No elections for the “sensible”

6 05 2014

The anti-democrats are crowding out Suthep Thaugsuban. Abhisit Vejjajiva came up with a 9-point plan which essentially wanted “reform” before an election and an appointed premier – yep, the standard anti-democrat demands.

Abhisit’s proposals were not received all that well for their obvious lack of originality and lack of even a nod in the direction of democracy.

So another senior member of the Democrat Party has proposed an allegedly sensible reform plan in the Bangkok Post yesterday. Surin Pitsuwan swans about with a handful of monikers: former secretary-general of ASEAN, professor emeritus at Thammasat University, visiting professor at GRIPS in Tokyo, adjunct professor at the University of Malaya and the Tun Abdul Razak Fellow at the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies, and a distinguished fellow at the royalist King Prachathipok’s Institute.

Despite all of this attributed greatness, he begins with a bit of disingenuous whining:

For the past seven years, since the coup of 2006, Thailand has seen governments come and go with increasing frequency and the divisiveness in the country has deteriorated to the point of political paralysis.

Well, perhaps, but that frequency owes much to actions of his fellow anti-democrats. So does the “political paralysis.” If his lot followed the political rules, the popular vote and got over their elitist political laziness, perhaps there would be political development rather than paralysis.

Apart from this whining, Surin comes up with a 7-point reform plan. He claims that the “seven steps are being carefully considered within the prevailing political situation and existing constitutional and democratic framework and the collective sense of urgency that the Thai people have been articulating.”

Well, the anti-democrats are the ones who are clamoring for “reform” before elections.

So what are his main points?  One is that “Thailand’s reform process must proceed within the existing constitutional framework, in its letter and spirit.” What does this mean for Surin? First, that any political situation not covered by the constitution, then the king is free to use Section 7. That’s what the People’s Alliance for Democracy claimed first time around and the king rejected it.

Second, Surin argues that the senate “can serve as a Pillar of Legitimacy, acting as parliament in the absence of the elected House of Representatives (Section 132), to any agreed reform and its necessary legislative action.” Is this correct? No. This is what the constitution states:

Section 132. During the expiration of the term or the dissolution of the House of Representatives, the Senate shall not hold its sitting except in the following cases:

(1) a sitting at which the Senate shall act as the National Assembly under section 19, section 21, section 22, section 23 and section 189, and the votes taken shall be based on the number of senators;

(2) a sitting at which the Senator shall consider of a person for holding office under the provision of this Constitution;

(3) a sitting at which the Senate shall consider and pass a resolution removing a person from office.

None of this applies to the situation Surin is on about; he’s making it up.

And, yes, he wants “reform” before elections and some kind of appointed, “national government.” If this sounds like Abhisit, then that’s because the essential points are the same anti-democratic nonsense.

This “reform” would be “paving a way for a New Politics that everybody expressly desires.” That term is the PAD call from several years ago and implies anti-democracy.

Thankfully, several commentators have rejected Surin/Abhisit. At the Bangkok Post, a “small group of scholars has warned” against this anti-democratic push.

They argue that “caretaker Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra should remain the leader, unless the Constitutional Court says otherwise, until the July 20 election is held and the results finalised.”

Kasian Tejapira, a political scientist at Thammasat University, “said all the proposals were basically the same, … [and are] a violation of the letters and spirit of the constitution and democratic principles.” He adds:

The two versions, be it Abhisit’s or Surin’s, are based on a PDRC mob-engineered political crisis and power vacuum as a result of their illegal obstruction of the [Feb 2] general election….

In the end, they are similarly positing the crisis, vacuum, and unconstitutional measures as a fait accompli and necessity, so as to ride roughshod over the people’s will that should be respected and complied with as expressed in a general election….

Kasian warned that there is a growing coalition amongst the so-called independent institutions to smash constitutional and legal politics. He stated:

One can’t suspend electoral democracy for the sake of reform, for the only way to make reform stick and endure is to involve the people in the process through peaceful legal means such as an election….

He’s right.

