thaicables – It's Your Right to know the Truth!

Archive for the ‘Royal Family’ Category

09BANGKOK3006 SCENESETTER FOR THE VISIT OF GENERAL NORTH AND BRIGADIER GENERAL CROWE

leave a comment »

“236618”,”11/25/2009 9:46″,”09BANGKOK3006″,

“Embassy Bangkok”,”CONFIDENTIAL”,””,

“VZCZCXRO8200

OO RUEHCHI RUEHCN RUEHDT RUEHHM

DE RUEHBK #3006/01 3290946

ZNY CCCCC ZZH

O 250946Z NOV 09

FM AMEMBASSY BANGKOK

TO RHMFISS/HQ PACAF HICKAM AFB HI IMMEDIATE

RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHINGTON DC IMMEDIATE

INFO RUEHZS/ASSOCIATION OF SOUTHEAST ASIAN NATIONS IMMEDIATE

RHMFISS/CJCS WASHINGTON DC IMMEDIATE

RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 9102

RHHMUNA/HQ USPACOM HONOLULU HI IMMEDIATE

RUEAIIA/CIA WASHINGTON DC IMMEDIATE

RHEHNSC/NSC WASHINGTON DC IMMEDIATE

RUEKDIA/DIA WASHINGTON DC IMMEDIATE”,

“C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 04

BANGKOK 003006

 

SIPDIS

 

E.O. 12958: DECL: 11/25/2019

TAGS: PGOV, PREL, MARR, MOPS, PINS, PHUM, TH

SUBJECT: SCENESETTER FOR THE VISIT OF GENERAL NORTH AND

BRIGADIER GENERAL CROWE

 

Classified By: Deputy Chief of Mission James F. Entwistle,

reasons 1.4

(b) and (d)

 

1. (C) General North and Brigadier General Crowe, Embassy

Bangkok welcomes your visit to Thailand during the

celebration of King Bhumibol Adulyadej\’s 82nd birthday. Your

visit signals the United States\’ appreciation for the

long-standing bilateral relationship, which has facilitated

shared benefits in the fields of security, law enforcement,

and intelligence efforts, as well as groundbreaking

health/research collaboration and long-standing refugee

support. Your visit affords the opportunity to affirm our

support for our important mil-mil relationship, after a

stretch of time in which it has appeared to many Thai that

the U.S. places decreasing importance on that relationship

and engaging top Thai military leaders, even as China\’s

romance effort expands.

 

POLITICAL ENVIRONMENT

———————

 

2. (C) After the December 2008 installation of the

Democrat-led coalition government of Prime Minister Abhisit

Vejajjiva, Thailand has experienced a period of relative

political stability. That said, Thailand remains deeply

divided, politically and socially, and struggles to break

free of an inward focus. The traditional elite, urban middle

class and the mid-south are on largely one side (Democrat in

parliament, \”yellow\” in the street) and the political allies

of fugitive former PM Thaksin, with largely rural supporters

in the North and Northeast on the other (opposition Puea Thai

in parliament, \”red\” in the street). Abhisit generally has

progressive instincts about basic freedoms, social

inequities, foreign policy, and how to address the troubled

deep South. The Prime Minister\’s approval ratings have

benefited, at least temporarily, from a problematic period

for Thaksin subsequent to his badly chosen comments to the

\”The Times\” of London on royal succession and an ill-advised

visit to Cambodia following his appointment as economic

advisor to Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen.

 

3. (C) Despite relatively higher approval ratings, Abhisit

remains beset by a fractious coalition, vigorous

parliamentary opposition in the form of a large block of

politicians under the Puea Thai Party banner, and street

protests from \”red-shirts.\” The most dramatic political

development of the past year was the mid-April United Front

of Democracy for Dictatorship (UDD), or \”reds\”, riots in

Bangkok and Pattaya, which led to the postponement of a

regional Asian Summit and burned busses in Bangkok. UDD have

been planning a return to the streets, possibly with a \”final

showdown\” rally that would begin November 28, but the rally

was called off November 25 out of respect for the King\’s

birthday celebrations. Thaksin himself has suggested to

supporters that he did not know how long he could \”ask the

red shirts to be tolerant.\”

 

4. (C) While both yellow and red try to lay exclusive claim

to the mantle of democracy, neither side of this split is as

democratic as it claims to be. Both movements reflect deep

social concerns stemming from widespread perceptions of a

lack of social and economic justice, but both seek to triumph

in competing for traditional Thai hierarchical power

relationships. New elections would not appear to be a viable

solution to the political divide, and political discord could

persist for years. We continue to stress to Thai

interlocutors the need for all parties to avoid violence and

respect democratic norms within the framework of the

constitution and rule of law, as well as our support for

long-time friend Thailand to work through its current

difficulties and emerge as a more participatory democracy.

 

RECEDING MONARCHY

——————-

5. (C) Underlying the political tension in Bangkok is the

future of the monarchy. On the throne for 62 years, the

U.S.-born King Bhumibol is Thailand\’s most prestigious

figure, with influence far beyond his constitutional mandate.

Many actors are jockeying for position to shape the expected

transition period Thailand during royal succession after the

eventual passing of the King, who is currently in poor health

and rarely seen in public anymore. Few observers believe

that the deep political and social divides can be bridged

until after King Bhumibol passes and Thailand\’s tectonic

 

BANGKOK 00003006 002 OF 004

 

plates shift. Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn neither commands

the respect nor displays the charisma of his beloved father,

who greatly expanded the prestige and influence of the

monarchy during his 62-year reign. Nearly everyone expects

the monarchy to shrink and change in function after

succession. How much will change is open to question, with

many institutions, figures, and political forces positioning

for influence, not only over redefining the institution of

monarchy but, equally fundamentally, what it means to be

Thai.

 

ENDURING BILATERAL RELATIONSHIP

——————————-

 

6. (C) Despite the domestic political divide, Thailand\’s

strategic importance to the U.S. should not be understated.

Our military engagement affords us unique training venues in

Asia, training exercises that are nearly impossible to match

elsewhere in Asia, a willing participant in international

peacekeeping operations, essential access to facilities amid

vital sea and air lanes that support contingency and

humanitarian missions, and a partner that is a key ASEAN

nation in which we continue to promote democratic ideals.

 

7. (C) The U.S.-Thai military relationship began during World

War II when the U.S. trained hundreds of Thais as part of the

\”Free Thai Movement\” that covertly conducted special

operations against the Japanese forces occupying Thailand and

drew closer during the Korean War era when Thailand provided

troops for the UN effort. Thai soldiers, sailors, and airmen

also fought side-by-side with U.S. counterparts in the

Vietnam War and, more recently, Thailand sent contingents to

Afghanistan and Iraq.

 

8. (C) The relationship has evolved into a partnership that

provides the U.S. with unique benefits. As one of five U.S.

treaty allies in Asia and straddling a major force projection

air/sea corridor, Thailand remains crucial to U.S. interests

in the Asia-Pacific region and beyond. Underpinning our

strong bilateral relations is the U.S.-Thai security

relationship, which is based on over fifty years of close

cooperation. The relationship has advanced USG interests

while developing Thai military, intelligence, and law

enforcement capabilities.

 

IMPORTANT MILITARY ENGAGEMENT PROGRAM

————————————-

 

9. (C) Thailand\’s willingness to allow the United States to

use Utapao Naval Air Station as the hub for our regional

assistance program was key to making the 2004 tsunami and the

2008 Cyclone Nargis relief operations a success. While those

high-profile relief operations highlighted publicly the value

of access to Utapao, the air base is used regularly for

military flights. A prime example was the critical support

Utapao provided during OEF by providing an air bridge in

support of refueling missions en route to Afghanistan.

Approximately 1,000 flights transit Utapao every year in

support of critical U.S. military operations both regionally

and to strategic areas of the world. Thailand also provides

valued port access with U.S. naval vessels making calls,

primarily at Laem Chabang, Sattahip and Phuket, over sixty

times per year for exercises and visits.

 

COBRA GOLD AND THE MILITARY EXERCISE PROGRAM

——————————————–

 

10. (C) By means of access to good military base

infrastructure and large areas to conduct unrestricted

operations, Thailand gives the U.S. military a platform for

exercises unique in Asia. Thai leaders are far more willing

to host multinational exercises than are other countries in

Asia. Unlike Japan, which only hosts annual bilateral

exercises due to legal prohibitions over collective security,

or the Philippines, where planning for multinational

exercises has been difficult, or Australia, which refuses to

multilateralize Tandem Thrust, the Thai government encourages

multinational exercises as a way to show regional leadership.

This has allowed us to use exercises in Thailand to further

key U.S. objectives, such as supporting Japan\’s growing

military role in Asia and engaging the Indonesian and

Singaporean militaries.

 

11. (C) Cobra Gold, the capstone event of our exercise

 

BANGKOK 00003006 003 OF 004

 

program, is PACOM\’s largest annual multi-lateral exercise and

for 28 years has served to strengthen our relations with

Thailand, highlight our commitment to Southeast Asia, and

provide exceptional training opportunities for our troops.

The event has evolved over the years and now facilitates

important objectives such as promoting a greater role in the

Asian Pacific region for Japan, Singapore, and South Korea

and re-establishing a partner role with Indonesia. Along

with Cobra Gold, Cope Tiger and CARAT are also key to our

engagement of the Thai military.

 

BORDER CONFLICT WITH CAMBODIA

—————————–

 

12. (C) Bilateral relations with Cambodia continue to be

volatile, primarily due to a border dispute centered on 4.6

square kilometers of overlapping territorial claims adjacent

to the 11th century Hindu Preah Vihear temple. Minor

skirmishes have erupted three times since mid-2008, leading

to the deaths of seven soldiers.

 

13. (C) The roots of the dispute lie in the Siam-France

agreements of 1904-8 and a 1962 International Court of

Justice ruling that granted Cambodia the temple but left the

rest of disputed land unresolved. Tensions spiked in when in

2008 the Thai government in power at that time supported

Cambodia\’s application to UNESCO for a joint listing of the

temple as a world heritage site, only to face opposition in

parliament and an adverse court ruling.

 

14. (C) Thorny internal political considerations and

historical rancor between Thailand and Cambodia make progress

difficult; the countries withdrew their Ambassadors in the

wake of Thaksin\’s recent appointment as an economic adviser

to Cambodian leader Hun Sen. We urge both sides to resolve

their differences peacefully through bilateral negotiations,

border demarcation, and a reduction of troops deployed along

the border.

 

PEACEKEEPING EFFORTS

——————–

 

15. (C) Thailand has historically been a strong supporter of

UN peacekeeping missions and was an early contributing nation

to operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. In addition, Thai

generals very effectively led UN forces in East Timor, to

which Thailand contributed 1,500 troops, and in Aceh where a

Thai general served as the principal deputy of the Aceh

Monitoring Mission, Thailand\’s success in peacekeeping has

led the RTG and the military to seek a more prominent role in

international stabilization and peacekeeping missions. For

instance, Thailand is currently preparing for a deployment of

a battalion of troops for a difficult UNAMID mission in

Darfur. Using GPOI funding, we are working with the military

to increase its peacekeeping capabilities, both as a

contributing nation and as a trainer of neighboring nations.

 

ONGOING REFUGEE CONCERNS

————————

 

16. (C) Due to inherent institutional capabilities, the Thai

military plays a prominent role in the management of the many

refugees that enter Thailand from neighboring countries. The

Thai government conducted a screening process in January 2008

for a large group of Lao Hmong in an army run camp,

reportedly to identify those who might have a legitimate fear

of return to Laos, but has not released the results or

informed the Hmong themselves. We believe some have a

legitimate claim to refugee status, and seek resettlement in

the U.S. and several other countries. Detained in an

RTARF-run camp for over two years, some are former fighters

(or their descendants) allied with the U.S. against the

communist Pathet Lao during the IndoChina War. We want to

take every opportunity to underscore to the military that the

any individuals found by the RTG to have protection concerns

should not be returned forcibly to Laos.

 

SOUTHERN THAILAND

—————–

 

17. (C) Linked to the political uncertainty in Bangkok is the

RTG\’s inability to resolve an ethno-nationalist Malay

Muslim insurgency in southern Thailand which has claimed an

estimated 3,500 lives since 2004. The fundamental issues of

 

BANGKOK 00003006 004 OF 004

 

justice and ethnic identity driving the violence are not

unique to southern Thailand. More specifically, many Malay

Muslims feel that they are second-class citizens in Thailand,

and ending the insurgency will require the government to deal

with these issues on a national level – which the on-going

political instability in Bangkok has, to this point,

prevented. In the mean time, the insurgents use IEDs,

assassinations, and beheadings to challenge the control of

the Thai state in the deep South. The government has

responded through special security laws which give security

forces expanded power to search and detain people.

 

18. (C) Southern separatists direct their anger at the

government in Bangkok, not at the United States. Since a

U.S. presence or perception of U.S. involvement in the South

could redirect that anger towards us and link it to the

international jihadist movement — a link that is currently

absent — we ensure that any offers of assistance or training

pass the \”location and label\” test. Put simply, we keep U.S.

military personnel away from the far South and we make sure

that we do not label any assistance or training as directly

linked to the southern situation. Likewise, we work to avoid

feeding rampant, outlandish speculation that we are somehow

fomenting the violence in the South in order to justify

building permanent bases — a very sensitive issue in

Thailand. We do not want to jeopardize our access to key

military facilities in Thailand like Utapao Naval Air Station.

 

19. (C) The Embassy maintains a three-pronged focus to

improve our military cooperation in order to address the

violence in the South:

1) Using our exercise and training program to improve the

professional and operational skills of the Royal Thai Armed

Forces, especially the Thai Army;

2) Helping the Thai break down stovepipes between the Thai

military, police forces, and civilian agencies;

3) Doing everything we can to ensure the Thai respect

international human rights norms as they counter the violence.

 

THE INCREASING ROLE OF CHINA

—————————-

 

20. (C) Thai leaders continue to develop closer relations

with China while simultaneously emphasizing the vital role of

the U.S. in the region. While Thai military links with the

United States are deeper and far more apparent than Sino-Thai

links, China\’s growing influence in Thailand and Southeast

Asia is evident in business, the arts, the media, and the

military.

