Thai as a

model of democracy and said that his economic policies had

made the rural population \”richer and smarter\” and therefore

less beholden to the King. This was the root of the King\’s

antipathy to him. Thaksin dismissed the threat from any

opposition force. The Democrat party and the NGO opposition

groups were weak, and the Army would not launch a coup.

Thaksin suggested that we try to finish the Free Trade

Agreement negotiations as soon as a new government is in

place. Although Thaksin seems reconciled to retiring from

political life over the next few years, he cannot seem to

resist the urge to pick a fight with the Palace. His actions

will keep political tensions dangerously high over the coming

months, END SUMMARY

 

2. (C) PM Thaksin invited me to lunch on July 7. He arrived

at the restaurant looking relaxed. After a brief discussion

of why the restaurant had no American beef (they claimed that

the recently-lifted US beef ban was still in place, much to

Thaksin\’s chagrin), we began a wide-ranging discussion of the

current political situation. I started out raising Thaksin\’s

inflammatory comments to civil servants last week, in which

he described a \”charismatic person\” trying to overthrow the

government (ref A). Although government and party spokesmen

have tried to deny it, Thaksin freely admitted to me that he

was referring to Privy Council President Prem. He said that

he \”wanted to flip on the lights and flush out the ghosts.\”

It was wrong, and undemocratic, for Prem to work against the

PM behind the scenes. Thaksin alleged that Prem was trying

to influence various judges involved in the key cases

pending, including by \”dangling the prospect\” of a privy

council position before one of them. Thaksin again honed in

on Prem\’s sexual orientation to criticize him in terms not

fit for a family telegram.

 

THAKSIN — THE MAN WITH A PLAN

——————————

 

3. (C) Turning to the highest profile case – the threatened

dissolution of Thaksin\’s Thai Rak Thai (TRT) and the Democrat

party — Thaksin predicted that neither would be dissolved.

He expected that the embattled Election Commission (EC) would

resign shortly, and it would take some time to replace them.

This might delay the election, currently scheduled for

October 15. Thaksin felt that this delay was acceptable.

 

4. (C) Thaksin said he had a three stage plan. First, TRT

would win the upcoming elections. Thaksin would not serve as

PM, but another TRT figure would fill this position. Thaksin

would remain as head of the party and MP. After about a

year, Thaksin would step down from the party leadership, and

about a year after that, would resign his MP slot. He would

then start the \”Pak Suk Niyom\” — the \”Hedonist\” Party.

 

5. (C) I asked, if he was planning to step down anyway, why

not announce that now, and reduce the political tensions?

Thaksin answered that he might do that; he was playing it day

by day. I noted that his chances of coming back as PM in the

more distant future would probably be improved if he stepped

down now. I asked whether he would like to return as PM some

day. He answered that, at this time, he wasn\’t particularly

interested in being PM again. He was fairly fed up. He

claimed, however, that he couldn\’t resign now, while the

government was in caretaker mode, under Thai law. He

completely dismissed the suggestion that he could not leave

politics because he needed political position to protect

against assets seizure. He said that he had not done anything

wrong that would subject him to that kind of punishment. I

urged him again to consider announcing soon that he would not

 

BANGKOK 00004041 002 OF 003

 

be back as prime minister, to spare the country from the

continuing political tension.

 

6. (C) Throughout this part of the conversation, Thaksin was

quite combative, sprinkling threats to sue his opponents into

his speech. I asked him about this, and whether he saw Lee

Kwan Yew and Mahathir as his role models. Thaksin demurred,

saying that not everything about Singapore and Malaysia was

good.

 

7. (C) I told Thaksin that he had changed Thai politics

forever. His party had made promises to the poor rural

population, and then kept them, such as setting up the 30

baht health plan and the village funds. Thaksin launched

into an attack on the King and his vaunted \”sufficiency

economy\” model. Thaksin said that he was proud of his

origins as \”a peasant;\” he had gotten ahead by managing debt

and risk, and this was what the rural population needed to

do. (Comment: Thaksin neglects to mention that it helps to

have prominent relatives, marry well, and get advantageous

government concessions from your friends. End comment.)

