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06BANGKOK5255 CABINET MEMBER DISCUSSES THAI POLITICAL SITUATION

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“76340”,”8/28/2006 10:01″,”06BANGKOK5255″,

“Embassy Bangkok”,”CONFIDENTIAL”,

“06BANGKOK5204″,”VZCZCXRO2576

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SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 08/28/2016

TAGS: PGOV, PREL, MOPS, ASEC, TH

SUBJECT: CABINET MEMBER DISCUSSES THAI POLITICAL SITUATION

REF: BANGKOK 5204 (CAR BOMB DISCOVERED)

Classified By: Political Officer David R. Greenberg, reason 1.4 (d).

SUMMARY

——-

1. (C) Cabinet member Suranand Vejjajiva told us on August 28

that he sought to encourage Prime Minister Thaksin to

withdraw from politics as soon as possible, but others around

Thaksin urged him to continue fighting his political

opponents. Suranand, Minister Attached to the Prime

Minister\’s Office and a member of the Thai Rak Thai (TRT)

Executive Board, believed TRT would need time to adjust to

Thaksin\’s withdrawal, but the party\’s image remained

sufficiently positive that faction leaders would prefer

remaining within TRT rather than defecting. Suranand

predicted with confidence that TRT, with or without Thaksin,

would win a majority in the coming election, which could take

place as late as early 2007. Admitting he did not know

whether the August 24 car bomb incident was a

government-manufactured provocation or part of a genuine

assassination attempt, Suranand characterized the military as

split, but he claimed both the military and the Palace were

dedicated to resolving the current situation through

democratic means. He urged that the USG remain on the

sidelines as a neutral observer. End Summary.

CAR BOMB

——–

2. (C) On August 28, we called on Minister Attached to the

Prime Minister\’s Office Suranand Vejjajiva. Opening with

reference to the August 24 discovery of a purported car bomb

near Prime Minister Thaksin\’s residence (reftel), Suranand

said he did not know whether the bomb was genuine. He

declined to speculate on the matter, noting that there were

\”too many rumors in Bangkok.\” He said national media

coverage of the incident reflected Thaksin\’s lack of

popularity with the Bangkok elite, and he bemoaned the

government\’s inability to get its message out to the

citizenry. However, Suranand promised TRT would make a

concerted public relations effort and offer a more detailed

platform than its principal rival, the Democratic Party.

DEMOCRATIC FRAMEWORK RESPECTED, FOREIGN ROLE UNWELCOME

——————————————— ———

3. (C) Suranand acknowledged that the car bomb incident —

which triggered the dismissal from the Internal Security

Operation Command (ISOC) of Major General (ret.) Panlop

Pinmanee — had the potential to further aggravate

factionalism within the Thai military. Military officers

were as susceptible to rumor-mongering as the rest of Thai

officialdom. However, he noted the military now consisted of

professionals who would want any political change to take

place through democratic mechanisms. The Palace, too, was

committed to the democratic process. We welcomed this

assurance, noting the USG\’s strong support for democracy and

our neutrality in the current political wrangling. Suranand

said it was critical for the USG to remain on the sidelines,

as any perceived foreign interference would provoke a strong

backlash.

THAKSIN SHOULD DECIDE NOW

————————-

4. (C) Given the current political climate, Suranand

expressed his personal preference for Thaksin to withdraw

from politics, at least temporarily. If his successor(s)

were to mismanage the country, Suranand noted, the citizenry

might well call for Thaksin\’s return sometime in the future.

Whatever Thaksin\’s decision, he should announce it as soon as

possible, because TRT would need time to adjust. The

current, vague state of affairs would doom TRT\’s prospects in

Bangkok, Suranand said, predicting the party would fail to

garner even a single seat in Bangkok under status quo

conditions. If Thaksin were to take a clear stand, however,

TRT might win 10-20 of Bangkok\’s 36 seats. Suranand stated

with confidence that TRT\’s strength in the countryside would

provide the party with a majority in the House of

Representatives. However, he admitted a weak showing in

Bangkok would seriously undercut the Prime Minister\’s

legitimacy.