 

21. (C) The Chinese through hosting visits have made a strong

effort to court the Thai military. The Thai military has a

range of Chinese weapons systems in its arsenal; the PLA Navy

is interested in closer links with the Thai navy, and China

has worked with Thailand to improve air defense equipment

provided to Thailand in the late 1980\’s. In 2007 and 2008,

Thai and Chinese Special Forces conducted joint exercises,

and other mil-to-mil exchanges have expanded in recent years,

as has the number of bilateral military VIP visits. A yet to

be finalized bilateral Marine Corps exercise between China

and Thailand near the eastern seaboard port of Sattahip next

year highlights the continuing push by China to expand their

mil-to-mil relations with Thailand\’s military.

 

22. (C) As the shape of Southeast Asia, Asia writ large, and

the world has changed, so have Thai attitudes. The Chinese

have been making a major push to upgrade all aspects of

relations, including mil-mil. Thailand is not interested in

making a choice between the U.S. and China (nor do we see

closer Chinese-Thai relations as automatically threatening to

our interests here), but we will need to work harder to

maintain the preferred status we have enjoyed.

JOHN

Written by thaicables

July 22, 2011 at 9:30 am

08BANGKOK2856 PAD DEFIANCE CONTINUES AS THE PAD HIGHLIGHTS PM-ELECT SOMCHAI\’S TIES TO THAKSIN

leave a comment »

“170580”,”9/19/2008 10:01″,”08BANGKOK2856″,”Embassy Bangkok”,

 

“CONFIDENTIAL”,”08BANGKOK2592″,”VZCZCXRO6648

OO RUEHCHI RUEHCN RUEHDT RUEHHM

DE RUEHBK #2856/01 2631001

ZNY CCCCC ZZH

O 191001Z SEP 08

FM AMEMBASSY BANGKOK

TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 4413

INFO RUEHZS/ASSOCIATION OF SOUTHEAST ASIAN NATIONS PRIORITY

RUEHBY/AMEMBASSY CANBERRA PRIORITY 9039

RUEHWL/AMEMBASSY WELLINGTON PRIORITY 2425

RUEHLO/AMEMBASSY LONDON PRIORITY 1729

RUEHBJ/AMEMBASSY BEIJING PRIORITY 6347

RUEHUL/AMEMBASSY SEOUL PRIORITY 4905

RUEHKO/AMEMBASSY TOKYO PRIORITY 1048

RUEHCHI/AMCONSUL CHIANG MAI PRIORITY 5651

RHEFDIA/DIA WASHDC PRIORITY

RUEAIIA/CIA WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY

RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY

RHHMUNA/CDR USPACOM HONOLULU HI PRIORITY

RHHMUNA/USCINCPAC HONOLULU HI PRIORITY

RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC PRIORITY”,”C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 BANGKOK 002856

 

SIPDIS

 

E.O. 12958: DECL: 09/19/2018

TAGS: PGOV, PINR, KDEM, TH

SUBJECT: PAD DEFIANCE CONTINUES AS THE PAD HIGHLIGHTS

PM-ELECT SOMCHAI\’S TIES TO THAKSIN

 

REF: BANGKOK 2592 (PAD PRIMER)

 

BANGKOK 00002856 001.2 OF 003

 

Classified By: Ambassador Eric G. John, reason: 1.4 (b) and (d).

 

SUMMARY AND COMMENT

——————-

 

1. (C) The People\’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) — the group

currently occupying and befouling the formal seat of

government — has shown no sign it intends to end its protest

in the near future, despite having achieved its initial

rationale for occupying the Government House compound in the

first place: the departure of former PM Samak from office.

Leading PAD figures reiterated their opposition to Prime

Minister-elect Somchai Wongsawat, worrying he will advance

the interests of deposed Prime Minister Thaksin, and have

forged a new agenda. The police remain unwilling to storm

the protest site but reportedly are poised to arrest PAD

leaders once they leave Government House. An Appeals Court

has decided to consider (at a date uncertain) an appeal of

the arrest warrants for nine PAD leaders, offering a

potential way out of the impasse. A pro-government group

affiliated with the People\’s Power Party (PPP) plans to hold

a rally on the evening of September 19 to mark the second

anniversary of the 2006 coup d\’etat.

 

2. (C) Comment: If the court were to dismiss the arrest

warrants for PAD leaders, the protestors might be able to

declare victory and safely vacate Government House; Senator

Lertrat Ratanavanich suggested to us September 17 this might

prove a way of escaping the current political standoff.

Alternatively, the PAD might await Thaksin\’s conviction on

abuse of power charges, although the verdict in that case is

not scheduled for delivery until October 21. We have no

basis to dismiss the PAD\’s suspicion that the incoming

administration will continue to advance the interests of

former Prime Minister Thaksin, although, unlike his

predecessor, Somchai has not publicly touted his loyalty to

Thaksin. If Somchai maintains an earnest and

non-confrontational persona, the PAD may find the Thai public

increasingly unsupportive of its rabble-rousing ways; numbers

of supporters at the Government House compound dropped

dramatically in the week after Samak\’s departure, though

heavy rains also played a role. Although Somchai\’s leeway to

select his cabinet members is surely constrained by

commitments to the leaders of PPP factions and other parties,

his appointments could help to stoke or deflate popular

support for the PAD. End Summary and Comment.

 

PAD COMMENTS ON SOMCHAI\’S ELECTION

———————————-

 

3. (U) King Bhumibol on September 18 signed a royal command

endorsing Somchai Wongsawat\’s election as Prime Minister.

The Palace has not announced the date for the inauguration of

Somchai and his yet-to-be-named cabinet, but public

speculation indicates it could be as early as September 22.

Leading PAD figures have publicly rejected the notion of

ending their continuing protest at Government House, the

formal seat of government. PAD spokesman Suriyasai Katasila

announced several steps that he felt Somchai should take,

including:

 

– Dispelling suspicions (based on Somchai\’s wife Yaowapa

being former PM Thaksin\’s sister) that Somchai would further

Thaksin\’s interests;

 

– Committing to continued prosecution of Thaksin for abuses

committed during his time in office;

 

– Addressing concerns raised by the inscription of the Preah

Vihear temple on the UNESCO World Heritage List; and

 

– Explaining his intentions regarding possible amendment of

the constitution (which many suspect would be pursued with an

eye toward promoting Thaksin\’s interests).

 

BANGKOK 00002856 002.2 OF 003

 

4. (U) Separately, PAD co-leader Chamlong Srimuang echoed

elements of Suriyasai\’s agenda, noting that the Samak

administration (in which Somchai held a deputy premiership)

had engaged in corrupt practices. Chamlong added a call for

the revocation of the diplomatic passport that Thaksin holds

by virtue of his status as a former Prime Ministers.

 

RISKING ARREST

————–

 

5. (U) The PAD\’s protest continues at Government House,

though with significantly fewer supporters on hand. Press

reports indicate that the police are waiting for the PAD

leaders to leave the compound before arresting them.

 

6. (U) A Court of Appeals on September 17 decided to accept

for consideration a petition from PAD leaders that requested

review of the warrants issued for their arrest. It is

unclear when the Court might rule on the warrants. PAD\’s

core leaders are charged with violating the following

articles of the Criminal Code:

 

– Article 113, which provides for capital punishment or life

imprisonment for those engaging in insurrection, defined as a

threatened or actual act of violence aiming to \”overthrow or

change the constitution,\” or to undermine the legislative,

executive or judicial branches.

 

– Article 114, which provides for punishment of three to 15

years\’ imprisonment for those who plot or contribute to

insurrection, as defined above.

 

– Article 116, which provides for up to seven years\’

imprisonment for anyone who publicly incites disturbances;

encourages illegal actions; or encourages the use of violence

to change the laws or government.

 

– Article 215, which provides for varying degrees of

punishment (potentially as minor as a small fine) for members

of any group of 10 or more people who \”cause a breach of the

peace\” or commit or threaten violence.

 

– Article 216, which imposes additional penalties (again,

potentially as minor as a small fine) for members of a group

in violation of Article 215 if they fail to disperse when the

authorities order them to do so.

 

HOPES FOR A POSSIBLE WAY OUT?

—————————–

 

7. (SBU) GEN Lertrat Ratanavanich, an appointed Senator whom

the Senate Chair had tapped to try to facilitate dialogue

between the Army and the PAD, told us September 17 that he

hoped Somchai\’s non-confrontational manner and the Appeals

Court decision to accept the PAD appeal of the arrest

warrants, several weeks after having rejected the appeal,

offered a possible way out of the impasse. Lertrat suggested

Somchai could send signals of his willingness to meet several

PAD demands, such as pledging not to push forward

Constitutional amendments that would help Thaksin. However,

the key to resolving the PAD occupation, in his view, was the

possible court appeal – to allow the PAD leaders to save face

by exiting the Government House compound without being

arrested.

 

PALACE TIES OF THE PAD?

———————–

 

8. (C) While criticizing Somchai as a likely proxy for

Thaksin, PAD\’s leaders are themselves seen as acting on

behalf of figures at the Palace. Reftel noted rumors of

Queen Sirikit\’s support for the PAD. In late August,

Princess Sirindhorn instructed the Thai Red Cross, for which

she holds the title of Executive Vice President, to prepare

medical teams and supplies to assist in the event of clashes

between PAD and the authorities. An expatriate with close

ties to the Queen\’s circle assured us on September 17 that

 

BANGKOK 00002856 003.2 OF 003

 

the PAD had \”handlers\” (presumably people with royalist

sympathies) who, with relative ease, would be able to direct

an end the PAD\’s rallies at the appropriate time.

 

UDD COUNTER-DEMONSTRATORS TO MARK COUP ANNIVERSARY

——————————————— —–

 

9. (U) The United Front of Democracy against Dictatorship

(UDD) announced it would hold a demonstration at the Royal

Grounds (Sanam Luang) in the evening of September 19 to mark

the second year anniversary of the September 19, 2006 coup

that deposed ex-PM Thaksin. Army Commander Anupong Paojinda

publicly reminded demonstrators they should not carry weapons

to their rally.

 

10. (SBU) UDD co-founder Veera Muskiapong claimed to us

September 10 that the September 2 street violence

precipitated by pro-government toughs and attributed to UDD

was unplanned and not under UDD direction. His hope for UDD

rallies in Bangkok had been for UDD to draw more supporters

than PAD and show that they were more peaceful and law

abiding than the PAD; the result was the opposite, tarnishing

UDD\’s reputation.

 

11. (SBU) In comparison to the post-coup period, in which

Veera and several other veterans of the pro-Thaksin \”People\’s

Television\” station (PTV) took over coordination of a

wide-range of anti-coup groups and provided centralized

leadership, the pro-government street efforts since August 26

had a more decentralized structure, Veera stated. Veera, who

claimed he was sick the night of September 1 and not at Sanam

Luang when the pro-government mob moved towards the PAD

encampment, said that PPP MP Pracha Prasobdee, who openly

admitted helping orchestrate the pro-government demonstration

under the \”People\’s Group for the Protection of Democracy\”

banner, now leans more toward violent confrontation.

JOHN

Written by thaicables

July 19, 2011 at 5:51 am

06BANGKOK1473 EAP DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY JOHN’S MEETING WITH DEMOCRAT PARTY DEPUTY LEADER SURIN

leave a comment »

“55878”,”3/9/2006 10:16″,”06BANGKOK1473″,

 

“Embassy Bangkok”,”CONFIDENTIAL”,””,

“This record is a partial extract of the original cable.

The full text of the original cable is not available.

 

“,”C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 BANGKOK 001473

 

SIPDIS

 

E.O. 12958: DECL: 08/03/2016

TAGS: PGOV, PREL, TH, SNAP Elections, Thai Prime Minister

SUBJECT: EAP DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY JOHN\’S MEETING WITH

DEMOCRAT PARTY DEPUTY LEADER SURIN

 

Classified By: AMBASSADOR RALPH BOYCE. REASON 1.4(D)

 

1. (C) Summary: During a March 8 meeting with EAP Deputy

Assistant Secretary John and the Ambassador, Democrat Party

Deputy Leader and former Foreign Minister Surin Pitsuwan

voiced his hope that the Palace would convince Prime Minister

Thaksin to step down. He acknowledged, however, that the

King would likely be reluctant to oust a populist leader

elected by a large majority of the populace. Surin said that

the DP is mounting a series of rallies around Thailand to

encourage the electorate to check \”no vote\” on their ballots

in next month\’s elections. He claimed that Thaksin\’s TRT

party is busily paying individuals to oppose it under the

banner of small inconsequential parties in order to give the

appearance of a real electoral contest. End summary.

 

2. (C) Democrat Party Deputy Leader and former Foreign

Minister Surin Pitsuwan met with EAP DAS John on March 8,

just prior to his leaving for a series of rallies around

Thailand to encourage the electorate to check \”no vote\” on

their ballots in next month\’s elections. Surin said that DP

leaders are explaining to voters throughout Thailand their

party\’s rationale for refusing participation in the polls.

Surin claimed that the election would be rigged and that the

DP did not want to legitimize an essentially \”dirty process.\”

He added that in the absence of the DP running, the TRT is

paying individuals to oppose it under the banner of small

inconsequential parties and busily forging the paperwork to

allow the ersatz candidates to meet residential, educational

and time-in-party requirements. In his district in Nakhon Si

Thammarat, said Surin, the TRT had offered 1 million baht to

a local candidate to run against it, but the potential

recruit was holding out for three million. (Note:

registration of candidates concluded on March 8 afternoon.)

 

3. (C) DAS John noted that the Shin Corp sale appears to

have been a tipping point, but that Thaksin has not actually

been caught out committing a blatantly illegal action — so

why the boycott and clamor for his resignation? Surin

responded that Thaksin\’s \”sin\” has been a consistent evasion

of the law and misuse of authority. He and his regime have

undermined and manipulated all of the country\’s supervisory

mechanisms — the Security and Exchange Commission, the

Constitutional Court, the Election Commission, the Tax

Department, etc. Thaksin has been \”too good\” at manipulating

small weaknesses in a generally good — though in need of

some adjustment — constitution, Surin said. Even the

nominally independent courts are suborned by Thaksin through

bribery. In addition, Thaksin controlled the electronic

media and much of the print media, Surin complained. Why

participate when the system will be manipulated against you?

