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05BANGKOK954 ON THE EVE OF THAILAND’S GENERAL ELECTION: THE MAJOR PARTIES

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This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 BANGKOK 000954

 

SIPDIS

 

SENSITIVE

 

DEPARTMENT FOR EAP, EAP/BCLTV; PACOM FOR FPA HUSO.

 

E.O. 12958: N/A

TAGS: PGOV TH

SUBJECT: ON THE EVE OF THAILAND’S GENERAL ELECTION: THE

MAJOR PARTIES

 

REF: BANGKOK 673

 

¶1. (SBU) At first glance the Thai political landscape on the

eve of the February 6, 2005 parliamentary elections looks

cluttered. Thailand still has 39 registered political

parties. Twenty parties have fielded “party list” candidates

and 24 parties are entered in some of the 400 contests for

“constituency” seats in the Lower House of Parliament. The

reality, however, is that four major political parties hold

virtually all seats in Parliament, and the ballots cast this

Sunday won’t radically alter that distribution. Prime

Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and his Thai Rak Thai (TRT) party

are tipped for a large scale victory, perhaps one that will

allow them to govern without forming a coalition. Most

observers predict that the TRT will win well over 300 party

list and constituency seats in Parliament. The Democrat

Party (DP) will remain the main opposition party but will

fall far short of the 201 seats it has publicly set its

sights on. The Chat Thai (CT) and Mahachon parties, the

other two credible parties, could pick up between 50 – 65

seats according to the latest polls. If TRT does not gain a

sufficiently large margin on its own to reach PM Thaksin’s

comfort level, the Chat Thai and/or Mahachon parties are

presumed to be available to join the TRT in a stronger

governing coalition. As described in reftel, The CT has been

in the coalition of Thaksin’s first government, and Mahachon

has made clear its readiness to ally with whomever best

satisfies the interests of its key members. A primer on the

four main Thai political parties follows:

 

THAI RAK THAI (TRT) PARTY

 

¶2. (U) TRT’s dominant leader is Prime Minister Thaksin

Shinawatra, with TRT Secretary-General (and Transportation

Minister) Suriya Jungrungruengkit in the role of key

political operative. TRT has more registered members, 14.4

million, then any other party and its current parliamentary

strength — 329 MPs (266 Constituency and 63 Party-List MPs)

– overshadows all of its coalition partner and opponent

parties. Regionally, TRT members of Parliament (MP) are

found in the great urban center of Bangkok, and the

voter-rich rural provinces of the North and Northeast.

 

¶3. (U) In his first term, Thaksin,s strong leadership and

the TRT,s decisive majority in Parliament allowed him to

implement the “populist” policies he articulated in his

campaign for victory in 2001. These policies — especially

the 30 baht Health Care scheme, the Farmers, Debt Suspension

and Revitalization program, and the 1 million baht revolving

Village and Community Fund — have cemented his popularity

with the rural electorate. Despite opposition accusations of

conflict-of-interest and corruption, and some setbacks from

the avian flu scare and continuing violence in Thailand’s

south, Thaksin has maintained a high level of popular

approval. For this election, Thaksin has come up with new

populist policies to run on, such as the so-called Small,

Medium, Large village fund (SML) village improvement fund

program, a large public works transportation project, and

expansion of the country’s irrigation water network in the

rural areas. As noted in earlier reporting, winning TRT

parliamentary candidates are expected to return Thaksin to

office handily. Many observers believe the election is not

about which party will win, but how wide the TRT majority

will be after the votes are counted.

 

¶4. (U) Thaksin like to project an image of TRT, the party he

founded, as modern and policy-oriented. However, despite his

clear dominance of TRT, he still has to balance off the

interests of party factions to keep winning candidates in his

corner and stay in fullest control of the party and national

politics. There are currently five major factions within the

TRT:

 

– Wang Buaban is currently the largest and most influential

faction. It is led by Yowvapa Wongsawat, an MP from Chiang

Mai and Thaksin’s sister. Other key Wang Buaban figures are

Suriya Jungrungruengkit, TRT secretary-general, and Somsak

Thepsutin, the TRT deputy leader. Most faction members are

MPs from the North, with some MPs from the Northeast.