Thaksin claimed that the policies advocated by the King kept

the people poor, while TRT\’s policies had changed the

countryside, making the people \”smarter and richer\” and less

dependent on the King. This was part of the reason for the

King\’s opposition to Thaksin (ref D).

 

NO COUPS

——–

 

8. (C) I asked Thaksin about the coup rumors swirling

recently. He said that he had met with Army Commander Sonthi

and told him, \”I promoted you to Army Commander, and I\’d like

you to stay in the job. But I need to know that you won\’t

give in if anyone tries to get you to participate in a coup

against me.\” Sonthi assured Thaksin, he said, that as a

Muslim and therefore a moral person, he would never condone a

coup. I asked about rumors that Thaksin\’s classmates from

the military academy (class 10) might launch a coup on

Thaksin\’s behalf. Thaksin insisted that he was defending the

constitution and would never allow this. He had his

partisans in key coup-making positions only to prevent this

kind of intervention.

 

THAI RAK THAI — A MODEL OF DEMOCRACY

————————————-

 

9. (C) I commented that Thaksin was lucky that the main

opposition party was so weak. The Democrat Party had not

capitalized on the opportunities presented by the current

political situation, and was not coming up with new ideas for

the upcoming campaign. Thaksin agreed. He said that the

Democrat Party was hidebound and hierarchical. The current

leader, Abhisit, was like the previous leader, Chuan —

passive and indecisive. The other opposition, the People\’s

Alliance for Democracy, was also in a weak position. They

hadn\’t succeeded in getting the government to step down.

They might return to street demonstrations, but they wouldn\’t

muster the same numbers they had before.

 

10. (C) Thaksin, without any discernible irony, lamented

the weak state of Thai institutions. He said that Thai

society was \”stupid\” and did not understand the importance of

the rule of law. Thaksin understood this because he had

studied it, and had gotten his Ph.D. in America. He

extemporized on the importance of grass roots democracy, how

the people tell the government what they need and the

government delivers it through appropriate mechanisms. This

was how TRT worked, he said, contrasting it with the old

duffers on the Privy Council and their top-down view of

government. I pointed out that TRT had its own problems with

hierarchy, as reflected in the Free Trade Agreement

negotiations. Thaksin had proposed the FTA, but his

ministers had not toed the line. It required Thaksin\’s

personal intervention to keep the negotiations moving.

Thaksin brushed aside these comments, and instead insisted

that it was still possible to complete the FTA, although he

proposed changing the name to an Economic Partnership

Agreement. I told him that we still needed to negotiate a

comprehensive agreement, whatever it was called, and he

agreed.

 

COMMENT – WHERE TO BEGIN?

————————-

 

11. (C) There\’s good news, bad news and some humor in our

lunchtime conversation. Thaksin consistently says that he

 

BANGKOK 00004041 003 OF 003

 

will step down after the election. This is good news,

insofar as it could end the political turmoil. He seems

unlikely to announce this anytime soon however, so the

current uncertainty may continue until the elections, at

least. Also good news: Thaksin did not ask for an

appointment with President Bush at the UNGA, as we had

anticipated. (He expressed appreciation for the President\’s

prompt response to his letter, which I gave him.)

 

12. (C) In the larger context, the bad news is that Thaksin

seems determined to keep picking a fight with the most

respected institutions in the country. His glowing

descriptions of TRT\’s democratic tradition are delusional —

his party members don\’t dare sneeze without Thaksin\’s

approval — and his description of the effects of TRT\’s

populist policies overlooks negative effects they have, such

as the troubling increase in consumer debt. Even given the

genuine positive aspects of TRT policies, however, Thaksin is

mistaken to think that he can win a showdown with the Palace.

In addition to the historical reverence for the King, the

palace is widely viewed by civil society as providing the

only counterweight to the excessive power that Thaksin has

accrued, in part through the clever use of his enormous

wealth to distort the political system. Thaksin\’s actions

will keep political tensions dangerously high over the coming

months.

BOYCE

Written by thaicables

July 12, 2011 at 5:02 am

Posted in Confidential, Thaksin

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