Surin concluded.

 

4. (C) Surin acknowledged international criticism of the

DP\’s decision to boycott the April polls. DAS John asked how

he would address critics who say that the DP is a

\”spoilsport\” that, cognizant that the Prime Minister would

win in a new election, will try to bring him down by other

means. Surin responded that the political and governmental

system itself has gone bad under Thaksin — constitutional

controls have been undermined by the Prime Minister and

electoral watchdog bodies compromised.

 

5. (C) The Ambassador raised the seeming divide between

Thaksin\’s political base in north and northeast Thailand on

the one hand and Bangkok on the other. Surin said that the

average low income worker or farmer in populous Isaan

(northeast) Thailand is \”not interested\” and does not want to

know about the crisis that Thaksin has created by his abuse

of power. \”It is the educated in Bangkok and the elite\” who

are carrying the struggle, he added.

 

6. (C) When DAS John asked where he thought the situation

was going, Surin said that he hoped that someone such as

Privy Council Chairman General Prem Tinsulanonda would be

able to weigh in with the Palace\’s authority to persuade

Thaksin to go for the sake of the country\’s stability. He

opined that otherwise Thaksin will not likely go without

being pushed. If Article 7 comes into play, Surin said, the

King could appoint a new Prime Minister and \”fair and

transparent\” elections be scheduled. (Note: Article 7

stipulates that \”Whenever no provision under this

Constitution is applicable to any case, it shall be decided

in accordance with the constitutional practice in the

democratic regime of government with the King as Head of the

State.\”) The Ambassador asked if the DP had lines through to

the Palace towards this eventuality. Surin said he thought

not, but that the DP was \”hopeful\” that the Palace would

decide \”enough is enough\” and tell Thaksin to go. (Note: On

March 8 Privy Councillor and former Supreme Commander General

Surayut Chulanont issued a call for a dialogue between

Thaksin and his opposition.)

7. (C) Surin agreed with the Ambassador that the King would

be reluctant to oust a populist leader elected by a large

majority of the populace and still apparently enjoying great

popularity outside of Bangkok and the DP\’s traditional

stronghold in Thailand\’s south. The Palace would not want to

appear to take sides in this contest between Thaksin and his

enemies, he noted.

 

8. (C) Another variable in the ongoing situation is the

upcoming celebration of the King\’s 60th anniversary of his

accession to the throne, said Surin. He said that the

results of the flawed elections may not be resolved by then

and the Palace would be apprehensive over the celebrations

taking place amid an atmosphere of national political

uncertainty. The anti-Thaksin demonstrators under the

People\’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) umbrella would likely

call for a break during the celebrations. The situation is

\”messy\” with no \”happy\” options, Surin said. The Parliament

cannot even be re-seated because the decree dissolving it had

immediate effect. Thinking aloud, Surin added that Thaksin

could have saved himself and the country considerable trouble

if, rather than dissolve Parliament, he had resigned and

appointed a malleable successor.

 

9. (C) The Ambassador noted that the DP has some dubious

company on its side of the anti-Thaksin front — Sondhi has a

questionable business past and Chamlong is out of date and

heads a strange cult of followers. Surin agreed and noted

that the DP is avoiding the anti-Thaksin rallies sponsored by

Sondhi and the PAD. Rather, DP representatives are

participating in academic seminars on issues such as

Thaksin\’s alleged stock manipulation and tax evasion.

 

BOYCE

Written by thaicables

July 10, 2011 at 4:37 am

05BANGKOK1921 THAIS SEEK RETURN OF CLAIMED ROYAL HEADDRESS

leave a comment »

“28897″,”3/16/2005 8:48″,”05BANGKOK1921″

 

,”Embassy Bangkok”,”CONFIDENTIAL”,

 

“05BANGKOK1527|05BANGKOK1617|05BANGKOK1737″,

 

“This record is a partial extract of the original cable.

 

The full text of the original cable is not available. “,

 

“C O N F I D E N T I A L

 

SECTION 01 OF 02 BANGKOK 001921 SIPDIS

 

DEPARTMENT FOR EAP/BCLTV, EAP/PD E.O. 12958:

 

DECL: 03/11/2015 TAGS: PGOV, KPAO, TH

 

SUBJECT: THAIS SEEK RETURN OF CLAIMED ROYAL HEADDRESS

 

REF: A) BANGKOK 1617

 

B) BANGKOK 1737

 

C) BANGKOK 1527

 

Classified By: Classified by Political Counselor Robert J. Clarke, Reas on 1.4 (d)

 

1. (C) SUMMARY: Thai media and some politicians have recently called for the return to Thailand of a 500-year old royal headdress which they claim was stolen in the 1950s. The headdress is currently on display at the San Francisco Asian Art Museum, on loan from the Philadelphia Museum of Art. At the urging of the Prime Minister, the Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Culture set up committees to investigate the authenticity and possible return of the relic. Private individuals and one publicity-seeking MP have staged several demonstrations at the Embassy urging return of the headdress. Recently, some prominent individuals quietly approached the Embassy hoping to negotiate a discreet return of the \”crown\” to the Thai Royal Family.

 

SUMMARY

 

2. (U) During a news lull between Thailand\’s February 6 general election and the official swearing in of Prime Minister Thaksin\’s new cabinet on March 14, local media focused attention on a controversy over a golden royal headdress currently on display at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco. The headdress, an item in an exhibit entitled \”The Kingdom of Siam: The Art Of Central Thailand 1350-1800,\” is on loan through May 8 from the permanent collection of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, which reportedly bought it from Sotheby\’s auction house in 1982. When and how the piece got from Thailand to Sotheby\’s is unclear. Interestingly, the controversy in Thailand was stirred by Prime Minister Thaksin himself. Thaksin apparently saw a Thai news report about a raid by thieves on Thai Buddhist temples in Ayuddhya Province in the 1950s. The news story supposedly traced some of the relics lost in that temple raid to the current exhibit in San Francisco. On the basis of the news report, Thaksin asked the former Minster of Culture Anurak Chureemas to investigate, and publicly announced his decision to pursue the matter on March 1.

 

3. (U) Ayuddhya, located some 80 kilometers north of Bangkok, was the capital of the Kingdom of Siam from the 14th to 18th centuries. The headdress reportedly was made in 1424 and belonged to King Borom Rajathiraj II. Local news reporters interviewed an elderly man who claimed he was one of the last surviving members of a band which over 50 years ago had raided the temple where the headdress was kept. According to various accounts, the headdress was among golden palace artifacts which had been hidden inside Buddha images to protect them from the marauding Burmese army which ransacked the former capital prior to the fall of the Ayuddhya Kingdom in 1767. To date, no other major Thai royal artifacts have been identified in the San Francisco exhibit and claimed.

 

ELEPHANTS VISIT EMBASSY GATES

 

4. (U) Initial media coverage used misnomers to describe the controversial relic as the \”Ayuddhya Crown Jewels,\” or \”Crown of Ayuddhya.\” The piece is not a ceremonial crown, but a royal headdress worn on day-to-day occasions. On March 3 and 8, peaceful protests were held at the US Embassy to demand the return of the object (Refs A and B.) The first was highlighted by the participation of 5 adult elephants and one baby elephant from the Ayuddhya Elephant camp. Many of the approximately 200 demonstrators carried the former national flag of Siam which features the symbol of an elephant on a red background. It is unclear who organized the demonstration but it coincided with the release of the 2004 Country Human Rights Report and calls for protests by a local TV news personality who was vehemently critical of the report, which criticized Thailand\’s recent human rights record (Ref C). Written on the side of one elephant was the message, \”Traitors helped sack Ayuddhya once, don\’t let them do it again.\” The second demonstration, organized by opposition Member of Parliament Chuwit Kamolwisit, provided an opportunity for media grandstanding by the former massage parlor and brothel tycoon. Chuwit presented a letter to an Embassy officer calling for the return of the crown.

 

OFFICIAL RESPONSE

 

5. (U) On March 4, the Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Culture set up three subcommittees to investigate the headdress issue. The committees will first address the authenticity of the headdress, seek a legal mechanism to prove its ownership and then address negotiations for its return. The Embassy has not yet been contacted by MFA concerning this matter.

 

6. (SBU) Separately, on March 3, the Department of Fine Arts (under the Ministry of Culture) contacted the Embassy\’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) office to seek assistance in the return of the headdress. The Bangkok ICE office contacted their New York Field office to report possible stolen artifacts located in the US but of Thai origin. ICE would need proof of authenticity and origin of the article in order to issue a summons to the Philadelphia Art Museum for the return of the object. ICE investigations in the U.S. and Thailand continue.

 

A MESSAGE FROM THE PRINCESS?

 

7. (C) On March 10, the Vice Governor of Pathumthani Province, Mom Luang (M.L.) Panadda Diskul contacted the Embassy directly to discuss the headdress issue. ML Panadda is the great grandson of the late Prayaracha Damrong, who founded the Ministry of Interior and was a son of King Rama IV. ML Panadda is known to be well connected to King Bhumibol\’s daughter, Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn. He is also chairman of the board of directors of the respected Prince Damrong Rajanupab Museum and Library. During a brief meeting with the Cultural Affairs officer, Poloffs and ICE agents, ML Panadda expressed his desire to see this matter settled privately and not \”politically.\” He expressed concern that the story of the headdress was being distorted by the media and politicians as a nationalistic issue. \”Some individuals were not really interested in preserving an important cultural artifact,\” he said. He asked the Embassy whether, if the headdress were to be returned to Thailand, it could be given to the Royal Family and not directly to the RTG. He specifically mentioned giving it to Princess Sirindhorn via private, unspecified channels. ML Panadda also hinted that a good time to return the headdress might be next year during the 60th anniversary commemorations of King Bhumibol\’s accession to the throne. He expressed his hope that the matter of the headdress would not spark a major \”diplomatic incident\” between the U.S. and Thailand. ML Panadda repeatedly stated that he was visiting the Embassy in his private capacity as a close associate of Princess Sirindhorn and not in his official capacity as a Thai civil servant.

 

8. (C) COMMENT: The publicity surrounding the headdress has generated great public interest in the issue of stolen Thai artifacts. Stories in the print and broadcast media immediately focused on quick repatriation of the headdress in San Francisco to the Kingdom. More recent media coverage observed that the RTG and private Thai foundations have in many cases failed to protect Thailand\’s antiquities from plunder. Museums in Ayuddhya featuring artifacts from the same historic era as the alleged royal headdress also registered a large increase in attendance. Thais are rightly proud of their cultural heritage and particularly sensitive about antiquities associated with royalty. The private intervention with the Embassy from ML Panadda, which could genuinely have been at the behest of the King\’s favorite daughter and popular \”People\’s Princess,\” indicates the level of interest and pride in this golden treasure. END COMMENT.

 

BOYCE ”

Written by thaicables

July 6, 2011 at 7:52 am

05BANGKOK5917 CONFLICT OVER AUDITOR GENERAL EMBARRASSES THAKSIN GOVERNMENT

leave a comment »

“40574”,”9/14/2005 10:28″,”05BANGKOK5917″,

 

“Embassy Bangkok”,”CONFIDENTIAL”,”05BANGKOK3381|05BANGKOK3471″,

 

“This record is a partial extract of the original cable.

 

The full text of the original cable is not available.

 

“,”C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 BANGKOK 005917

 

SIPDIS

 

E.O. 12958: DECL: 09/14/2015

TAGS: PGOV, TH

SUBJECT: CONFLICT OVER AUDITOR GENERAL EMBARRASSES THAKSIN

GOVERNMENT

 

REF: (A) BANGKOK 3471 (B) BANGKOK 3381

 

Classified By: POLITICAL COUNSELOR SUSAN M. SUTTON. REASON: 1.4 (D)

 

1. (C) Summary. Some 96 days after a candidate for new

Auditor-General was submitted by the Senate for the King’s

approval, the Palace remains mute, leaving the Thaksin

Government in an awkward situation. Though the issue of

appointments to the independent Auditor-General position is

made by the nominally neutral Senate, the nominee, Wisut

Montriwat, is widely believed to have been picked by Prime

Minister Thaksin’s Thai Rak Thai (TRT) Party to replace

incumbent Khunying Jaruwan Maintahai (ref. B). Jaruwan is

considered by observers here as a straight-shooting,

incorruptible officer who was closing in on alleged

government malfeasance in awarding contracts for the new

airport. The Palace’s silence has become deafening and now

there is increasing call for the resignation of Senate

Speaker Suchon Suwanpanont for trying to remove Jaruvan and

for sending Wisut’s name to the King for approval without

final determination of Jaruwan’s status. The issue is also

causing tensions within the TRT. More significantly, the

discussion emanating from the Auditor-General controversy has

ignited discussion over the powers of the monarchy. End

Summary.

 

BACKGROUND

 

2. (SBU) As noted in earlier reporting, on July 6, 2004,

the Constitutional Court ruled that the selection process

that made Jaruwan Auditor General was unconstitutional. The

Court did not rule, however, if the unconstitutional

selection process meant that Jaruwan had to resign. The

ruling catalyzed intense debate on Khunying Jaruwan,s

status. Some said she was defacto removed from her office

by the ruling, but others argued that without the royal

command for her removal and in light of the fact that the

Court did not rule on her vacation of office, she could stay

on as Auditor-General. However, a majority of senators

(especially those under the government’s control) championed

the first notion; thus, moving for selection of a new

Auditor-General. On May 10 this year, the Senate selected

Wisut Montriwat, a former Deputy Permanent Secretary of

finance considered by many to be a supporter of the Thaksin

government, as new Auditor-General.

 

3. (SBU) This selection met with resistance from some

Senators, MPs and law experts, who warned of legal

complications. 60 members of the TRT’s Wang Nam Yen faction

sent a letter to Senate Speaker Suchon, asking him not to

propose the name of Wisut for the King’s appointment (as

noted in previous reporting, around 40 members of the faction

were later pressured by PM Thaksin into withdrawing their

names from the support of this act). Regardless of all the

opposition, Suchon presented the name of the new

Auditor-General to the King on June 10, 2005, but to date the

King has not yet issued the Royal Command appointing the new

Auditor-General, although such appointments are normally

quickly endorsed by the Palace. (Note: It was believed that

Suchon, known as the Government,s supporter, had been

instructed by the powers that be to forge ahead with Wisut,s

nomination as new Auditor-General. End note.) Observers such

as XXXXXX Editor XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX claim to us that

the Palace was unhappy over the Senate’s attempt to make the

King complicit with rubber-stamping the removal of Jaruwan —

a popular official who had been officially endorsed by the

King.