 

– Wang Namyen is led by Sanoh Thienthong, a veteran

politician and financier, who earned an unsavory reputation

as an influential New Aspiration Party (NAP) figure. He is

chairman of the TRT advisory board. Sanoh’s faction is the

second largest group with most, if not all, members coming

from the Northeast. It was once the most influential

faction, but its influence has waned with the emergence of

the Wang Buaban group. Other leading figures in this

faction are Sora-at Klinpratoom, the TRT deputy leader, and

Chuchip Hansawat, an executive member and former Minister of

Agriculture and Cooperatives.

 

– Wang Phayanak is the faction of mainly former Seritham

party MPs who merged with the TRT in July 2001. Pinij

Jarusombat, the former leader of the Seritham party, now a

TRT deputy leader, is the faction leader. Prachuap

Chaiyasan, a Thai trade representative, and Ekkaphap Polsue,

TRT deputy secretary-general, are other key figures. This

faction has good relations with the Wang Buaban faction and

been supportive in intra-party maneuvering.

 

– The “Chart Pattana” faction become part of TRT in an

official merger between the Chart Pattana party (CP) into TRT

in September 2004. Suwat Liptapanlop, the wealthy former

leader of CP, is this faction’s leader. Suwat’s electoral

stronghold is in the Northeast, especially in Nakhon

Ratchasima, where his influence permeates every political

level.

 

– The “Bangkok faction,” comprised of TRT MPs from the

capital city, is led by Sudarat Keyuraphun, the deputy

leader. This faction’s influence also extends to some

neighboring provinces. PM Thaksin prizes Public Health

Minister Sudarat Keyuraphan, the faction leader, for her

political expertise and her opinion carries much weight in

TRT councils. Other key members are Suranand Vejjajiva, the

clever and articulate TRT party spokesman, and Pimuk Simaroj,

TRT deputy spokesman.

 

¶5. (SBU) Major financial backers of TRT include the Shin Corp

(owned by the Shinawatra family), the CP Corporation, and

corporations run by Secretary General Suriya Chunrungruengkit

and Deputy Leader Adisai Photharamik.

 

DEMOCRAT PARTY (DP)

 

¶6. (U) The Democrat Party (DP), under the leadership of

Banyat Bantadtan and DP Secretary General Pradit

Phaktharaprasit, will likely remain as the main opposition

party after the election. DP has deep roots in modern Thai

democratic history, a current registered membership of 3.8

million, and a parliamentary strength of 128 MPs. Its

regional strength is in Bangkok and southern province

constituencies. In the last four years, the DP has had a

decidedly difficult role – partly because the TRT-led

majority coalition in the House of Representatives prevented

DP from ever censuring the Prime Minister directly and even

hampered its ability to open “no confidence” debates against

ministers.

 

¶7. (SBU) The DP has struggled to come up with new approaches

to better confront Thaksin and the TRT, which seems to

outflank and humiliate the Democrats at every term, which has

given the DP an air of ineptitude. Persistence of the bitter

party rifts which have historically plagued DP have not

helped. A party split widened in 2003 when power broker MG

Sanan Khachonprasat, who was banned in August 2000 from

holding political posts himself for 5 years for asset

concealment, collided with then DP party leader Chuan Leekpai

over Chuan’s successor. Sanan,s faction won this conflict

and put veteran southern politician Banyat Banthatthan in as

the new DP leader, marginalizing Chuan’s preferred heir, the

young and charismatic Bangkokian Aphisit Vejjajiva. In July

2004, reportedly disgruntled over his failure to sufficiently

influence Banyat, Sanan led several MPs out of the DP and

established Mahachon, a new political party built on the

remnants of the Rassadon (People’s) Party of Watthana

Atsawahem, a notoriously “dirty” politician.

 

¶8. (SBU) The DP will probably be able to hang on to most of

its traditional parliamentary seats in Thailand’s South, and

few constituencies elsewhere. However, under the stodgy and

uninspired leadership of Banyat, it has no chance of

extending its base or beating TRT nationwide.