 





Wikileaks: Pridiyathorn “joined at the hip” with junta

10 04 2012

In a Wikileaks cable dated 29 September 2006, U.S. Ambassador Ralph Boyce provides details on a meeting a day earlier with Bank of Thailand Governor Mom Ratchawong Pridiyathorn Devakula, whom he describes as “joined at the hip” with the military junta that had conducted the coup 10 days earlier.

Boyce’s view of Pridiyathorn and the junta is based on two points: first, Boyce says that as Pridiyathorn talked of the coup and junta,  “he repeatedly used the word ‘we’;” and second, Pridiyathorn reveals that he knew of the coup in advance.

Pridiyathorn, a minor prince and remarkably wealthy – his wife and he were worth more than 1 billion baht in 2007 – tells Boyce that he will “be Thailand’s economic supremo and effective Number Two in the government.”While bankers had wanted him made prime minister, that “honor” was reserved for the king’s man, General Surayud Chulanot, from the Privy Council.

Pridiyathorn tells Boyce “that he had expected a coup.” Not only that, he says that “… I along with everyone else was relieved when it (the coup) happened.” We expect that “everyone” refers to the billionaires that Pridiyathorn met at the Sports Club.

Pridiyathorn (L) and Surayud

He reveals that “he had spoken with the military leaders before the coup,” stating, “They came to me and said, ‘You’re neutral, we want your help.’ I don’t belong to any political party; I am working for the country.”

Boyce, who has shown time an again in these cables that he was a cheerleader for the coup, helpfully explains that “everyone he had spoken with regards (coup leader) General Sonthi [Boonyaratglin] as a good, honest, straightforward person.” Later Boyce goes on to provide helpful advice to those who made the coup, recounting the experience of another military-appointed premier, Anand Punyarachun.

Pridiyathorn considers Sonthi rather dull, saying he “is a fighter, not a thinker” who probably wants to go back to the barracks, but argues for keeping the junta in place, claiming worries about “a countercoup.” He says: “Our intelligence shows that the TRT is trying to organize resistance.”

Pridiyathorn revealed his discussions about being premier:

but priorities argued against this action: “The economy is easy — we can grow GDP at 4-5 percent without too much trouble. The main challenges to the interim government will be 1) the risk of a pro-Thaksin countercoup; and 2) the security situation in the Muslim south. I spoke with someone higher than the CDR (Embassy Comment: Privy Councilor Prem [Tinsulanonda]?) and told him that it is not right to put an economist at the top. I can be Number Two.”

PPT can only continue to wonder about all those recent reports that have tried to paint a picture of no palace involvement in the planning of the coup. This cable, together with many of the earlier cables we’ve posted suggest deep involvement, with Prem’s name repeatedly mentioned.





Wikileaks: Palace, embassy and military junta coordinate

3 04 2012

In a Wikileaks cable dated 26 September 2006, further coordination between the military junta and the palace. Given the palaver over the palace’s role prior to the coup, which has been covered by PPT in previous Wikileak’s posts, this cable indicates continuing coordination post-coup.

In this cable, Ambassador Ralph Boyce, refers to a meeting with Ministry of Foreign Affairs Permanent Secretary Krit Garnjana-Goonchorn. This followed a previous cable that spoke to a large meeting where MFA and a coup leader spoke to the diplomatic corps in Bangkok. Some of that cable first.

In that briefing, Krit and National Security Council Secretary-General Winai Phattiyakul, who was also Secretary-General of the Council for Democratic Reform under the Constitutional Monarchy, called for “understanding” from “friends.”

Krit was said to have admitted that “coups are wrong and undesirable” but that nothing was black and white, and that the “people as a whole seem to have welcomed the military intervention.”

The MFA was also concerned to ensure that the “monarchy is above politics” line was upheld:

Krit said that the CDRM had learned that the initial rendering of its title (The Council for Democratic Reform under the Constitutional Monarchy) had caused misunderstandings and “wrongly suggested some role for His Majesty in the September 19 intervention.” Therefore, the official title would now be simply the Council for Democratic Reform….