 

THE POWER OF THE MONARCHY COMES UNDER DISCUSSION

 

4. (C) The Palace’s passive-aggressive response to the

attempt to oust Jaruwan was certainly on the minds of

participants in a September 6th 2005, Thammasat

University-hosted seminar discussion on the powers of the

monarchy in modern Thailand. The seminar drew a much larger

crowd than officials had expected. Many insiders were

interested in how the modern-day monarchy plays into Thai

politics, and were looking for insights into the resolution

of the Auditor-General row. The main speaker was TRT MP

Pramuan Rutchanaseri, who recently wrote a best-selling book

called “Royal Powers”. Pramuan has recently faced threats of

expulsion from the TRT party because of his dissenting views

from Prime Minister Thaksin on several issues. As expected,

Pramuan and others at the seminar strongly criticized the

Thaksin administration, especially the perception that he

was, through Suchon’s attempt to remove Jaruwan, challenging

the power of the King.

 

ISSUE COMING TO A HEAD

 

5. (C) COMMENT: It has been 96 days since Wisut’s name was

presented to the King for his appointment, and the feeling

here is that something has to give. Many observers here,

such as Senator Thawin Phraison, tell us that Thaksin wants

to extricate himself from this embarrassing impasse by having

Senate Speaker Suchon pull back Wisut’s nomination. There is

reportedly a good deal of behind-the-scenes maneuvering.

Recently, for example, four Senators, led by Bangkok Senator

Seri Suwanphanon, reportedly asked the King’s Principal

Private Secretary, Asa Sarasin, for a meeting to discuss a

solution to the situation. Suchon is facing increasing

criticism for his role in the clumsy attempt to remove a

popular and honest official. The Campaign for Popular

Democracy (CDP) and other civic groups will decide shortly on

whether to gather the 50,000 signatures needed for an

impeachment petition against Suchon. Though the imbroglio has

been an embarrassment for Thaksin, he has so far managed to

avoid becoming too publicly linked with this issue.

Thaksin’s opponents hoped that the conflict might seriously

weaken the Prime Minister, but it seems to lack resonance

outside the highly politicized circles in Bangkok — another

embarrassment, but hardly a fatal blow. End Comment.

ARVIZU

Written by thaicables

June 24, 2011 at 2:07 pm

08BANGKOK1293 THAI DEMOCRACY ABROGATED AND RESTORED: LESSONS LEARNED

leave a comment »

“151519”,”4/28/2008 8:31″,”08BANGKOK1293″,”Embassy Bangkok”,

 

“CONFIDENTIAL”,”07BANGKOK5718″,”VZCZCXRO9460

OO RUEHCHI RUEHCN RUEHDT RUEHHM

DE RUEHBK #1293/01 1190831

ZNY CCCCC ZZH

O 280831Z APR 08

FM AMEMBASSY BANGKOK

TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 2813

INFO RUEHZS/ASSOCIATION OF SOUTHEAST ASIAN NATIONS PRIORITY

RUEHBJ/AMEMBASSY BEIJING PRIORITY 5878

RUEHUL/AMEMBASSY SEOUL PRIORITY 4520

RUEHBY/AMEMBASSY CANBERRA PRIORITY 8628

RUEHKO/AMEMBASSY TOKYO PRIORITY 0650

RUEHCHI/AMCONSUL CHIANG MAI PRIORITY 5146

RUEATRS/DEPT OF TREASURY WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY

RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC PRIORITY

RHEFDIA/DIA WASHDC PRIORITY

RUEAIIA/CIA WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY

RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY

RHHMUNA/CDR USPACOM HONOLULU HI PRIORITY”,”C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 05 BANGKOK 001293

 

SIPDIS

 

SIPDIS

 

NSC FOR PHU

 

E.O. 12958: DECL: 04/28/2018

TAGS: PREL, PGOV, PHUM, KDEM, TH

SUBJECT: THAI DEMOCRACY ABROGATED AND RESTORED: LESSONS

LEARNED

 

REF: 07 BANGKOK 5718 (SUCCESSION MECHANICS)

 

BANGKOK 00001293 001.2 OF 005

 

Classified By: Ambassador Eric G. John, reason: 1.4 (b) and (d).

 

SUMMARY

——-

 

1. (C) Despite Thailand\’s peaceful transition back to an

elected government, underlying tensions between certain

social groups remain unresolved. Many Thais initially

accepted the September 2006 coup because it offered a way out

of a grueling political crisis and appeared to have the

King\’s support. Thais increasingly soured on the

military-appointed interim administration as it proved

incapable of dealing with difficult problems, but the Army

preserved some of its credibility by allowing elections to

take place. We do not rule out the possibility of the

military taking sides in a continuing conflict between

representatives of different social classes; based on the

2006-2007 experience, Thais may trust the military to return

to the barracks after political interventions of limited

duration. It is unclear how changes in the role of the

monarchy would affect the likelihood or dynamics of any

potential future coups. Some informed observers speculate

that the King\’s death might spark extra-constitutional action

of some sort by the military. The formation of a pro-Thaksin

administration in February 2008 reveals limitations on the

Palace\’s power. Foreign pressure contributed to the return

to democratically-elected government but did not appear

decisive; most Thais in the governing class seemed to accept

USG restrictions on assistance as a reasonable response to

the 2006 coup, and the fact that these restrictions were

grounded in law helped to preserve good will toward the U.S.

End Summary.

 

WHAT PROMPTED THE COUP?

———————–

 

2. (SBU) Military leaders launched the 2006 coup d\’etat

during a time of protracted political crisis. In 2005, Prime

Minister Thaksin Shinawatra\’s Thai Rak Thai (TRT) party,

using a combination of populist appeal and money politics,

won an overwhelming majority in the parliament. Thaksin

absorbed into TRT the most successful power brokers in the

North and Northeast, as well as their political machines and

networks. As it looked increasingly improbable that existing

mechanisms could check Thaksin\’s power, protestors concerned

by allegations of corruption and autocratic practices took to

the streets, and some prominent figures called

(unsuccessfully) for King Bhumibol to intervene under the

cover of a vague constitutional provision. Army Commander

Sonthi Boonyaratglin and his colleagues launched their coup

only after months of widespread angst, periods of mass

protests in Bangkok, and when faced with upcoming elections

that appeared certain to reinforce Thaksin\’s political

position. In the immediate aftermath, many in Bangkok\’s

middle and upper classes welcomed the coup, and few prominent

figures denounced it.

 

WHY SUCH TEPID OPPOSITION TO THE COUP?

————————————–

 

3. (C) The coup leaders benefited from an appearance of

Palace endorsement. King Bhumibol publicly signaled his

acquiescence (if not support) when granting an audience to

Sonthi and the other coupmakers involved on the night of

their coup. Like many of their predecessors, the leaders of

the 2006 coup portrayed themselves as forced to act to

protect the King, highlighting their allegiance when

identifying themselves as (roughly translated) \”the Council

for Democratic Reform under the Monarchy\” (CDRM), and

receiving the King\’s imprimatur in the form of a Royal

Command appointing Sonthi as the head of the CDRM. We

believe signals of Palace support — or, at a minimum,

acceptance — played an important role in promoting the

public\’s acceptance of the coup, although other key factors

included widespread frustration with the ongoing political

crisis and faith in the coup leaders\’ promise to hold

 

BANGKOK 00001293 002.2 OF 005

 

elections in approximately one year.

 

4. (C) Politicians, with their lucrative livelihood at stake,

were the primary figures pressing publicly for a quick return

to a democratically-elected government. Even before the

coup, established Thai NGOs — which traditionally focus on

rural development — for the most part stayed away from

debates about national politics. After the coup, few NGOs

appeared to contribute meaningfully to pro-/anti-coup

discourse; the most visible and active NGOs were newly-formed

partisan organizations clearly linked to Thaksin, while even

smaller anti-coup groups that emerged were suspected to be

mere fronts established by the deposed PM\’s allies.

 

5. (C) Some student groups adopted positions toward the coup,

but students did not mobilize demonstrations, and their

collective opinion did not become a meaningful factor, unlike

in prior eras. In recent years, political issues generally

have not energized Thai students, especially at Bangkok\’s

most prestigious universities; student groups for the most

part were not involved in the pre-coup anti-Thaksin protests.

It appears that, under contemporary conditions, the

authorities would have to egregiously affront the

sensibilities of the elite and middle class in order to

generate a widespread student response.

 

FOREIGN PRESSURE NOT DECISIVE

—————————–

 

6. (C) The coup leaders and the interim administration had

many concerns influencing their willingness to proceed with

December\’s election, including their physical safety and

prospects for retaining political influence. The stakes for

the coup leaders were enormous; they had overthrown one of

Thailand\’s most powerful and vindictive Prime Ministers.

Thus, we find it difficult to imagine any set of foreign

sanctions that could have had a decisive impact while also

being compatible with the longstanding friendship between

Thailand and the West.

 

7. (C) The interim authorities at times demonstrated a

willingness to treat foreign attitudes as peripheral. For

example, the authorities were slow to rescind martial law in

much of the country, even though Surayud offered us his

assurance he would proceed rapidly on this oft-raised issue.

Nevertheless, the Thai did indicate sensitivity to foreign

opinion. When the interim cabinet was inaugurated in October

2006, King Bhumibol specified that repairing Thailand\’s

international image should be a top priority, along with

helping flood victims.

 

8. (C) While we believe USG restrictions on assistance to the

post-coup regime did not place decisive pressure on the

interim administration, our actions clearly registered our

view with the Thai public, and especially with those people

with ties to the Thaksin administration. The Ambassador has

received grateful thanks for the USG\’s advocacy for democracy

from leading PPP figures, including the current Foreign

Minister, as well as from leaders of the opposition Democrat

Party. The fact that our restrictions on assistance to the

interim administration were required by Section 508 of the

Foreign Operations Appropriation Act allowed us to convey

clearly that our actions constituted a direct response to the

coup and were mandated by U.S. law; they were not driven by

any agenda to favor any particular political faction (as

Thais might otherwise have suspected) and did not imply

renunciation of our alliance and friendship with Thailand.

Even General Sonthi in July 2007 told the Ambassador and a

visiting U.S. Congressman that he understood and accepted our

imposition of restrictions.

 

9. (C) The greatest confluence between foreign and domestic

interests may have lain in the economic realm. The interim

authorities set economic policies that imposed costs on

Thailand\’s foreign investors and trade partners. The Thai

business community and other opinion-makers realized that

economic conditions would continue to stagnate or deteriorate

until Thailand returned to traditional political practices

 

BANGKOK 00001293 003.2 OF 005

 

and restored a sense of stability and predictability,

necessary for both foreign and domestic investors.

 

WHAT WENT WRONG?

—————-

 

10. (C) Within weeks of the coup, the military leadership

fulfilled a commitment to hand governance over to a civilian

cabinet. While the public had high expectations for interim

Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont when he was appointed, many

in the political class questioned Surayud\’s appointment of a

cabinet consisting predominantly of senior or retired

bureaucrats, 20 of whom were at least 60 years old. With few

exceptions (such as controversial efforts at the Health

Ministry), Surayud and his cabinet were not inclined to use

their authority to push through bold reforms. Rather, most

interim administration members seemed content just to keep

the government functioning until they could hand the reins

over to elected officials. The Ministers who did take

energetic action seemed to do so without guidance or control

from the Prime Minister. Surayud\’s administration appeared

particularly inept at managing the economy. Moreover,

neither prosecutors nor independent corruption investigators

proved able to build a compelling legal case against deposed

Prime Minister Thaksin.

 

11. (C) Despite government attempts to discredit and

marginalize him, Thaksin remained popular, especially in some

rural areas. Political figures overtly loyal to him appeared

to have access to ample funds for their activities, and they

received a fair amount of media coverage. As the December

election approached, numerous polls and analyses indicated

that the pro-Thaksin People\’s Power Party (PPP) was likely to

win a plurality. Some pro-coup figures appeared reluctant to

return to democracy in that environment, but they were unable

to roll back the legal and public commitments to elections,

which enjoyed widespread support, including from Prime

Minister Surayud and the general public.

 

ROYALISTS COULDN\’T BLOCK THAKSIN BUT AREN\’T VANQUISHED

——————————————— ———

 

12. (C) The 2007 election provided a useful indicator of the

limits of Palace influence. Plausible rumors in the period

leading up to the election claimed that Queen Sirikit sought

actively to block the return to power of pro-Thaksin forces.

We may attribute the failure of such efforts to divisions

within the royal family, or to the lack of mechanisms to

effectively convey Palace views to the public while

maintaining plausible claims that the Chakri dynasty plays an

appropriately apolitical role. Whatever the reason, it is

clear that the monarchy carries enormous influence but, even

when some of its core interests are at stake, lacks full

control over the course of events. While the King likely

could send blunt signals to achieve virtually any short-term

outcome he desires (as in 1992, when he pushed General

Suchinda from power), such intervention could transform the

role of the royal family in ways that open it up to criticism

and, over the long run, jeopardize its current lofty standing.

 

13. (C) PPP\’s victory in the election marked a setback for

the coup leaders. But the failure to block Thaksin\’s

political comeback did not represent capitulation by or

marginalization of the royalist oligarchy. With the return

to power of a pro-Thaksin government, we may once again see a

situation in which a party championing populism and drawing

its strength from the countryside moves to accumulate power

and prestige at the expense of the Palace and its

Bangkok-based blue-blood allies. A fundamental tension

between these two camps remains, and it could lead to further

bitter conflict, prompting public or private calls for

military intervention.

 

WHAT THE FUTURE MAY HOLD

————————

 

14. (C) The factors affecting the likelihood and denouement

of future potential coups will change significantly with the

 

BANGKOK 00001293 004.2 OF 005

 

eventual passing of King Bhumibol. As noted above, by

claiming the support of the King, the 2006 coup leaders

likely preempted criticism if not outright rejection from

some mainstream sectors of society. Bhumibol\’s currently

designated successor, Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn, lacks the

current King\’s extraordinary moral authority, however.