 

CHAT THAI (CT) PARTY

 

¶9. (SBU) The Chat Thai (CT) leader is Banharn Silapa-archa, a

veteran Thai politician and former prime minister whose

political savvy and money hold the party together. CT has

registered 2,340,000 members. Its current parliamentary

strength is 41 MPs (35 Constituency and 6 Party-List), with

the core of its regional strength located in Thailand’s

Central region, especially in Suphan Buri province.

 

¶10. (SBU) Chat Thai has downsized considerably since the

Banharn-led administration left power in November 1996. The

almost immediate departure of most members of the Sanoh

Thienthong faction (which later joined TRT) and other

groupings of parliamentarians reduced the CT voting bloc

significantly. For a time, CT political influence was based

on MPs from Suphan Buri and Chon Buri provinces. Shortly

before the January 6, 2001 parliamentary election, Newin

Chidchob, an up-and-coming (some say “infamous”) MP from

Buriram, brought four MPs from the defunct Solidarity Party

(SP) into CT. But most of this Buriram faction, including

Newin, succumbed to the blandishments of a persistent TRT

courtship in 2004 of MPs from other parties. Banharn also

lost heavily from the Chon Buri faction and now presides over

a CT that seems really only to have a safe hold on

parliamentary constituencies in Supan Buri province. That

said, Banharn remains one of Thailand’s most tenacious

traditional politicians, a survivor who seems to know which

wheels to grease to keep a political machine rolling

effectively.

 

MAHACHON PARTY (MCP)

 

¶11. (U) The only other party with prospects for winning a

bloc of parliamentary seats is one of the newest, Mahachon

(MCP), established in July 2004. Mahachon began essentially

as a breakaway faction of the Democrat Party (see para 7

above). Its nominal leader is Dr. Anek Laothammathat, a

former Dean of Political Science at Thammasat University and

ex-Deputy DP Leader. Several other well-regarded DP MPs –

ex-Deputy DP Secretary General Akkhaphon Sorasuchat and ex-DP

financier Phonthep Techaphaibun — joined Mahachon as deputy

party leaders. Mahachon’s chief financial backer is ex-DP

Secretary General MG Sanan Khachonprasat, who plays a major

 

SIPDIS

behind the scenes role. Other financial support reportedly

is supplied by Chaliaw Yuwitthaya of the Red Guar Beverage

Company, with some also coming from business tycoon Charoen

Siriwatthanaphakdi of the giant CP group of companies, who

generously bankrolls several parties and political power

brokers.

 

¶12. (U) One improbable theory circulating is that Mahachon

was deliberately created as a branch of the DP, with a new

name in order to improve the chances of regaining

Northeastern voters, support. Under this theory Mahachon

candidates taking TRT districts in the Northeast will reunite

with the DP in forming a new government. The more realistic

way of understanding Mahachon is that MG Sanan, unable to

control Banyat, wanted to run a political party of his own

for the wider political “opportunities” that could open. He

wishes to be in a position to be of value to any political

party able to form a coalition government, in particular the

ruling TRT of Thaksin.

 

¶13. (U) Voters on February 6 will select 400 members of

Parliament from constituencies throughout Thailand. They

will also indicate their preferences for parties in a

separate “party list” vote. All parties gaining 5 percent of

the national party list vote will be eligible for a number of

the 100 party list seats in the next Parliament, allocated on

a proportional basis according to the votes received.

 

¶14. (U) The latest polls indicate that TRT could win 260-280

constituency seats, and up to 70 party list seats, or

potentially close to 350 total seats in the 500 seat

Parliament. This indicates that TRT might be able to form a

single-party government, one with no coalition partners. The

DP, with some support throughout Thailand, and retaining core

constituencies in the South, should remain the main

opposition party with just over 100 total MPs, including some

75-80 constituency seats. Chat Thai, surprisingly, appears to

heading for 30-35 constituency seats and maybe the minimum 5

party list seats. Mahachon could win between 10-16

constituency seats, but is not expected to qualify for any

party list seats. Some polls indicate that a sitting

candidate from the New Aspiration Party (NAP), the only

holdout when NAP merged into TRT, will win his constituency.

Candidates from two very small parties, the Social Action

Party (SAP) and Labor Party, might also manage to win one

constituency seat each.

BOYCE

Written by thaicables

August 26, 2011 at 4:47 am

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