The role of the king in the coup was raised later too:

During the Q’s and A’s, Krit returned to the question of the King’s role. He emphasized that the CDR had their audience with the King “after the process of the takeover to report what had happened.” The King had no foreknowledge of the coup. “He is above politics. Remember the past year; he has been cautious not to intervene. He turned down requests to appoint a prime minister under Article 7 of the Constitution. That was a clear indication of how the King applies his role as constitutional monarch.”

But the image damage was already done, and has been maintained until the present. Boyce referred to the “the angst over … the King’s role” amongst the coup masters. He points out that:

On the one hand, the CDR wants the legitimacy that comes from the perception that the King has accepted, if not approved, the coupmakers’ actions. At the same time, they do not want to be accused of causing damage to the King’s reputation by having exposed him to international criticism. (The reference to the King as “an idiot” by a reporter asking questions at the State Department briefing has already excited great concern at the MFA. [T]here is also lingering concern about the book “The King Never Smiles” which, though banned in Thailand, is on the minds of some.)

We now return to the cable on the meeting between Krit and the Ambassador where despite the “angst,” the junta’s cooperation with the palace is clear.

Boyce stresses to Krit that getting civilian regime is the most important task. As we have noted previously, PPT finds Boyce’s repeated friendly advice to the junta mechanistic; as if transferring power to civilians under the tutelage of a junta alters the nature of the regime or erases its illegal path to power.

Boyce then describes a conversation with “Privy Council President Prem Tinsulanonda on the subject” of a transition to a civilian regime. Boyce is clearly indicating that there is a role for the palace in this.

Krit confirmed that “the King would sign the interim constitution on Friday, September 29.” The junta would then transmogrify into a “security council” as its puppet prime minister and cabinet became the front for the junta (of course, these are PPT’s terms).

Krit stated that “Thailand had stumbled while on the road to democratization, he said, and now needed a helping hand to help pull the Thais back up.” Helpfully, and revealing his bias, Boyce comments:

Krit did not indicate clearly whether he viewed the coup as the stumble, or what many considered the increasingly authoritarian methods of Thaksin Shinawatra.” It is clear that Boyce has no problem at all with the military coup.

MFA’s Director General for American Affairs Nongnuth Phethcaratana returned to the role of the king in his meeting with Boyce, referring to a 22 September statement by Senator Biden “that not only criticized the coup (as a ‘setback for the cause of democracy’) but also made explicit references to the King.” Nongnut believed Biden’s positive statements were “inappropriate” for even referring to the king. Krit jumped in to “suggest” that the:

State Department spokesman reprimand a journalist who made insulting remarks about the King [as an idiot] in State Department press briefings [or] … at least an explicit comment from the spokesman to the journalist noting that the Department disapproved of his “abusive” language.

As ever, the royalists indicate an imperfect knowledge of international politics.

PPT sought out these two items. The only Biden quotes we can find suggest that the king should take a role in restoring democracy. Given the role the palace has long portrayed itself playing in times of political crisis, such a comment by Biden would seem perfectly understandable. However, as the palace’s involvement in the coup had been to get rid of the “crisis” it saw personified in Thaksin, then the royalists seem to be upset that the king is being asked to be involved in politics. Yes, we know that sounds stupid, but that’s the way the palace plays its propaganda.

On a journalist saying the king was an idiot, we think this is refers to a question from Lambros to the State Department spokesman. Lambros was  Lambros Papantoniou, who died in 2009. His question is garbled in the transcript but was likely, reconstructed from two fragments of the same question:

Any comment on the conduct of the King, who is acting as an idiot, and cooperated immediately with the coup against democracy in Thailand?

The answer was:

MR. CASEY: I’m not aware of any specific contacts that might have been made with the King. As I said yesterday, we have been in discussions with the relevant political actors, both in terms of those involved in this military leadership that has now taken over as well as with political parties and other major figures in Thailand.

Wikileaks cables tend to show that “we,” as represented by Boyce, mainly meant talking with the junta and its supporters.

These two cables indicate the coordination between junta and embassy and between palace and junta. At the same time, the junta seemed to be under considerable pressure to put public relations in place that somehow undid the damage already done to the palace’s international image.





