06BANGKOK5500 THAKSIN DEPUTY REVEALS LITTLE OF TRT PLANS
OO RUEHCHI RUEHDT RUEHHM
DE RUEHBK #5500/01 2500959
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
O 070959Z SEP 06
FM AMEMBASSY BANGKOK
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 1462
INFO RUEHZS/ASSOCIATION OF SOUTHEAST ASIAN NATIONS
RHHMUNA/HQ USPACOM HONOLULU HI
RHHMUNA/CDR USPACOM HONOLULU HI
RUCPDOC/DEPT OF COMMERCE WASHINGTON DC”,”C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 BANGKOK 005500
E.O. 12958: DECL: 09/05/2016
TAGS: PGOV, PHUM, TH
SUBJECT: THAKSIN DEPUTY REVEALS LITTLE OF TRT PLANS
REF: A. BANGKOK 5463 [EX-CABINET SECRETARY ASSESSES
B. BANGKOK 5335 [ALLEGED BOMB PLOT]
C. BANGKOK 4610 [MORE ON MILITARY RESHUFFLE]
D. BANGKOK 1091 [CHALLENGE TO THAKSIN]
Classified By: Ambassador Ralph L. Boyce, reason 1.4 (b) (d)
1. (C) SUMMARY: In a September 5 meeting with the
Ambassador, Thai Rak Thai\’s Pongthep Thepkanchana gave a
fairly standard version of the TRT view of the political
situation. He insisted that the car bomb was real, that PM\’s
conflict was with the Privy Council, and not with the King,
and that Thaksin would decide whether to step aside based on
the good of the country. Pongthep was unimpressive, but he
is, according to many contacts, one of Thaksin\’s leading
choices for PM if Thaksin has to step down. The PM
reportedly doesn\’t want anyone too good, who might eclipse
him. Pongthep should fit the bill. END SUMMARY.
2. (C) Ambassador met September 5 with Pongthep
Thepkanchana, Deputy Thai Rak Thai (TRT) leader and potential
replacement Prime Minister if Thaksin steps aside. The
Ambassador sought Pongthep\’s views on the origins and
possible cures of the Thai political crisis, which has
dragged on for the better part of a year. Pongthep predicted
that things would settle down and get back to normal after
the election. He did not foresee any problems with putting
in place the new election commission soon, and setting a new
election date. probably in November.
STANDARD TRT SPIEL
3. (C) Turning to the origins of the conflict, Pongthep gave
a fairly standard TRT-style review of the issues. He pointed
to TRT\’s landslide victory in February 2005 as a problem.
People looked at the PM and saw someone who \”had it all:\”
money, education, connections and political power. He is a
visionary and, especially after the landslide, extremely
self-confident. \”Higher echelons\” of Thai society did not
like this type of elected leader. Academics turned against
him. There followed a series of accusations against the PM.
Some, perhaps, had some foundation, but others were baseless.
Pongthep singled out opposition firebrand Sondhi
Limthongkul, motivated by a personal grudge against Thaksin,
as a key opponent. He said that Sondhi used his \”illegal
community radio station\” and his \”illegal, illegitimate cable
TV station\” to spread untrue accusations. (Note: Sondhi\’s
small cable station, ASTV, is repeatedly cited by contacts of
all persuasions as one of the most important tools the
opposition has. They claim that ASTV makes a huge impact as
it moves into new markets, even though it is not available in
most homes. Like most independent media, its legal status is
somewhat unclear due to the government\’s failure to establish
clear procedures for the licensing of independent outlets.
4. (C) Ponthep gave a similarly familiar explanation of the
April 2006 election and the opposition party boycott,
although with a twist. He dismissed all other
considerations, saying that the opposition parties only
boycotted because they knew they\’d lose. He then launched
into a cryptic and, in the end, incomprehensible response to
the Ambassador\’s question about why Thaksin decided to
dissolve the Parliament in February. He agreed with the
Ambassador that it was a strange move for the PM to give up
his 375 seat dominance of the House and plunge into new
elections. Pressed to give a reason, he alluded to some
unspecified pressure that forced the PM to that action.
Pongthep said that even he had not known beforehand that the
PM would dissolve the House. The Ambassador noted that
Thaksin had talked to him about it several days before he
announced his decision (ref C), indicating that he was ready
to dissolve Parliament. Pongthep expressed surprise, but
still would not clarify what dark force he thought has forced
Thaksin\’s hand. Pongthep admitted that the decisions Thaksin
made at that time — such as the way the Shin Corp sale was
handled, and the dissolution — could have been better.
5. (C) The Ambassador asked about the ever-more-public
conflict between Thaksin and the Privy Council, particularly
Prem Tinsulanond. Pongthep emphasized that \”there is no
misunderstanding\” between the royal family and Thaksin. The
issues are with the Privy Council, which is used to having a
lot of authority. In the past, for example, Prem could have
influence over the military promotions of his proteges. He
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doesn\’t want to lose that. Similarly, the Army Commander in
Chief wants to promote his own aides (ref C). However,
Pongthep added that he did not anticipate military
intervention. Even if the military launched a coup, they
would not be able to form a military government — those days
were past. So, they would be taking a significant risk for no
real benefit. Pongthep said he did not fear \”big violence\”
as there were no large groups facing each other in this
conflict. He was concerned about smaller incidents of
violence, as tensions remained high.
IT WAS BOMB. REALLY.
6. (C) Pongthep stood by the government story that the August
24 car bomb was for real (ref B). He said that the plotters
were in the military, but it was not a plot by the military.
(Comment: we take this to mean that he is exculpating the
military leadership. end comment.) His version of the
events surrounding the bomb differs from other accounts in
one respect: he claims that the assassin had sent the signal
for the bomb to explode, but he was standing behind a pillar,
which blocked the signal, so the bomb didn\’t go off.
(Comment: this story gets more dramatic with each retelling.
End comment.) The Ambassador noted his concern, as a friend
of Thailand, over the political tensions. He asked what the
Prime Minister\’s plans were about remaining prime minister.
Pongthep said that Thaksin would decide what to do based on
the \”best interests of the country.\”
7. (C) Pongthep did not impress. He replayed familiar themes
of persecution by the old guard, jealous of the PM\’s success.
He was disingenuous about a number of issues, including the
relationship between Thaksin and the King. His mysterious
allusions regarding the decision to dissolve Parliament were
just plain annoying. Contacts point out how TRT is being
weakened, as more respected figures are pushed to the margins
and the \”hawks\” keep Thaksin\’s ear. Pongthep took over as
the leading legal advisor to the PM after the resignation of
the widely respected jurist Bowornsak Uwanno (ref A), and
many sources say he is the leading contender for next Prime
Minister if Thaksin decides to take a break and is able to
chose his own successor. Part of the PM\’s calculation
appears to be that he doesn\’t want anyone too good, who might
eclipse him; Pongthep should fit the bill.