As mentioned in an earlier post, PPT has finally found the time to get back to Wikileaks cables and is looking through the 6,000 or so cables to see what we missed in our past viewings. We are doing this in a systematic way, trying to ensure that we don’t double-up and re-post something we’d commented on previously. We are now working our way through the 2006 cables.
Two cables get our attention in this post. The first is from a meeting with Thaksin Shinawatra’s close adviser Pansak Vinyaratn and the second from a talk with the Democrat Party’s Surin Pitsuwan. Both cables revolve around politics and monarchy.
PPT has previously posted on comments made by Pansak. In an earlier cable, this one dated 9 March 2006, Pansak meets with Ambassador Ralph Boyce and then Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Southeast Asia Eric John (who later became ambassador to Thailand). PPT thought we had covered this one previously, so if we are doubling up, we apologize.
At a time when People’s Alliance for Democracy rallies were expanding, Pansak is said to have “brimmed with fatigued confidence.” He even felt a “military coup improbable.” According to Pansak, denouncing “the ‘arrogance’ of the political opposition”,
the current political crisis is the “last hurrah of the old wealthy class,” according to Pansak. This cabal of political and economic elite who have dominated modern Thai society are “absolutely, deeply resentful” of Thaksin, who Pansak suggests is a new type of businessman and politician. Pansak said he told Thaksin, “all of these people who have lost their role in society, who have lost their shirts because of arrogance, want to come back (and defeat Thaksin.)” This “unholy alliance” of big business, the Democrat Party and “some people close to the palace” remain feckless. They have no specific programs or platforms and lack even the leadership to defeat Thaksin….
Thaksin, Pansak claimed, “has strengthened democracy…”. By this he seems to mean that “Thaksin’s power base ‘is the people’,” with Thai Rak Thai Party “took only five years to capture the hearts and minds of the people.”Again, Pansak pans the “immature” established “elite who have dominated the country for so long have focused too much on a form of representative democracy that meets their needs and minimizes the voices of the masses.”
Boyce decides that Pansak claims are a “humorous efforts to paint Thaksin as a man of the people…”. In all of the cables we have seen, apart from being an ardent admirer of everyone in the palace, Boyce shows a congruence with the elite in usually being unable to understand Thaksin’s popular appeal.
At the same time Pansak reveals the Achilles heel of the aggressive Thaksin and an arrogant TRT: “In the past, journalists were thrown in jail…. Now, we sue them, because we believe in the custom of democracy.”
Of course, the monarchy wasn’t missing from the discussion. Pansak refers to “the King’s personal private secretary Arsa Sarasin had called Democrat Party Chief Abhisit Vejjahiva [sic.] to ask him if he would like to meet Thaksin at the palace to discuss the current crisis. Abhisit refused, saying that if the palace would like him to meet with the PM, they would have to submit a list of subjects for discussion first.” This invitation is confirmed by the ambassador and by Abhisit to the media.
Pansak made “a cryptic sentence or two that seemed to suggest a preference for a respected but politically uninvolved monarch.” He is quoted as saying:
“To revere the King in the correct manner is to allow him to be in the palace with happiness and his eunuchs only come out of the palace to go to the supermarket. So always fund beautiful roads for eunuchs to go back to the palace…the situation now is, build beautiful roads for eunuchs to go back to the palace.”
The second cable is also dated 9 March and begins with a comment on the monarchy, with the Democrat Party Deputy Leader and former Foreign Minister Surin Pitsuwan is headlined as having “voiced his hope that the Palace would convince Prime Minister Thaksin to step down.” As the cable has it:
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…. 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.
Surin’s next claim was that Thaksin and TRT were engaged in vote-buying for the 2006 election, which his party was boycotting.
Nothing much ever seems to change in the (un)Democrat(ic) Party. In a kind of bizarre failure to recognize that Thaksin and TRT had been weakened by the Shin Corp sale, Surin seems blinded to the changes that had taken place quite rapidly following this deal. He lists Thaksin’s “consistent evasion of the law and misuse of authority” and drones about how Thaksin had
… manipulated all of the country’s supervisory mechanisms — the Security and Exchange Commission, the Constitutional Court, the Election Commission, the Tax Department, etc…. 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.
He seems unable or unwilling to see anything other than a dominant Thaksin:
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.
A politically despondent Surin seems to think that Thaksin is too popular for event the king to intervene: 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 Democrat Party seemed out of ideas and hoped for royal political rescue.
Update: Interestingly, our post appeared just as The Nation published a story on the end of Surin’s 5-year term as ASEAN Secretary-General. While supplicant academics praise him, PPT wonders why, after 45 years, ASEAN attracts so much attention but achieves so little.