Wikileaks, palace and cheering the junta

28 03 2012

Yesterday PPT posted on a Wikileaks cable about an “unsolicited” briefing U.S. Ambassador Ralph Boyce was pleased to receive from military junta employee and message boy Bowornsak Uwanno.

That cable was interesting for several reasons, one of which was a tone that indicated support for coup and military junta. That tone becomes a cheering for the illegal actions taken by the military brass in this cable.

Also dated 25 September 2006, in this cable, Ambassador Boyce appears to support some of the junta’s political repression. He first refers to the  Council for Democratic Reform under Constitutional Monarchy and its decision to ban “illegal” wiretapping and “eavesdropping” on communications.

Of course, “legal” wiretapping was still fine, and this move by the junta was based on what Boyce says is “widespread fears” that “Thaksin [Shinawatra] and his supporters were using their control of the largest cellphone operator.” Boyce seems to have forgotten that Thaksin had sold his telecoms interests to Singapore’s Temasek in January 2006. Despite this, Boyce claims that the “fears” has foundation. The cable states “… we believe [the fears] were justified.”

The cable then turns to the junta’s “Public Announcement 22” where it:

advised all administrative and political organizations on the local level which “disagree with the CDRM” to “stop their political movements or activities until the situation in the country is back to normal.”

Tellingly, there is no embassy editorializing on this, suggesting that Boyce isn’t about to condemn a military crackdown on political liberties. This lack of comment is even more telling in that the cable linked above had a comment on the military protecting freedoms. All Boyce does is observe that there is some “anti-coup political discussion…”.

The cable then turns to the junta and the palace:

All television stations simultaneously broadcast a September 22 ceremony at which CDRM leader General Sonthi and other CDRM figures received the Royal Command empowering the CDRM to run the government….

It is pointed out that the king “does not appear in person for such ceremonies.” Clearly, this television event was another element in justifying the coup to the Thai public. At the same time, it also notes that cosmetic surgery was underway to try to protect the palace from criticism of deep involvement in the coup:

a Chinese journalist from Guangming Daily informed us that the Thai MFA protested a Xinhua News Agency story that linked the coup with the monarchy, and Xinhua was in the process of formally apologizing for the report.

Erasing the palace’s fingerprints has continued since then.

The cable then discusses a range of issues, mentioning in neutral terms, the continued detention of four pro-Thaksin politicians. It does reject rumors that the junta moved to prevent a pro-Thaksin coup as:

… nothing more than an effort at a post-facto justification of the coup by journalists, who are supporting the coup because they hated Thaksin, but have a guilty conscience about it.

There seemed no “guilty conscience” at the Ambassador’s residence, for under the sub-heading “KINDER, GENTLER COUP – PHOTO OP OF THE DAY,” Boyce says:

Everyday, the front page of the various newspapers show pictures of smiling soldiers receiving flowers from the public and playing with children. Today’s best public relations photo showed a smiling bride and groom in Chiang Mai, getting their wedding pictures taken in front of a tank.

Cheering the coup from Wireless Road may not seem diplomatic, but all along Boyce had been pro-yellow, pro-royalist and pro-coup.





Wikileaks, Bowornsak and the military junta

27 03 2012

In a Wikileaks cable dated 25 September 2006, Ambassador Ralph Boyce comments on a meeting with Bowornsak Uwanno. The meeting is described this way:

Constitution drafter Borwornsak Uwanno briefed the Ambassador September 25 on the intentions of the Council for Democratic Reform Under the Monarchy (CDRM)….

We find this kind of relationship intriguing, for Bowornsak is seen in the cables as a regular commentator for the embassy and ambassador, and in this instance, was to offer “an unsolicited update on progress in creating theinterim constitution.” While Boyce describes him as “Former Cabinet Secretary and highly respected legal expert…”, he makes no mention of Bowornsak’s capacity for side switching and remarkable “pragmatism” in this. As the cable proceeds, it seems that Bowornsak is at best acting as a messenger for the military junta. A more cynical reading is also possible.