Future military leaders may be less inclined to launch a

coup, knowing they cannot count on a similarly effective

royal blessing to inhibit critics. On the other hand, a

weakened monarchy could imply that future coup leaders,

without an effective check on their power or an imposing

advocate for returning to democracy, would aim to assume the

role of the country\’s supreme authority, resulting in a more

assertive (and harder to dislodge) junta.

 

15. (C) We do not rule out the possibility of a palace

succession crisis sparking some type of unusual or

extra-constitutional action by the military, which could be

drawn into disputes between potential royal heirs. That

said, we consider it most probable that the King\’s death

would be followed — at least initially — by a period of

genuine, widespread grief and an orderly succession. (Reftel

provides post\’s understanding of succession mechanics.)

 

16. (C) For the royalist segment of the Bangkok-based

political class, however, there is no clear path to

perpetuating the monarchy\’s preeminence after the King\’s

death. The 2007 constitution appeared designed to keep

political parties weak and divided; some of the drafters

likely hoped that this would not only preclude the

reemergence of TRT in the near term but also prevent any

civilian politician from rivaling the King\’s leadership.

Nevertheless, PPP\’s success in 2007 signals that Thaksin —

with his network, funds, and popularity in rural areas —

remains the dominant force in party politics. And with Thai

contacts often acknowledging that they feel significantly

more devotion to King Bhumibol than to the institution of the

royal family, it is not unreasonable for royalists to view

Thaksin as an existential threat to the monarchy,

particularly if he is in a position to fill the vacuum that

will appear after Bhumibol\’s death.

 

COMMENT: COUP DISAPPOINTED BUT DID NOT TRAUMATIZE

——————————————— —-

 

17. (C) Even many critics of Thaksin appeared to lose their

initial enthusiasm for the interim administration. The coup

leaders and their clique relinquished power peacefully,

however, when the time they allotted themselves ran out.

They did not attempt to perpetuate their hold on power,

unlike General Suchinda more than a decade earlier. Members

of the political class retain fresh memories of Suchinda, and

these influenced post-coup developments — for example,

prompting widespread demands that the 2007 Constitution

require that the Prime Minister be an elected legislator, to

preclude repetition of the scheme that led to a bloody,

traumatizing clash in 1992.

 

18. (C) With the passage of time, the coup leaders and the

interim administration may be remembered primarily not for

their failings and discord, but rather for offering a

solution, imperfect though it was, to the 2005-06 political

crisis. The Army provided the means to force Thaksin to

\”take a break,\” as many of his critics had urged, and,

through the 2007 election, to allow a referendum on his

governance under conditions that were more balanced than the

(subsequently nullified) elections that took place in the

spring of 2006. The return to power of a pro-Thaksin party

showed that the coup leaders failed to achieve their

fundamental goal of ridding the country of Thaksin\’s

influence — or, indeed, to achieve much at all. But the

willingness of the authorities to allow a pro-Thaksin party

to return to power in democratic elections may reinforce the

notion that the Thai military is suited to play a special

role in difficult times, and that it can be trusted to return

to the barracks after calming troubled waters. In the Thai

collective mind, the 2006-07 experience neither inspired

accolades for military intervention nor established it as

 

BANGKOK 00001293 005.2 OF 005

 

inevitably disastrous.

JOHN

Written by thaicables

June 24, 2011 at 1:24 pm

08BANGKOK3289 THAILAND IN TRANSITION: POLITICAL AND SOCIAL POLARIZATION LIKELY TO PERSIST

leave a comment »

“176606”,”11/4/2008 7:57″,”08BANGKOK3289″,”Embassy Bangkok”,”CONFIDENTIAL”,

 

“08BANGKOK3059|08BANGKOK3080|08BANGKOK3192|08BANGKOK3209|

 

08BANGKOK3226|08BANGKOK3251|08BANGKOK3255″,”VZCZCXRO2345

OO RUEHCHI RUEHCN RUEHDT RUEHHM

DE RUEHBK #3289/01 3090757

ZNY CCCCC ZZH

O 040757Z NOV 08

FM AMEMBASSY BANGKOK

TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 4911

INFO RUEHZS/ASSOCIATION OF SOUTHEAST ASIAN NATIONS PRIORITY

RUEHBJ/AMEMBASSY BEIJING PRIORITY 6467

RUEHKO/AMEMBASSY TOKYO PRIORITY 1150

RUEHUL/AMEMBASSY SEOUL PRIORITY 5019

RUEHBY/AMEMBASSY CANBERRA PRIORITY 9166

RUEHLO/AMEMBASSY LONDON PRIORITY 1779

RUEHCHI/AMCONSUL CHIANG MAI PRIORITY 5790

RHEFDIA/DIA WASHDC PRIORITY

RUEAIIA/CIA WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY

RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC PRIORITY

RHHMUNA/USCINCPAC HONOLULU HI PRIORITY

RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY

RHHMUNA/CDR USPACOM HONOLULU HI PRIORITY”,”C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 04 BANGKOK 003289

 

SIPDIS

 

NSC FOR DENNIS WILDER AND LIZ PHU

 

E.O. 12958: DECL: 11/04/2018

TAGS: PGOV, PREL, KDEM, KJUS, TH

SUBJECT: THAILAND IN TRANSITION: POLITICAL AND SOCIAL

POLARIZATION LIKELY TO PERSIST

 

REF: A. BANGKOK 3255 (GRENADE ATTACKS)

B. BANGKOK 3251 (ARMY ON SIDELINES)

C. BANGKOK 3226 (HOPE FOR MEDIATION)

D. BANGKOK 3209 (SUPREME COMMANDER)

E. BANGKOK 3192 (PRIVY COUNCILORS: NO COUP)

F. BANGKOK 3080 (QUEEN SUPPORTS PROTESTS)

G. BANGKOK 3059 (SEARCHING FOR A SOLUTION)

 

BANGKOK 00003289 001.2 OF 004

 

Classified By: Ambassador Eric G. John, reason: 1.4 (b and d).

 

SUMMARY AND COMMENT

——————-

 

1. (C) Immediate concerns of a threat of a coup d\’etat in

Thailand have ebbed for now, but we see no viable course of

action that appears likely in the near term to heal the deep

political divisions in contemporary Thai society and the body

politic. There are street fighters on both sides willing to

engage in violence which could prove an unpredictable trigger

for military intervention, despite Army Commander Anupong\’s

avowed refusal to bring the army back into politics after the

2006 coup. The interests of the royalist elite and urban

middle class seem diametrically opposed to those of former

Prime Minister Thaksin and his allies, including upcountry

rural dwellers. Queen Sirikit, departing from the example

set by King Bhumibol over decades, has dragged an ostensibly

apolitical monarchy into the political fray, to the

institution\’s probable future detriment.

 

2. (C) At the same time that executive power has been

weakened in a reversion to pre-Thaksin patterns, the

judiciary seems increasingly politicized. The status quo

appears unstable, in part because of the likelihood that the

People\’s Power Party will soon be dissolved. But any

follow-on pro-Thaksin party would almost certainly command a

plurality, if not majority, were new elections to be held,

preserving the current political equilibrium. Steps the two

sides might take to improve their lot — including forming a

new administration, dissolving the House of

Representatives/new elections, or launching a coup — all

seem unlikely to resolve the current tension. The political

turmoil may well persist for years, until the passing of the

King and the subsequent redefinition of the place of the

monarchy in 21st century Thailand. The Ambassador continues

to stress to all key players the negative ramifications of a

coup and the need for all parties to avoid violence and

respect democratic norms. End Summary and Comment.

 

THAILAND POLARIZED, LOOKING FORWARD

———————————–

 

3. (C) The battle lines in Thailand\’s political environment

are clearly drawn, even if there are multiple actors in play.

However, reductionist arguments that the crisis is about

\”the King vs. Thaksin\” are overly simplified; neither camp

controls all who claim allegiance to each, and key secondary

figures in both camps have differing agendas. While all

countries have their unique dynamics–Thailand\’s revolves

around the institution of monarchy–Thailand nevertheless is

experiencing a version of a scenario that has played out in

other East Asian countries: economic growth outstripping the

pace of democratic institutional maturation, and new groups

challenging the prerogatives of old elites.

 

4. (C) Although both sides in this polarized society have

independent-minded and middle-class participants, former

Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra provides direction and, we

assume with confidence, financing for his allies, relying on

a loyal electorate in the northeast and north of Thailand

which benefited from his populist policies from 2001-06. The

Thaksin machine faces off against a mix of royalists, Bangkok

middle class, and southerners, with Queen Sirikit having

emerged as their champion, as King Bhumibol largely fades

from an active role. The two sides are competing for

influence and appear to believe, or fear, that the other will

use the political power it has to marginalize (if not

eliminate) the opposing side. They are positioning

 

BANGKOK 00003289 002.2 OF 004

 

themselves for what key actors on both sides freely admit to

us in private will be Thailand\’s moment of truth–royal

succession after the King passes away.

 

BRANCHES OF GOVERNMENT IN FLUX: WEAK EXECUTIVE, ACTIVIST COURT

——————————- ——————————

 

5. (SBU) This conflict comes at a time when the dynamics

between the three branches of government are in flux. The

terms of the 2007 Constitution and the banning of the most

talented 111 executives of Thai Rak Thai had the effect of

weakening the strong executive enshrined in the 1997

Constitution and realized in practice by Thaksin. Thai

politics have thus returned to the status quo ante: a weak

executive branch, based on fractious coalition politics often

focused more on feeding at the public trough than in

governing the country effectively. At the same time, the

Senate has become much more activist, with appointed Senators

in particular acting as a check against coalition attempts to

ram its agenda through the legislative branch.

 

6. (C) We have also seen in the last few years the

politicization of the judiciary. The 2007 Constitution,

drafted by selectees of the 2006 coup leaders, provided an

enhanced political role for the judiciary. (For example, top

judges, along with others, sit on a committee that selects

Senators for nearly half the Senate\’s seats.) Judges have

driven some major political developments of the past few

years, such as the annulment of the 2006 election, the

dissolution of the Thai Rak Thai party, and the expulsion

from office of Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej. Thaksin and

his wife have both recently been convicted (for tax evasion

and improperly doing business with a state agency); Thaksin

allies have complained to us repeatedly that the judiciary is

biased against them. Perhaps in response to this perception,

or other political activism, two leading judges who appear to

be members of the royalist clique (ref C and E) were recently

targeted in bombings that appear not to have been intended to

kill, but to send threatening signals (ref A).

 

ENTER STREET POLITICS

———————

 

7. (C) Another important relatively new trend is the rise of

politically-aligned informal groups with components seemingly

tailor-made for street fighting. The People\’s Alliance for

Democracy (PAD), which began as a peaceful protest movement

in 2006 to oust Thaksin, has for more than two months

illegally occupied Government House, the formal seat of

government, with far sharper tactics. It now deploys armed

guards and used firearms and other weapons in its October 7

clash with police at the parliament. On the other side, the

pro-Thaksin United Front of Democracy Against Dictatorship

(UDD) has initiated clashes with PAD supporters, such as on

September 2, and is loosely coordinating with other informal

actors in planning (at least conceptually) how to fight Army

troops in the event of a coup. At the moment, these

quasi-militias seem under the control of the political

leaders, but their presence heightens the stakes for both

sides, and we do not rule out spontaneous actions by one

group or another leading to a spiral of violence.

 

SHORT-TERM OUTLOOK – FOUR SCENARIOS

———————————–

 

8. (C) While Thailand\’s political environment is highly

dynamic, we can envision four main scenarios for near-term

developments, although none of them appears certain:

 

– STATUS QUO: The status quo, with Prime Minister Somchai

Wongsawat at the helm, appears untenable beyond the short

term of Princess Galyani\’s funeral (mid-November), the King\’s

Birthday (early December), and ASEAN Summits (mid-December).

Dissolution proceedings targeting the People\’s Power Party

(PPP) are moving forward, following the disqualification of a

PPP executive for election improprieties. Conventional

wisdom holds that the Constitutional Court will dissolve PPP

 

BANGKOK 00003289 003.2 OF 004

 

within a few months; such a step would strip all PPP

executives, including Somchai, of their political rights.

Since coming into office, Somchai\’s administration has been

focused on its own survival, and current circumstances appear

not to allow the RTG to undertake bold or long-term

initiatives. Most experts predict the status quo will only

hold until mid-December, after which something significant

will occur.

 

– NEW ADMINISTRATION: Whether because of PPP dissolution or

as a response to other developments, Somchai could leave

office and pave the way for the election of a new Prime

Minister by the House, without need for a new legislative

election; opposition Democrat Party deputy leader Kraisak

Choonhaven suggested to us October 30 that this option was

now more likely than house dissolution/new elections.

Because the constitution mandates that the Prime Minister be

a member of the House of Representatives, however, there is a

dwindling pool of talent from which Thaksin\’s allies can draw

in selecting a new leader, assuming (as we do) that the PPP

legislators would move largely en masse to a new political

party and maintain a cohesive governing coalition. We

believe the odds are low that a new administration would take

the form of a \”government of national unity\” or, by virtue of

its composition or policies, heal the divisions in society.

 

– HOUSE DISSOLUTION: The Prime Minister could dissolve the

House, presumably to renew a mandate for pro-Thaksin

legislators and to allow new figures to enter the parliament

and replenish the pro-Thaksin ranks, if PPP\’s current

leadership is barred from office. It is unclear whether a

pro-Thaksin party competing in a new election would fare

better or worse than PPP did in 2007, but the two sides in

the current environment both have large constituencies, and

neither appears ready to defer to the other based on election

results. We also have heard members of the pro-Thaksin camp

worry that they might not be able to arrange a new election

in a smooth fashion, as their opponents might see House

dissolution as providing an opportunity to upend the

political system. (The Constitution requires that elections

take place between 45 and 60 days after House dissolution.)

 

– COUP: We do not preclude the possibility of a military

coup, but recent events have indicated that Army Commander

Anupong Paojinda appears deeply reluctant to seize power.

