06BANGKOK5836 THE MONARCHY\’S ROLE IN THAILAND\’S SEPTEMBER 19 COUP
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“C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 BANGKOK 005836
E.O. 12958: DECL: 09/21/2016
TAGS: PGOV, PHUM, KDEM, MOPS, ASEC, TH
SUBJECT: THE MONARCHY\’S ROLE IN THAILAND\’S SEPTEMBER 19 COUP
REF: BANGKOK 5812 (WHO\’S IN CHARGE?)
Classified By: Ambassador Ralph L. Boyce, reason 1.4 (d).
1. (C) It remains unclear whether Thailand\’s King encouraged
or provided approval in advance for the September 19 coup
d\’etat by the Council for Democratic Reform Under the
Monarchy (CDRM). However, the CDRM is publicly linked to the
monarchy to a greater extent than previous coup plotters, and
the CDRM\’s September 19 royal audience sent a clear public
signal of Palace endorsement. Palace endorsement likely
contributed to public support for the coup, although polls by
two prominent institutions provide divergent accounts of the
coup\’s popularity. The ill health of the King might have
influenced the timing of the coup. End Summary.
ROYAL AUDIENCE KEY TO COUP SUCCESS, ACCEPTABILITY
2. (C) On the night of September 19, soon after the CDRM
seized control of the media, word spread that CDRM leaders
would have an audience with King Bhumibol Adulyadej. The
audience took place at Chittralada Villa from 12:19 a.m.
until 1:24 a.m. the same night, according to an Embassy
contact at the Palace. The willingness of the King to
receive the CDRM representatives so quickly sent a clear
public signal of royal endorsement of the coup. And by
including Supreme Commander Ruangroj, previously thought to
be firmly in Thaksin\’s camp, the audience displayed the
military\’s unity and loyalty to the King — to the point of
deflating Thaksin\’s hopes that he could prevail against the
rebellious soldiers (reftel).
3. (C) The CDRM\’s public claims that it acted to maintain
peace and order, and to protect the King against acts of lese
majeste, were not unexpected or atypical. The CDRM\’s
inclusion of reference to the monarchy in the coup-plotters\’
group name, however, appears unprecedented in Thai history.
(A literal translation of the Thai version is: \”Council for
Reforming Governance in the Democratic System having His
Majesty the King as Head of State.\”) Also unprecedented is
an alleged Royal Command, published online by the Prime
Minister\’s Office, in which the King \”appoints General Sonthi
as leader of the (CDRM), and demands… all government
officials follow the orders of General Sonthi.\” (Full text
of the alleged Royal Command provided septel.) Embassy
contacts at the Palace tell us they have not seen a copy of
the signed Royal Command, however.
4. (C) Given the widespread public understanding, especially
in Bangkok, that Thaksin was increasingly engaged in
confrontation with members of the Privy Council (if not with
the King himself), most Thais view the CDRM as acting on
behalf of the King\’s interests. Almost universal Thai
reverence for the King has likely contributed significantly
to popular acceptance of the coup.
5. (C) The King is in ill health and has not been seen in
public since his August 4 departure from a Bangkok hospital.
However, we hear that the CDRM has requested the release of
photographs and video footage of the royal audience with the
CDRM. Our contacts told us that the King\’s Secretary will
likely release the photographs, but is unlikely to release
the video footage. Release of images from the audience would
convey further signals of royal endorsement.
KING\’S HEALTH INFLUENCING COUP TIMING?
6. (C) Given the King\’s ill health, we do not dismiss the
possibility that the coup\’s timing was determined in part not
only by Thaksin\’s travel abroad, but also by a desire by CDRM
figures to make their move while they could still obtain the
support of the King. (Not only does the King\’s imprimatur
carry much more weight than the Crown Prince\’s would, but a
coup mounted during any period of mourning would be seen as a
deep affront to Thai sensibilities, no matter how unpopular
the government. Similarly, whatever constitutional reform
efforts begin under the CDRM will likely be suspended for a
lengthy period in the event of the King\’s demise.)
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7. (C) The now-terminated 1997 Constitution provided no basis
for military intervention in politics. The monarchy appears
to be the sole institution capable of legitimizing the
September 19 coup in the eyes of the Thai people. By its
actions to date, the Palace seems to be playing that role.
The King\’s imprimatur — combined with widespread hatred of
Thaksin in elite circles — appears to have provided a
certain amount of breathing room for the CDRM.