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

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

“Embassy Bangkok”,”CONFIDENTIAL”,””,

“VZCZCXRO8200

OO RUEHCHI RUEHCN RUEHDT RUEHHM

DE RUEHBK #3006/01 3290946

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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

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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

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

 

“CONFIDENTIAL”,”08BANGKOK2592″,”VZCZCXRO6648

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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

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“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

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“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

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“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

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“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

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“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