The October 7 clash between police and PAD protesters

provided the Army with a pretext to launch a coup, and the

Army did not do so — an encouraging sign. High-ranking

military contacts and Palace figures (refs B, D, and E) have

told the Ambassador repeatedly that the Army will not launch

a coup, but many others tell us another bout of significant

violence and bloodshed might force Anupong\’s hand. We

continue to stress the negative ramifications of a coup for

Thailand\’s domestic and international interests. The 2006

coup leaders proved unable to eradicate Thaksin\’s influence

in the year-plus that they held power, and we believe a coup

would severely exacerbate, rather than resolve, Thailand\’s

current problems. And, unlike in 2006, pro-Thaksin forces

are now vowing they would fight back against a coup, with

violence and sustained opposition.

 

MONARCHY POLITICIZED, FACING UNCERTAIN FUTURE

———————————————

 

9. (C) In our last review of scenarios looking forward (ref

G), we included another: an extraordinary intervention by

King Bhumibol, as he did in 1973 and 1992, to stop bloodshed

and allow a deeply divided Thai society a time out to

recalibrate. Thais consistently claim publicly that the King

is and should be above politics, and he personally appears to

appreciate the boundaries of his limited role. However,

throughout his reign, others have sought to use the

institution of the monarchy for their own political purposes,

starting with Field Marshal/PM Sarit (1957-63). That is

again the case now, particularly with the PAD, but at a time

the King himself has withdrawn from public life for all but

the most important ceremonial functions. Therefore, we

 

BANGKOK 00003289 004.2 OF 004

 

believe this intervention scenario remains unlikely.

 

10. (C) Faced with a future without the revered monarch of

the past six decades, many royalists view Thaksin as posing

an existential threat to the monarchy, and some of them —

such as Privy Council President Prem Tinsulanonda — became

vocal critics of his administration and targets of Thaksin\’s

allies. The anti-government PAD has consistently portrayed

itself as a defender of the monarchy, and a reasonable belief

by many Thais that important royalists support the PAD has

likely been critical in saving the group from harsher

treatment by the authorities–and the mainstream media–than

it has received to date. That may change in the wake of

several recent signals sent by two figures seen as close to

the King: Princess Sirindhorn in Connecticut October 9 stated

that the PAD was acting on its own behalf, not the

monarchy\’s; and Chairman of the King\’s Rajanukhrao Foundation

Disathorn Watcharothai told an October 29 seminar: \”If you

love the King, go back home.\”

 

11. (C) In contrast, Queen Sirikit herself made a bold

political statement practically without precedent in

presiding over the funeral of a PAD supporter from humble

roots who died during the October 7 clash between PAD and the

police (ref F). Even some figures close to the Queen have

expressed their private unease at the overtly political act,

since it seems to erode the concept, which the King has long

sought to promote, of an apolitical monarchy. After the

Queen\’s funeral appearance, there was a notable increase in

public complaints about acts of lese majeste, with many

seemingly targeting the Queen; PPP-affiliated politicians

have expressed a combination of fear and loathing for the

Queen in private conversations with us in recent months.

Such politicization of the monarchy at this time appears to

create extra uncertainty around the eventual royal

succession, and it could well boomerang on royalists when the

time comes to redefine the role of the monarchy after the

King\’s passing. In the meantime, the Thai body politic will

continue to bubble.

JOHN

Written by thaicables

June 23, 2011 at 2:53 am

09BANGKOK2903 UPPER NORTHEAST – THIS IS THAKSIN COUNTRY

leave a comment »

“234572”,”11/13/2009 12:08″,”09BANGKOK2903″,”Embassy Bangkok”,”CONFIDENTIAL”,”09BANGKOK2418″,”VZCZCXRO7169

PP RUEHCHI RUEHCN RUEHDT RUEHHM

DE RUEHBK #2903/01 3171208

ZNY CCCCC ZZH

P 131208Z NOV 09

FM AMEMBASSY BANGKOK

TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 8941

INFO RUEHZS/ASSOCIATION OF SOUTHEAST ASIAN NATIONS PRIORITY

RUEHKO/AMEMBASSY TOKYO PRIORITY 2103

RUEHBJ/AMEMBASSY BEIJING PRIORITY 7693

RUEHUL/AMEMBASSY SEOUL PRIORITY 5972

RUEHBY/AMEMBASSY CANBERRA PRIORITY 0173

RUEHCHI/AMCONSUL CHIANG MAI PRIORITY 7289

RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY

RHHMUNA/CDR USPACOM HONOLULU HI PRIORITY

RUEKDIA/DIA WASHDC PRIORITY

RUEAIIA/CIA WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY

RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC PRIORITY”,”C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 04 BANGKOK 002903

 

SENSITIVE

SIPDIS

 

STATE FOR EAP/MLS, NSC FOR WALTON

 

E.O. 12958: DECL: 11/13/2019

TAGS: PREL, PGOV, TH

SUBJECT: THAILAND: UPPER NORTHEAST – THIS IS THAKSIN COUNTRY

 

REF: BANGKOK 2418 (RUBBER SAPLING VERDICT)

 

BANGKOK 00002903 001.2 OF 004

 

Classified By: DCM JAMES F. ENTWISTLE, REASON 1.4 (B) AND (D)

 

1. (SBU) SUMMARY: Fugitive former Prime Minister Thaksin

Shinawatra remains very popular in Thailand\’s upper

northeastern provinces, a recent traverse of three provinces

along the Mekong River revealed. Contacts consistently

asserted that the majority of eligible voters still support

Puea Thai and the United Front for Democracy Against

Dictatorship (UDD, or \”red-shirts\”), despite the fact that,

since April, Thaksin has provided minimal financial support

for their activities. Erstwhile red movement component but

current government coalition partner Phumjai Thai\’s efforts

to expand its footprint in this part of Isaan (the

Thai-language term for the northeast) have gained little

traction, damaged evidently by de facto leader Newin

Chidchop\’s behavior and his perceived lack of loyalty to

Thaksin. The return to politics of Isaan native son Chavalit

Yongchaiyut has apparently had minimal effect on red-shirt

activities in the region.

 

2. (SBU) COMMENT: Support for Thaksin is genuine and deeply

held. Despite red-shirt leaders\’ tendency to grossly

overstate the number of participants at various gatherings,

voters in Isaan do show a higher level of political

sophistication than often ascribed them by the pundits and

social elite in Bangkok. Such condescending

characterizations feed the discontent people in the Isaan

feel towards traditional elites and further fuel their

devotion for Thaksin, who they view as the one politician who

paid attention to them during his 2001-06 tenure in office.

END SUMMARY AND COMMENT.

 

WE AREN\’T IN BANGKOK ANYMORE, TOTO

———————————-

 

3. (SBU) PolOff traveled to the upper northeastern provinces

of Nong Khai, Sakon Nakhon, and Nakhon Phanom in early

October. Support for Thaksin–and by extension the Puea Thai

party and the UDD–remains robust in this part of Thailand.

Puea Thai holds all six of Nong Khai\’s seats in parliament,

four of Sakon Nakhon\’s six (Phumjai Thai won the other two),

and two of Nakhon Phanom\’s four seats (Phumjai Thai and Phuea

Phaendin have one seat each). Contacts in all three

provinces claimed that the Isaan is not as prone to heated

political confrontations as other parts of the country; our

interlocutors attributed this to the strong Buddhist

traditions of the region (Note: in fact, prior to the rise of

Thaksin and his Thai Rak Thai movement which united the Isaan

politically for the first time, the region\’s politics were

noted for regional barons who battled each other for local

dominance. End note). Two other significant factors,

however, explaining current dynamics are the dearth of

support for the Democrat Party (DP) and the People\’s Alliance

for Democracy (PAD, or \”yellow-shirts\”), and the rural,

agrarian demographic that characterizes the majority of the

Isaan population.

 

4. (SBU) While Isaan is decidedly red–our interlocutors\’

estimated red-shirt support ranged between 70 and 90

percent–UDD organizers nevertheless tend to overstate

attendance at their events here. Most contacts also added

the caveat that the UDD supporters in Isaan tend to not be

devoted as their Bangkok counterparts (Note: since April, few

Isaan supporters have traveled to Bangkok for national

rallies, paralleling reports that Thaksin had cut funding for

transport and per diem payments to protesters. End note).

 

5. (SBU) Thanom Somphon, assistant to Puea Thai MP for Sakon

Nakhon Niyom Wachkama claimed that about two thousand people

regularly gather for red-shirt rallies in the province.

Chief of the Sakon Nakhon Provincial Administrative

Organization (PAO) Pitti Kaewsalupsri, on the other hand,

said that the UDD gatherings there generally attracted only

about four hundred people. While Nakhon Phanom is

undoubtedly the most red of the three provinces we visited,

provincial UDD leader and PAO member Manaporn Charoensri\’s

 

BANGKOK 00002903 002.2 OF 004

 

wildly optimistic claim that 50,000 red-shirts assembled in

September was countered by PAO chief Somboon Sonprapa, who

said there are never more than 10,000 at the provincial

rallies.

 

WHY IS THASKIN SO POPULAR HERE?

——————————-

 

6. (SBU) Three years after Thaksin\’s removal from power, the

popular support in the northeast that helped Thaksin become

the only prime minister in Thai history to complete a full

term and be reelected has not waned, and appears as strong as

ever. Chief among his virtues, from the Isaan perspective,

is that he listened and responded to the rural population,

with his populist planks delivering virtually free, universal

health care, village funds, limited farmer debt forgiveness,

and access to credit previously not enjoyed by poor rural

denizens. A sentiment commonly expressed in the northeast

and by many Bangkok cab drivers and housekeepers–many of

whom come from the northeast–is that while Thaksin was

corrupt, at least he gave some back to the poor.

 

7. (SBU) XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

XXXXXXXXX has conducted surveys throughout Isaan. He

told us that Thaksin, even overseas, retains a reputation of

being close to the grassroots; the people still appreciate

the results of his programs and policies. Sakon Nakhon PAO

chief Pitti separately concurred, adding that Isaan people

also appreciated how quickly his programs were implemented.

The PAO chief in Nong Khai said Thaksin\’s methods were so

effective that the Abhisit government continued them in an

effort to win over Isaan voters. Thongmar Balthaisong, the

UDD leader in Nong Khai Province and wife of Puea Thai MP

Somkkit Balthaisong, went one step further to claim that

while the DP was \”copying Thaksin\’s homework,\” the local

population could see right through it. Many people in Isaan

said the DP-sponsored programs would work much better if

Thaksin were in charge, according to Theerawat Champachaisri,

president of the Nakhon Phanom provincial assembly.

 

VOTE BUYING JUST AIN\’T WHAT IT USED TO BE

—————————————–

 

8. (SBU) One of the positive byproducts of Thaksin\’s

attention to Isaan is that voters have learned to expect

results from elected officials, according to our

interlocutors. This development has fundamentally altered

the concept of money politics in the northeast. Professor

Preecha said his research indicated that the view of

accepting money was often more sophisticated than it was

often portrayed by media and critics, something most of our

interlocutors confirmed. The traditional concept of vote

buying, in which villagers accept money from only one

candidate and then cast their ballot for that person, has

given way to a system where people can take money from

multiple politicians, but only vote for the person they

believed would provide the greatest benefits. Nakhon Phanom

UDD leader Manaporn summarized the Isaan attitude towards

money politics as, \”the sin is on the provider, not the

acceptor.\” (note: this cynical voter attitude of taking

inducements from all parties but voting one\’s conscience has

actually prevailed in southern Thailand for years).

 

9. (SBU) In Sakon Nakhon both XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX and Senator

Pradith Tanwatthanaphong cited the outcome of the June 2009

provincial by-election as proof of this new version of money

politics. Phumjai Thai far outspent Puea Thai in the

campaign trying to buy votes, they said, but the Puea Thai

candidate won. Pradith said the outcome showed the enduring

support for Thaksin and Puea Thai was based on results, not

just money thrown at voters. Red-shirt organizers in Sakon

Nakhon and Nakhon Phanom reinforced the sentiment that

neither party affiliation nor personal influence alone was

sufficient to guarantee election victory. On a cautionary

note, Manaporn Charoensri said Puea Thai needed to field

viable candidates that could produce tangible results,

otherwise the people would not vote for them (note: indeed,

 

BANGKOK 00002903 003.2 OF 004

 

Phumjai Thai bested Puea Thai in Isaan by-elections earlier

in 2009, when Puea Thai was having difficulty finding good

candidates).

 

NEWIN HURTS PHUMJAI THAI, CHAVALIT BOOSTS PUEA THAI?

——————————————— ——-

 

10. (SBU) Phumjai Thai\’s efforts to expand in upper Isaan

were evident by the numerous party signs along the highways.

A political science professor at the Sakon Nakhon Commercial

School said it was an indicator that the party was preparing

for elections, which he believed would be held in the coming

months. Pitti Kaewsalupsri in Sakon Nakhon told us the two

MPs from Phumjai Thai had won their seats because of their

prior affiliation with Thaksin and the Thai Rak Thai party.

Some of our contacts predicted Phumjai Thai could retain

those seats, while others said that Puea Thai would take

those seats, claiming de facto Phumjai Thai leader Newin

Chidchop was a liability to his party.

 

11. (SBU) XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

said that people in the upper northeast did not trust Newin.

Preecha said Newin\’s behavior revealed that he was looking

out only for himself. XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

told us that people in the Isaan valued loyalty, and

viewed Newin\’s alignment with the Democrat-led coalition as a

betrayal. The XXXXXXXXXX also related a recent incident in

which Newin publicly slapped a local Phumjai Thai figure,

damaging his reputation in the province. Many in Isaan also

believed that Newin benefited from a double-standard in the

Thai justice system, claimed XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX. He said many people

wondered why Newin has been allowed to be so openly involved

in politics, and noted that Newin\’s acquittal in the rubber

sapling case (REFTEL) only fuelled resentment against him.

 

12. (SBU) The return to politics of former Prime Minister and

Nakhon Phanom native son Chavalit Yongchaiyut has been

largely positive for Puea Thai in the upper northeast,

according to those we talked to, even though his net effect

nation-wide is debateable. Contacts in Nong Khai and Sakon

Nakhon indicated that Chavalit would have little impact

locally, but suggested his popularity in his home province

would be a boost to Puea Thai. UDD leader Manaporn said that

while Chavalit was an important figure, his return would not

be enough to guarantee Puea Thai would win all of the

regional parliamentary seats in the next election. Somboon

Sornprapha, Nakhon Phanom PAO Chief, said that Chavalit\’s

influence has already turned some local Phumjai Thai

supporters to Puea Thai. He predicted that this shift,

combined with local troubles for Puea Phaendin, meant Puea

Thai could easily win all four of the provincial parliament

seats in the next election.