Bowornsak: junta messenger

Bowornsak told the Ambassador that the “interim constitution (which he was helping to draft) would be … finalized for issuance within a week…”. He detailed the interim constitution and mumbled about “protections of civil liberties.” Of course, only a fool would have believed that the military leadership, acting illegally, would protect any human rights other than their own.

In his role as junta messenger, Bowornsak tells Boyce that:

the reference to the monarchy in the CDRM’s name [Council for Democratic Reform under Constitutional Monarchy] had led to confusion concerning the King’s role in the coup, and the CDRM would therefore change its name to the National Security Council.

He “explained” that CDRM had to remain in existence for two reasons: first, “Thaksin’s extraordinary wealth and strong political network engendered reasonable and strong fear of a counter-coup.” Of course, by this time, it was clear that there was no such possibility. The second reason related to the south. Referring to a bombing in Hat Yai, he says “security forces wanted to be able to deal with it without resorting to martial law.” Perhaps that was one of the reasons for the unexplained bombing?

Boyce claims he “stressed that world attention was focused on the two-week deadline that the CDRM had announced for its transfer of power to civilians.” PPT finds Boyce’s statements on this to be little more than friendly advice to the junta. Transferring power to civilians under the tutelage of a junta doesn’t  alter its nature or its illegal path to power.

Bowornsak polished Boyce’s ego by stating that he considered the “Ambassador’s emphasis on this point was ‘very sound’, and he urged the Ambassador to make this point directly to CDRM members…”.

The junta messenger confirmed that “his direct contacts with General Sonthi [Boonyaratglin] confirmed his sense that the General and his cohorts were not seeking to prolong their time in power.”

Boyce seemed relieved to “hear assurances that the interim constitution is near completion, and that the CDRM is close to transitioning power to a civilian government.”

Yep, having a puppet civilian regime would like fool the whole world and Thais into thinking they hadn’t had a military coup.





Wikileaks: Junta and the slippery slope of censorship

11 03 2012

In a Wikileaks cable dated 22 September 2006, a few days after the military junta used U.S. tanks to make yet another coup, this time throwing out elected Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, Ambassador Ralph Boyce comments on post-putsch censorship.

The cable offers interesting insights from reporters who talked with the embassy about the events of the night of the coup, as the military quickly sent its troops out to media houses:

State-owned MCOT Channel 9 reporters said they aired Prime Minister Thaksin’s emergency statement only after ITV refused. After Thaksin had been on the air for a couple of minutes, armed army personnel burst into the Channel 9 studio, asked where the Control Room was, and demanded that the technicians cut off the broadcast. The screen went blank for a few minutes, and then Channel 9 began running the Channel 5 stock footage paying homage to the King.

In fact, by the time Thaksin was cut off at Channel 9, all Thai free-to-air TV was required to use “the same feed from army-owned and operated Channel 5…”. The embassy seems happy to report that “by mid-morning the next day they had returned to ‘regular’ programming…”. That this only included “positive” news about the putsch seemed not to bother the embassy too much.

Embassy staff are said to have visited various television stations:

At ITV, … armed soldiers lined the front gate, front door, and newsroom. A huge truck and armored vehicle were parked near the entrance, with more vehicles at the exit. ITV reporters and anchors said the military asked them not to broadcast material that might have a “negative impact” or “cause any resistance or disturbance.”

ITV staff stated “they felt the soldiers’  presence had an ‘oppressive’ effect on their work.”

The “entertainment-oriented Channel 3 has only a few soldiers guarding the entrance and news building, with no trucks or equipment.” At Channel 3 it was reported that a “producer said the military has requested that the station not air negative comments about the CDRM.”

Interestingly, the Nation Channel also had a” significant military presence, with armed guards and trucks at the gate and five soldiers with rifles (with the clips out) outside and inside the newsroom.” This was not to intimidate.

The president of the Nation Channel, Adisak Limprungpatanakij, is described as “avidly anti-Thaksin,” claimed the “coup has not affected press freedom.” He said the military commander told him:

the troops were to provide security to the Nation Channel and assist in linking to Channel 5 pool coverage. Nation Channel staff happily keep the soldiers well-fed during their stay.