5. (C) We asked whether, holding a majority in the House and

facing continuing criticism from his opponents, Thaksin would

BANGKOK 00005255 002 OF 002

easily forsake the advantages associated with formal

political power. Suranand acknowledged that the choice was

difficult for Thaksin, but he (Suranand) felt that holding

the premiership would not affect the eventual court rulings,

and Thaksin should conduct this struggle as a private

citizen. When we asked whether any person or institution

might be able to persuade Thaksin\’s opponents to moderate

their rhetorical and legal efforts against him in exchange

for his voluntary withdrawal from politics, Suranand said he

had been trying to convince Thaksin to pursue this type of

deal. However, others around Thaksin (NFI) were pushing him

to take a more confrontational approach and to intimidate his

opponents.

EFFECT OF THAKSIN\’S HYPOTHETICAL WITHDRAWAL

——————————————-

6. (C) TRT could survive despite losing Thaksin as its formal

leader, Suranand said. The party had built a popular brand

that did not rely wholly on Thaksin\’s image, and a majority

of Thais found TRT\’s policies appealing. Faced with a

choice, most TRT faction leaders would understand they would

be more successful standing for election as TRT candidates

rather than as members of a new, unknown party. Suranand

specifically dismissed as unimportant the recent defection of

former TRT faction leader Sanoh Thianthong. Nevertheless, it

would take time and effort for faction leaders to reach a

consensus in favor of the next party leader. Suranand

declined to specify whom faction leaders might coalesce

around, but he noted that the faction leaders\’ candidate

would likely not be the same person Thaksin would be inclined

to select as his successor. (Comment: Suranand\’s comment was

consistent with a reasonably widespread perception that

Deputy Prime Minister Somkid Jatusripitak is best positioned

to hold TRT together in the event of Thaksin\’s withdrawal;

TRT Deputy Spokesman Pimuk Simaroj recently told us that,

absent Thaksin, only Somkid could keep the party together,

but Thaksin reportedly resents Somkid\’s ambition. End

Comment.)

7. (C) When asked to comment on TRT relations with Chart Thai

party leader Banharn Silapa-Archa, Suranand characterized

Banharn as an unprincipled opportunist trying to gain

influence by wielding a swing vote. Suranand dismissed

popular speculation that Thaksin might support Banharn as the

next Prime Minister, noting Thaksin would look first to large

faction leaders within TRT. Thaksin\’s backing Banharn for

the position would deal a serious blow to TRT. In an acerbic

aside, however, Suranand quipped that Banharn nevertheless

had a better chance at winning the premiership than

Suranand\’s cousin, Democratic Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva.

Abhisit \”still has a lot to learn\” about Thai politics,

Suranand said.

ELECTION TIMING

—————

8. (C) Suranand hoped aloud that the next national

legislative election could take place on October 15,

consistent with the current schedule. However, he

acknowledged the election would likely be delayed, saying it

might even slip to early 2007. (Comment: A delay in the

election date is generally seen as favoring the opposition,

as legal cases against Thaksin will move forward in coming

months. However, Democratic Party Secretary General Suthep

Thaugsuban recently told us he worried that his party lacked

the funds for a prolonged campaign. End Comment.)

COMMENT

——-

9. (C) Suranand appeared sincere in his assessment of the

current situation and troubled by the absence of a scenario

offering Thaksin an easy exit from politics and escape from

the current turmoil. As TRT\’s founder and leader, Thaksin

plays a key role in keeping the party united; but he also

threatens to drag TRT down with him, as political attacks

focused on the Prime Minister continue. Suranand represents

the \”dove\” faction, which is encouraging Thaksin to take a

break, even if it results in fewer seats in the next

parliament for TRT. However, all signs point to the hawks,

telling Thaksin to stay and fight, as being close to the

Prime Minister now.

BOYCE

Written by thaicables

July 13, 2011 at 5:29 am

Posted in Confidential, Thaksin

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