 

KING STILL REIGNS SUPREME

————————-

 

13. (C) King Bhumibol remains very popular in the northeast.

All of our interlocutors said there was no truth to rumors

that residents in Isaan had removed pictures of the King from

their homes. XXXXXXXXXXXXXX said that if asked to choose

between Thaksin and King Bhumibol, the people of the

northeast would choose the King. We did note, however, that

there was not a portrait of the King visible at the coffee

shop owned by Nong Khai UDD leader Thongmar Balthaisong

(Note: not all commercial establishments and residences

nationwide have portraits of the current King. In many

areas, King Chulalongkorn\’s portrait occupies the place of

honor).

 

14. (C) Queen Sirikit and Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn clearly

do not command the same level respect in Isaan as King

Bhumibol, however. Senator Pradith from Sakon Nakhon said

the resentment many in the Isaan felt towards the Queen was

plainly evident in their discussions; it was not as harsh as

the criticism from neighboring Udon Thani Province, however,

where he said some of her portraits had been spray-painted.

 

BANGKOK 00002903 004.2 OF 004

 

According to XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX, the Crown Prince is not as

popular as his father, and the people would have a difficult

time accepting his current wife Princess Srirasmi as their

queen, based largely on a widely distributed salacious video

of the birthday celebration for the Crown Prince\’s white

poodle Fufu, in which Sirasmi appears wearing nothing more

than a G-string in front of other guests and still

photographers.

JOHN

Written by thaicables

June 23, 2011 at 2:51 am

05BANGKOK2219 THE THAKSINIZATION OF THAILAND — IMPRESSIONS AFTER THREE MONTHS

leave a comment »

“29716”,”3/29/2005 23:51″,”05BANGKOK2219″,”Embassy Bangkok”,

 

“CONFIDENTIAL”,””,”This record is a partial extract of the original cable.

 

The full text of the original cable is not available.

 

“,”C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 05 BANGKOK 002219

 

SIPDIS

 

DEPARTMENT FOR EAP, EAP/BCLTV. HQ USPACOM FOR FPA (HUSO).

NSC FOR GREEN

 

E.O. 12958: DECL: 03/29/2015

TAGS: PREL, PGOV, ECON, TH, Corruption,

 

 

Cabinet Reshuffle, US-Thai FTA, Southern Thailand

SUBJECT: THE THAKSINIZATION OF THAILAND — IMPRESSIONS

AFTER THREE MONTHS

 

Classified By: Ambassador Ralph L. Boyce. Reason: 1.4 (d)

 

1. (C) After six and a half years away and three months back,

this seems as good a time as any to review the landscape in

Thaksin Shinawatra,s Thailand. For starters, there is the

towering figure of the Prime Minister himself. Dominating

the scene as no previous civilian leader has ever done,

Thaksin,s influence is everywhere. The Bangkok elite, which

embraced him as the next new thing four years ago, has grown

scornful of him, but he actually revels in thumbing his nose

at the capital\’s chattering classes. Himself a self-made man

from the provinces (according to his myth makers), he has

successfully tapped into the aspirations of Thailand\’s

millions. And unlike previous regimes that rode into power

by buying the loyalties of the rural areas, Thaksin has also

won over the millions of Bangkok residents who are not from

the traditional elite ) the mom and pop shopkeepers, the

taxi drivers, the food stall vendors, department store

salespeople and the day laborers. In 2001, for the first

time in history, Bangkok voted along with the north, the

northeast and the central plains. In 2005, this phenomenon

actually grew stronger, as Thaksin,s machine swept 32 of

Bangkok\’s 35 seats. (The south — as noted below — was a

significant and problematic exception.) In the country as a

whole, Thai Rak Thai\’s (TRT) grip on 377 of Parliament\’s 500

seats is an unprecedented feat for a single party.

 

ONE-PARTY RULE?

 

2. (C) But is this really &one-party rule,8 as the

newspapers love to shriek? A look at the 377 seats shows

that Thaksin is actually atop what amounts to a four- or

five-party coalition, i.e., more in line with recent Thai

political experience. Leaving aside the 67 party list

members who were elected on a national slate, a break out of

the 310 constituency seats reveals the following: 165

previous TRT members, 46 from three defunct parties

(Seritham-12, New Aspiration Party-17, and Chart Pattana-17)

that merged with TRT, 21 defectors from other parties (Chart

Thai-12, Rassadorn-1, and Democrat Party-5), 11 pre-2001 MPs

and more than 40 &inheritances,8 i.e., sons and daughters

of MPs from feudal-like constituencies. In putting together

his cabinet this time around, Thaksin had to juggle and

placate the various factions just as Prem Tinsulanonda or

Chatchai Choonhavan used to have to do repeatedly with their

unwieldy coalitions.

 

3. (C) That said, Thaksin has significantly altered the Thai

political scene, possibly forever (or at least as long as he

is around). In the 2001 and 2005 elections, he and his party

campaigned on issues and promises (affordable health care,

village loans), and then essentially delivered the goods.

Today Thailand basically has a two-party system, with Thaksin

having run the most recent campaign as a referendum on him, a

referendum that he most definitely won. The opposition is in

disarray, with the Democrats having been reduced to a weak,

regional party and the rest of the rabble having almost

disappeared (or been absorbed by Thaksin\’s juggernaut).

Thaksin accomplished this by mastering the reforms of the

liberal 1997 constitution, which altered the electoral

mechanics from three-member constituencies to the party

list/single member format. In power, he took full advantage

of the new charter\’s creation of a strong executive, while

distorting, dismantling or delaying the new \”watchdog\”

institutions that were supposed to check and balance that new

executive power.

 

\”CEO\” MANAGEMENT AND THE CABINET

 

4. (C) Now Thaksin has a second term and a new cabinet with

29 of the 35 ministers reshuffled from the previous slate.

This is probably a good place to note that Thaksin,s vaunted

&CEO style of management8 differs markedly from the model

which would have the company listed on the stock exchange,

shares traded on the market, stockholders to placate and a

board of directors to be responsive to. No, Thaksin,s style

is much more like the family-owned private company where the

CEO speaks and the lieutenants carry out his will ) much

like, say, Shinawatra Corporation used to be while Thaksin

was making his billions, or dozens of other Thai

conglomerates.

 

5. (C) And now he runs his cabinet just like that. Among the

35 ministers are Thanong Bidaya, Thaksin,s former banker

(and widely rumored to have tipped Thaksin off about the

coming baht devaluation when Thanong was Finance Minister in

1997), four former aides, six business friends, one police

classmate, one family doctor and only eight MPs. Thaksin

today has ably positioned himself to be the only star in the

political constellation and could thus well be around for the

next eight years or more.

 

6. (C) That is, unless he stumbles. Analysts have been

predicting another debt-driven economic crisis since the day

he put his rural lending scheme into effect and everyone

upcountry suddenly had a cell phone and a pickup truck. Or

the south could erupt (see below). Or, simply, the Thai

people could exercise their penchant to tire of the same old

thing and go for the next new thing. For the moment,

however, there is no other thing than the Thaksin thing.

 

TENSIONS WITH THE PALACE

 

7. (C) Except maybe the King. In the age of Thaksin, the

King has on several occasions made public his differences

with Thaksin,s style and more importantly, his philosophy.

As respected former Prime Minister Anand Panyarachun puts it,

Thaksinomics teaches that it is OK to be greedy and that

money fixes everything. The King\’s idea is somewhat

different and has been neatly summarized in a short pamphlet

called, \”What is Sufficiency, Economy?8 This pamphlet

draws on royal utterances over the past 25 years and

essentially calls for a rural-based model of sustainable

development. Of late, the pamphlet is being flogged by Privy

Councillors, the head of the Crown Property Bureau, and

noteworthy columnists as the antidote to Thaksinomics.

 

8. (C) In addition, Bangkok observers have been aghast at

what they perceive as Thaksin,s unwillingness to be

appropriately obeisant to His Majesty. In the recent

campaign, they claim, he swanned about upcountry as though he

were the sovereign of the country. He is visibly impatient

with the many royal ceremonies he has to sit through where he

is not the center of attention. In this year\’s Mahidol

Awards, he fussed and fretted in his seat while the King

spoke softly to the American and German doctors who were

being honored.

 

9. (C) But the King will not be around forever, and Thaksin

long ago invested in Crown Prince futures. Nevertheless, the

debate over Thailand\’s direction has been joined, with the

outcome still in question.

 

CORRUPTION

 

10. (C) Thaksin is very rich. According to Forbes, after

distributing some of his assets to his children, the PM is

the third richest man in Thailand (after Charoen

Sirivadhanabhakdi, Chairman, TCC Group, who owns Chang beer

and has extensive real estate and hotel holdings, and Chalieo

Yuwittaya, who produces and sells the \”Red Bull\” energy

drink). Does Thaksin really need to make more money? Or do

people just unfairly and lazily ascribe every thing he does

to an ulterior profit-making motive? Every indicator seems

to suggest the adage that power corrupts and absolute power

corrupts absolutely. Thaksin, his family and his business

and political allies have made immense profits in the past

four years and seem on track to continue doing so. Is it

something in the entrepreneur\’s gene pool that cannot switch

off the quest for more, better, greater, now, now, now?

There are nuances to understand, but in all aspects of public

life (Burma policy and the current follow-on jet fighter

acquisition deal come to mind), a good case can be made that

business or political considerations are uber alles.

 

11. (C) Recall that Thaksin was driven out of the Foreign

Ministerial portfolio in 1994 because he refused to make

public his assets. Recall that he entered his Prime Ministry

in 2001 under a cloud when he finally grudgingly gave up

control of his wealth -) and even then only to his wife,

children and, in one memorable instance, his servants. In

any event, if corruption has indeed reached historic

proportions, as many claim, the people seem willing to

tolerate it as long as the rising tide lifts all boats.

 

FREE TRADE AGREEMENT PROSPECTS

 

12. (C) If business considerations are indeed primus inter

pares, shouldn\’t that bode well for our FTA negotiations?

The answer is a guarded yes — Thaksin has made it clear this

is his initiative and that he understands a U.S. FTA will

have to be comprehensive. This will be our single most

important weapon, to be deployed when the bureaucrats and

single-issue players create stumbling blocks. But that

assumes we will be able to get his attention. As long as his

laser beam is focused on an issue, he dominates that issue.

But the minute the beam moves on to another area, the carpet

mice run back out. And in the Free Trade area in general,

the current feeling in many pivotal sectors like financial

services, indeed, in the country as a whole, is that FTAs are

not in Thailand\’s interest.

 

13. (C) When Thaksin is not engaged in the process -) and

that will be most of the time -) his two most senior

economic aides and loyalists, Pansak Vinyaratn and Somkid

Jatusipitak, will call the shots. Pansak seems to understand

his boss\’s desires, and while he can always be counted on to

come up with nutty, flaky ideas, he essentially will be an

ally in the negotiations. Somkid is another matter. He

talks a good game, and parrots Thaksin,s free trade

rhetoric, but we have our doubts about his true commitment to

the cause. We need to mount an aggressive public relations

campaign to the effect that &both sides give8 so &both

sides get8 in a successful FTA. We can also point out the

high opportunity costs entailed in passing up the FTA. This

will be an uphill battle, in the aftermath of Chinese and

Australian FTAs widely perceived to have been in Thailand\’s

disfavor.

 

A NEW FOREIGN POLICY PARADIGM

 

14. (C) Thai traditional foreign policy style has been

understated, subtle, even graceful, and widely lauded within

ASEAN as among the most professional. Together with

Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia, Thailand has helped define

the &ASEAN way8 over the years. Eschewing conflict, always

seeking that elusive &consensus,8 keeping problems behind

closed doors — this was the formula within ASEAN for

decades. But notably, under Thaksin, Thai foreign policy

style has been most un-ASEAN, and even un-Thai. Today, with

Thaksin often in the lead, Thailand is much more

unilateralist and often prone to practice megaphone diplomacy

in place of quiet persuasion.

 

15. (C) The recent tsunami conference in Phuket was a

perfect example. Even as conferences were being organized in

Japan, Indonesia and elsewhere, Thaksin,s then-Foreign

Minister Surakiart suddenly announced that Thailand would

host a conference with a view towards establishing an early

warning system for the Indian Ocean region as a while.

(Admittedly, much of this had to do with Surakiart\’s

bombastic style, and his own naked ambitions.) The Thai made

little secret of the fact that they expected the center to be

established in Thailand. Surakiart browbeat key countries

unceasingly to send ministerial-level attendees. In the U.S.

case, he was nothing short of delusional, seriously proposing

that Secretary Rice attend as her first official act after

being confirmed. (He even promised to &personally8 escort

her to the devastated Khao Lak area.)

 

16. (C) In the event, the conference was largely attended by

technical ministers or resident Ambassadors, and the Thai

dream of achieving consensus on establishing the center here

fell apart when the hosts forgot the cardinal tenet of ASEAN

diplomacy ) always pre-cook the deal in the hallways.

Instead, they crudely tried to ram their preferred outcome

down the throats of the 40-odd attendees. When several

significant countries objected )- including India,

Australia, and most notably fellow ASEAN member Indonesia -)

the conference ended with Surakiart suggesting that those

countries not happy with the Thai proposal should take a

hike. It was not a pretty sight.

 

17. (C) The tsunami conference was a recent example, but in

general Thailand\’s relations with Malaysia and Indonesia over

the south have taken on a shrillness not frequently seen

among these founding members of ASEAN. In Burma policy, the

Thai effort to come up with a &Bangkok Process8 to give

them cover to pursue largely their own narrow interests in

Burma has collapsed. It is telling that the lead efforts in

recent weeks on the problem of Burma rotating into the 2006

ASEAN Chair have come from Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia

rather than from the Thai.

