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06BANGKOK5429 THAILAND: DIVIDED

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“77145”,”9/5/2006 10:50″,”06BANGKOK5429″,

 

 

“Embassy Bangkok”,”CONFIDENTIAL”,””,”VZCZCXRO1007

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TREASURY PASS TO FRB SAN FRANCISCO/TERESA CURRAN

 

E.O. 12958: DECL: 09/04/2016

TAGS: PGOV, PHUM, TH

SUBJECT: THAILAND: DIVIDED

 

Classified By: Political Counselor Susan M. Sutton, reason 1.4 (b) (d)

 

1. (C) SUMMARY: Thai elites are deeply concerned that Thai

society today is \”more divided than ever\” as a result of the

strong feelings, pro and anti, aroused by PM Thaksin

Shinnawatra. Thai politics do not appear any more turbulent

to us now than in the past, given Thailand\’s history of

military coups and violent repression of protesters. But

economic and social progress has given more Thai access to

information as well as a personal stake in the outcome of the

political struggle in the capital. Thailand may not be more

divided than ever, but there are more players on each side

than in the past, with a corresponding danger of spontaneous

outbreaks of disorder and violence. This may be an

unavoidable by-product of the growth of democracy, and one

which we believe, in the end, the Thai will be able to

manage. END SUMMARY.

 

WHAT KIND OF COUNTRY IS THIS?

—————————–

 

2. (C) Thailand is more divided than ever in its history,

according to many of post\’s contacts. Former Prime Minister

Anand Panyarachun articulated this publicly in a speech on

August 30. \”Thai society is now polarized by strong hatred.

If this condition is allowed to continue, we will be living

in horrifying times.\” He warned that Thailand was in danger

of becoming a \”failed state\” if the polarization continues.

\”The Democrat Party can\’t go to the North, while Thaksin

can\’t step foot in the South. What kind of country is this?\”

 

3. (C) During the past two weeks, the danger posed by this

polarization has been one of the first problems on the minds

of the Thaksin critics we have met.

 

— Democrat Party Secretary General Suthep, a long-time

politician, he said that this was the first time in his life

that he needed a bodyguard. (Note: Suthep is the key

Democrat in pushing the lawsuit to dissolve the PM\’s Thai Rak

Thai (TRT) party. The chief witness in the case has been

living at his home in the south since the story broke, since

it is widely feared that the witness would meet an untimely

end if he were not protected. end note.)

 

— Suthep also commented on the two violent incidents from

August 19 and 22, On August 19, a small group of protesters

heckled Thaksin at the launch of a book honoring the King at

a swanky shopping mall. They shouted anti-Thaksin slogans,

and were restrained, and in some cases reportedly beaten, by

plainclothes security guards. On August 22, a handful of

protesters outside another mall shouted anti-Thaksin slogans,

and were beaten by two men who appeared to be known to the

police, while the police stood by watching (and the TV

cameras rolled.) TV coverage showed the two thugs repeatedly

manhandling and hitting an elderly man. Suthep claimed that

these kinds of things had never happened in election

campaigns before.

 

— Suriyasai Katasila, a long-time NGO activist and current

PAD (Alliance for Democracy) leader, told us that the PAD was

very concerned about the possibility of violence. Suriyasai

feared that so many people hated Thaksin so strongly that

there was the real possibility of a spontaneous clash between

Thaksin supporters and opponents. PAD was also very

concerned about the increased possibility of a \”third hand\’

trying to provoke violence if/when the PAD returned to

demonstrate in Bangkok.

 

— Privy Councillor Air Chief Marshall Siddhi Savetsila made

remarks in late August at a small reception in honor of the

Ambassador. He surprised the group by stating baldly that

Thai society was more divided than he had seen in his

lifetime.

 

COMMENT

——-

 

4. (C) Privy Councillor Siddhi is 86 years old, and has

lived through every coup d\’etat since the military overthrew

the absolute monarchy in 1932. Much of the public, like the

Democrat\’s Suthep, was upset by the TV images of the violence

against protesters in August, but Thai elections historically

are a contact sport. (For example, we reported 25 suspicious

deaths of political canvassers in the 2001 Human Rights

 

BANGKOK 00005429 002 OF 002

 

Report.) According to Thaksin, last month\’s car bomb is not

even the first time someone has tried to blow him up. In

2001, a still-unexplained explosion occurred on a Thai

Airways jet minutes before Thaksin and a few hundred other

passengers boarded. (There are two theories — either it was

an accident involving the plane\’s gas tank or a bomb placed

by Thaksin\’s enemies, but the official explanation at the

time claimed that it was a bomb.) The deep concern about

divisions in society voiced by our interlocutors seem to us

disproportionate, given the strikingly peaceful and orderly

demonstrations so far, especially when compared to Thailand\’s

turbulent history.

 

5. (C) So why all the angst? Part of it is just that

people tend to forget how bad the bad times were. But part

of it may stem from the way politics and Thai society have

changed in just a few years. Politics tended to be a game

mostly for the elite to play. In the wake of the 1992

demonstrations that toppled the dictatorship, the \”People\’s

Constitution\” of 1997, the broader access to media brought by

rising prosperity, and the populist policies of PM Thaksin

— who staked his electoral success on maintaining the

support of the long-disregarded rural population — politics

has been, well, democratized. Within Thai society, being

\”krengjai\” (modest, self-effacing) is no longer such a highly

prized virtue; citizens more often see the importance of

demanding their rights. A much broader segment of the

population feels that they have a real stake in the outcome

of the political battles in Bangkok, and they are prepared to

assert themselves. This does raise the overall political

temperature and make spontaneous violence between the rival

camps more possible. This may be an unavoidable by-product

of a shift from a political system marked by back-room

deal-making among the elites to one more genuinely

democratic. Old style pols and patricians may be spooked, but

we believe that the Thai can, in the end, manage the

transition.

BOYCE

Written by thaicables

July 13, 2011 at 5:36 am

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