Wikileaks, April 2009 and challenging the monarchy

1 09 2012

A Wikileaks cable dated 29 April 2009 has U.S. Embassy political officers commenting on speeches by Thaksin Shinawatra at the time of red shirt rallies that saw an ASEAN meeting cancelled in Pattaya as blue shirts from the Abhisit Vejjajiva government battled red shirts. This resulted in red shirt actions in Bangkok, shutting down parts of the city. The Army was sent out to clear the streets.

Interestingly, this cable is highly critical of both Thaksin and of the red shirts, using language that would suit the most critical of yellow shirts. Ralph Boyce may have departed as Ambassador in 2007 and yet the decidedly pro-yellow shirt sentiments continued on.

The Embassy refers to Thaksin’s “incendiary rhetoric” as having “reinforced many Thais’ perception that Thaksin aims to marginalize if not overthrow the monarchy.” That is quite a remarkable claim from the Embassy and probably reflects the views of its royalist and yellow-shirted interlocutors. The cable states:

On April 9, according to a translation by English-language daily The Nation [PPT: using this newspaper is always hit-and-miss, and it has been highly biased, even making things up], Thaksin called for “the last revolution of the country to root out all the elite members who are behind the coup of 2006,” and he stated: “The power of the people is paramount. There must be no other power beyond the power of the people any more.”

As several academic commentators have noted, the cable notes that Thaksin’s policies “contributed significantly to the development of political awareness…”. Yet the Embassy sees Thaksin as concerned about his loot rather than his constituency:

Ironically, Thaksin’s most dramatic calls for political change now come even as we hear that he is more concerned with his personal financial benefits than with the transformation of Thai society….

Even then there were questions raised about the relationship between the red shirt movement and “its erstwhile sponsor…”.

Noting the Democrat Party government’s attacks on Thaksin, the Embassy observes: “Any foreign government that appears sympathetic to Thaksin likely imperils its interests vis-a-vis Thailand’s current administration, as well as the monarchy and military.” The U.S. Embassy was likely very worried about this given that its long-term relationships were anchored in the monarchy and military.

The Embassy seems stunned that “Thaksin publicly denounced Privy Councilors Prem Tinsulanonda and Surayud Chulanont as instigators of the 2006 coup.” Not long after that, Thaksin made it ckear that the king “was informed in advance of the coup.”

The cable immediately comments of Embassy “beliefs:

[there is] uncertainty whether the King knew in advance of the coup. We are skeptical of both Thaksin’s and Pallop’s veracity, and we continue to believe it possible that the King did not have advance knowledge of the coup. Palace staff continue to insist he did not.

No probability there. Just belief (and hope). Thaksin appears to have flummoxed the Americans:

According to Thai constitutions (including the present one), the King “shall be enthroned in a position of revered worship and shall not be violated.” Despite repeated professions of loyalty to the King, Thaksin’s recent statements appeared bold and taboo-breaking, outside the usual boundaries of Thai political discourse. On earlier occasions, Thaksin has arguably acted, through both words and symbolic actions, in ways designed to erode the status of the King, or at least to reveal that Thaksin lacked the respect for the monarchy that most mainstream politicians profess.

While the Embassy is seemingly astounded that anyone would speak out, especially one from the elite. Interestingly, the Embassy observes that only “some Thais appear to feel that Thaksin and his supporters went too far.”


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