 

18. (C) And then there is China. Some are concerned about

Chinese inroads into Thailand and indeed the region as a

whole. The Thaksin government seems to be embracing the

Chinese wholeheartedly. Thailand is being portrayed as the

gateway to China. Is this a concern for the U.S.? With the

benefit of three months, reflection, it seems to be less of

a zero-sum game than might appear. The Chinese are

indisputably very active. Yes, they have better tailors and

speak better English. Yes, they are very close with the

largely Sino-Thai crowd that dominates the Thaksin

government. But is every Chinese gain necessarily at our

expense? It seems to be more a return to traditional

patterns in the region over hundreds if not thousands of

years. This is China\’s neighborhood, and while they were out

of the picture for fifty years after the end of World War II

(precisely the period when U.S. presence was paramount), they

are back, and they are bringing the A team. For reasons of

geography, we cannot realistically match the Chinese

visit-for-visit. But we are capable of directing more

high-level attention to the region, and we should.

 

THE SOUTH – A YEAR OF MISSTEPS

 

19. (C) The past twelve months have brought a series of

increasingly serious developments in the three southernmost

Muslim-majority provinces. In January 2004 the armory was

raided. In April the Krue Se mosque incident raised the

level of violence and government response to new proportions.

Increasingly violent protest was met with more and more

force. Last October, the horrific Tak Bai event saw 78

prisoners suffocate while in police custody, after which the

Prime Minister most unhelpfully suggested that the prisoners

had died because they were &weak from fasting8 in the holy

month of Ramadan! The February election was a debacle for

TRT in the three provinces, as the party lost all but one

seat. Still the hard-line approach continued, with Thaksin

unveiling his plan to withhold all government funds for

districts judged to be problematic. Indeed, Thaksin and many

of his hard-line supporters around the country view the

election outcome in the South as vindication of the

government\’s policies.

 

20. (C) Fortunately, of late there are signs the PM may be

willing to consider a new approach. His appointment of the

Anand commission would seem to be a no-lose proposition -)

provided he is really willing to consider whatever

recommendations the panel ultimately makes — and, more

importantly, conveys that impression to skeptics in the

south. Some cynics have suggested the Anand appointment is

simply a cynical sop to mollify the Bangkok elite Thaksin so

despises. If it is (and we don\’t think it is), Thaksin will

have made a mistake, because Anand will not let himself be

used by anyone and he won\’t be shy to speak his mind.

 

21. (C) The south is not a new problem. Some point to

Thaksin,s 2001 disbanding of a joint

military-police-civilian task force (at the urging of his

fellow policemen) as the root of the problem, but in fact its

origins go back a hundred years, to the very incorporation of

these ethnically and religiously different areas into the

Siamese Kingdom. The Thai have yet to make a concerted

effort to understand the culture and values of the Muslim

south, a fact which has only compounded Muslim sensitivities

in general since the onset of the global war on terror. It

is high time that this neglectful, superior attitude changed.

 

THAILAND STANDS UP

 

22. (C) There are plenty of areas where Thaksin deserves

credit. The tsunami disaster was generally well handled,

turning a national calamity into an opportunity to

demonstrate that Thailand can take care of itself. Moreover,

the fact that the relief effort was centered out of Thailand

was greeted in the region without dissent. The image was of

an emerging leader helping weaker states in the neighborhood

like Indonesia and Sri Lanka.

 

23. (C) And however Thailand\’s quixotic campaign to put

now-former Foreign Minister Surakiart in the UN Secretary

General\’s job ends up, if nothing else it is further

demonstration the Thailand desires to play more of a global

role. Bangkok is a much more livable city today than it was

twenty years ago, traffic is manageable, the air is cleaner,

the airport is first-class, the Thai smile is still charming

and as a result the country is legitimately challenging

Singapore and Hong Kong as a regional business hub. That is

a good thing, it started before Thaksin rose to power, and it

is a trend we should encourage.

 

THE BILATERAL RELATIONSHIP

 

24. (C) In Indonesia, everything we do charts new territory

and defines our relationship with a country that is literally

reinventing itself from soup to nuts. In Thailand, we have a

mature, deep-seated, historic friendship with a stable,

sophisticated partner. The scars of the 1997 financial

crisis (when the U.S. was widely perceived as having failed

Thailand in its hour of need) linger, but not with Thaksin.

He very much sees the past as past, and is focused much more

on the here and now, and prospects for the future. He

studied in the U.S., and likes our business model. All of

this is very good for us.

 

25. (C) The U.S. response to the tsunami was a huge public

relations plus for us, but we do have to confront a general

sense of unhappiness with elements of U.S. policy that have

nothing to do with Thailand -) the war in Iraq is not

popular here, despite the Thai having sent forces.

 

26. (C) In general, though, we continue to enjoy huge

advantages in Thailand that few other countries can rival.

The fact that the Embassy is among our largest in the world,

and growing, is testament to this. The real challenge for

us, and increasingly for the Thai, is to resist relying too

much on the mantra of the \”historic relationship.\” Instead,

we need to bring this important partnership into the 21st

Century, and channel our long-standing influence in positive

directions, including the further consolidation of democratic

institutions in Thailand. Despite the unprecedented

concentration of political power recently under Thaksin,

civil society continues to develop in a healthy, Thai way.

Thaksin\’s style is to push the envelope, but democracy in

Thailand is more resilient than his critics, Thai and

foreign, are willing to acknowledge. Here in Thailand, we

can have our cake and eat it too — by mixing classic

\”realpolitik\” (which Thaksin understands and responds well

to) with principled interventions when the need arises.

BOYCE

 

Written by thaicables

June 23, 2011 at 2:04 am

10BANGKOK287 KING BHUMIBOL RESUMES A MORE VISIBLE ROLE – IN HIS HOSPITAL RECEPTION ROOM

with one comment

“246944″,”2/3/2010 10:47″,”10BANGKOK287″,”Embassy

 

Bangkok”,”SECRET”,”09BANGKOK2488|09BANGKOK3025|10BANGKOK165″,”VZCZCXRO5

 

023

 

PP RUEHCHI RUEHCN RUEHDT RUEHHM

 

DE RUEHBK #0287/01 0341047

 

ZNY SSSSS ZZH

 

P 031047Z FEB 10

 

FM AMEMBASSY BANGKOK

 

TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 9814

 

INFO RUEHZS/ASSOCIATION OF SOUTHEAST ASIAN NATIONS PRIORITY

 

RUEHBJ/AMEMBASSY BEIJING PRIORITY 7986

 

RUEHBY/AMEMBASSY CANBERRA PRIORITY 0402

 

RUEHNE/AMEMBASSY NEW DELHI PRIORITY 5928

 

RUEHPB/AMEMBASSY PORT MORESBY PRIORITY 0839

 

RUEHUL/AMEMBASSY SEOUL PRIORITY 6183

 

RUEHKO/AMEMBASSY TOKYO PRIORITY 2327

 

RUEHWL/AMEMBASSY WELLINGTON PRIORITY 0308

 

RUEHCHI/AMCONSUL CHIANG MAI PRIORITY 7606

 

RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY

 

RHHMUNA/CDR USPACOM HONOLULU HI PRIORITY

 

RUEAIIA/CIA WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY

 

RHEHNSC/NSC WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY

 

RUEKDIA/DIA WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY

 

RUEHGV/USMISSION GENEVA PRIORITY 0014″,”S E C R E T SECTION 01 OF 02

 

BANGKOK 000287

 

SIPDIS

 

STATE FOR EAP/MLS, NSC FOR WALTON

 

E.O. 12958: DECL: 02/02/2030

 

TAGS: PGOV, PREL, KDEM, PINR, TH

 

SUBJECT: THAILAND: KING BHUMIBOL RESUMES A MORE VISIBLE

 

ROLE – IN HIS HOSPITAL RECEPTION ROOM

 

REF: A. BANGKOK 165 (RESHUFFLE UNFOLDS ACCORDING TO PLAN)

 

B. 09 BANGKOK 3025 (KING,S FRAIL HEALTH)

 

C. 09 BANGKOK 2488 (KING,S HOSPITALIZATION)

 

BANGKOK 00000287 001.2 OF 002

 

Classified By: DCM James F. Entwistle, reasons 1.4 (b, d)

 

SUMMARY AND COMMENT

 

——————-

 

1. (C) King Bhumibol Adulyadej has actively presided over

 

three separate swearing-in ceremonies at Siriraj Hospital

 

since mid-January, dispensing philosophic advice to ministers

 

and judges in public and the Prime Minister in private. In

 

addition to swearing-in the five new cabinet members on

 

January 18 (REF A), King Bhumibol also administered the oath

 

of office to two separate groups of judges on January 25 and

 

February 1, delivering extemporaneous remarks — which were

 

later broadcast on TV — both times. On the latter two

 

occasions, he spoke at relative length (10 minutes), evenly,

 

and in the typically Delphic and inscrutable style for which

 

he has long been renowned. In the January 18 private session

 

with PM Abhisit, the King purportedly discussed his concerns

 

about application of lese majeste and directed Abhisit to

 

implement changes after a careful review of current

 

procedures. Despite these clear indications that the King is

 

resuming a more active life in recent weeks, he remains

 

hospitalized at Siriraj Hospital, where he has stayed since

 

last September.

 

2. (S) Comment: The status of his ongoing physical recovery

 

aside, the recent audiences are promising signs of King

 

Bhumibol having re-engaged mentally after whispers that he

 

was suffering from depression in addition to physical

 

ailments like Parkinson\’s and pneumonia. His ability to

 

deliver off the cuff comments to new ministers and judges

 

were in marked contrast to more pained delivery of written

 

remarks at his December 5 birthday audience and for New

 

Year\’s. The lese majeste discussion with Abhisit in

 

particular seems to indicate that Bhumibol is aware of the

 

wider debate about the role of the monarchy, present and

 

future, in Thailand. The real question at this stage

 

remains: why does he continue to be hospitalized? The stated

 

rationale — to build up his physical strength and endurance

 

– could be accomplished in a palace, either in Bangkok or

 

his preferred seaside residence in Hua Hin. Some will

 

suspect other motives, but what those might be remain

 

unclear. End Summary and Comment.

 

SWEARING IN THE NEW MINISTERS…

 

——————————–

 

3. (SBU) The five new members of PM Abhisit\’s cabinet

 

traveled to Siriraj hospital on January 18 for a swearing-in

 

ceremony with the King (REF A). Following the official

 

swearing-in, King Bhumibol addressed the group, hewing in

 

large measure to an overall theme of honesty. He asked the

 

group to keep national interests at heart while they

 

performed their duties, underscoring the importance of

 

honesty and integrity at every step of the way. The King

 

emphasized that as public figures, the ministers\’ actions

 

would be scrutinized and held up as a model for appropriate

 

behavior. In closing, the King noted that if the ministers

 

carried out their duties in line with public expectations,

 

they would help bring peace and progress to Thailand.

 

…WHISPERS FOR ABHISIT…

 

————————–

 

4. (S) After the Ministerial swearing in concluded, the King

 

asked Abhisit to stay behind for an hour long one-on-one

 

discussion; the focus was application of lese majeste

 

provisions, according to a trusted, long-time Embassy contact

 

who heard it from the person Abhisit subsequently briefed on

 

his session with the King, Justice Ministry PermSec

 

BANGKOK 00000287 002.2 OF 002

 

Kittipong. Kittipong serves as the Chair of a Committee

 

Abhisit established in November 2009 to review the

 

implementation of lese majeste provisions. According to

 

Kittipong, King Bhumibol told Abhisit he needed to review,

 

with an eye towards reforming, the judicial procedures

 

associated with lese majeste implementation. Such a review

 

needed to proceed carefully, Bhumibol supposedly told

 

Abhisit, but he was aware any changes would primarily affect

 

one person – himself. The King also reportedly reminded

 

Abhisit that as King he had the ability to pardon anyone

 

convicted on lese majeste grounds.

 

5. (S) Note: King Bhumibol is on the public record, in his

 

2005 annual Birthday address, as stating clearly that he was

 

not above criticism and in fact welcomed it. His comments

 

then and now are a likely indication that he understands that

 

lese majeste as currently implemented serves to weaken, not

 

protect, the institution of monarchy. Bhumibol does have a

 

track record of pardoning those convicted of lese majeste,

 

though there are two prominent recent convictions of Thais

 

for which pardon appeals have not been forwarded to the King.

 

Both cases are mentioned in the 2008 and 2009 Human Rights

 

Reports.

 

…SERMONS FOR THE JUDGES

 

————————-

 

6. (C) A week later, King Bhumibol presided over a January 25

 

swearing-in ceremony for newly appointed Supreme Court

 

Administrative judges. Speaking for ten minutes in a voice

 

that was even, though little more than a whisper likely due

 

to the effects of Parkinson\’s, Bhumibol exhorted the judges

 

to abide by professional standards based on Buddhist tenets,

 

a theme that allowed him to deploy the standard talking

 

points he has made in such settings for years. He urged the

 

judges to carry out their duties with fairness, impartiality,

 

a sense of justice according to Buddhist norms on

 

righteousness, and with an emphasis on maintaining

 

neutrality.

 

7. (SBU) On February 1 the King met with another group of

 

Supreme Court judges, and again drew on familiar themes in

 

unscripted remarks. Bhumibol urged the judges to ensure

 

justice and righteousness, to fully honor the dignity of the

 

court, and to serve as the guarantor of the nation\’s peace,

 

prosperity, and order. He noted at one point that: \”Even

 

bandits hope for justice.\” He closed by congratulating them

 

on the opportunity to have a deep and lasting impact on other

 

people\’s lives.

 

8. (S) The King\’s messages to both sets of judges would have

 

sounded familiar to anyone who has heard the King speak in

 

the past: grounded in Buddhist tenets, delphic in nature, but

 

potentially applicable to the current Thai scene in a number

 

of ways – in other words, how Bhumibol has addressed his

 

ministers, judges, and citizens for decades. That fact

 

alone, given the recent extended hospitalization and concerns

 

that the end of reign was approaching more rapidly, made both

 

events highly significant. Whether any deeper meaning could

 

or should be read into exhortations to judges to do their

 

duty, weeks before a scheduled February 26 landmark court

 

decision on fugitive former PM Thaksin\’s frozen assets, will

 

remain open to question, and speculation.

 

JOHN

 

Written by thaicables

June 23, 2011 at 1:19 am