The cable continues to note that “there is no troop presence whatsoever at ASTV, the free satellite TV network owned by anti-Thaksin campaigner Sondhi [Limthongkul].”

Foreign news was censored:

 For two days after the coup, pictures of or interviews about Thaksin triggered an interruption…. For example, UBC cut a BBC interview with Pasook Pongpaijit [Pasuk Phongpaichit], an academic mildly critical of the coup, and a CNN interview with Paul Handley, author of a book critical of the King.

The embassy says that after two days, “CNN, BBC and MSNBC are now broadcasting normally.” Normality was also claimed for the print media. Indeed, the claim is made that this media is “freer” than before the coup!

This claim is laughable, especially when the cable cites The Nation’s Pana Janviroj, who says that self-censorship is not even at work because: “We sympathize with the CDRM, so there is (no need for) self-censorship.”

Turning to radio, without noting that most stations were controlled by the military, the embassy bleats that a “well-known radio personality noted on air that, in contrast to past coups, no one tried to review or censor broadcasts.”

But outside the sphere of military control, it is acknowledged that “community radio stations have been temporarily banned in the provinces; local military officials have said this is because these stations are difficult to monitor and control.”

On the internet,

the Council for Democratic Reform under the Constitutional Monarchy (CDRM) called in all Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to try to control website content, under threat of closure. Thus far, the CDRM has not closed any website completely.

… All of the major Thai chat sites have announcements posted that the country is under Martial Law and postings should be “careful and constructive.”

The “Politics Board” of Pantip.com was shut down yesterday following an influx of strong anti-coup messages. The board is back up, and even now, roughly half of the messages are mildly critical of the coup, although opinions are expressed in a sarcastic way.

In the face of all this censorship, the embassy doesn’t warn of the slippery slope of censorship. Sure, the embassy might have mumbled to junta something about “press freedom,” but seemed more interested in giving the impression that the censorship was light or even less than under Thaksin, and that everything was getting back to “normal.”

Of course, the military and royalists took to the slippery slope like Olympic downhill racers, and under the military-backed, royalist regime led by Abhisit Vejjajiva, censorship became especially intense as a regime of repression was put in place.





Wikileaks: Support for the coup?

9 03 2012

In a Wikileaks cable just two days after the military coup of 19 September 2006, US Ambassador Ralph Boyce tells his bosses in Washington that things are pretty much back to “normal.”

The cable begins by observing that a “royal order” appointing General Sonthi Boonyaratglin as “Leader of the Council for Democratic Reform under the Constitutional Monarchy” had been issued and widely circulated. That palace pronouncement is reproduced in full in the cable and is worth citing as many readers will probably have forgotten its significance:

General Sonthi has reported the government under the leadership of Police LTCOL Thaksin Shinawatra had caused unprecedented conflicts, division and devastation of integrity and unity among the Thai people and that the majority of the people had had doubts about the honesty of the government due to widespread corruption and political intervention in independent organizations, thus adversely affecting and impeding political activities of the country.

Despite continued efforts of many sectors, the situation has not improved and peace has not yet been restored to the country. A joint military, police and civilian group, calling itself the Council for Democratic Reform under the Constitutional Monarchy led by Gen. Sonthi has therefore seized control of the government in order to restore peace and unity to the country.

Therefore, His Majesty hereby appoints Gen. Sonthi as leader of the Council for Democratic Reform under the Constitutional Monarchy, and calls on the Thai people to remain peaceful and all government officials to follow the orders of General Sonthi.

PPT believes this announcement reflects the palace’s thinking. Of course, those who seek to “protect” the monarchy will argue that the words were given to the king and he simply signed off. However, given the supine position of the military leadership towards the monarchy and the king’s undoubted capacity to reject approaches by constitutional and elected governments, it seems highly unlikely that the announcement wasn’t in accord with palace views.

Boyce goes on to explain that there have been no pro-Thaksin Shinawatra “rallies or public displays of support” and “no signs of disturbance and no public indication of support for the deposed PM.” He then adds that “a public opinion poll that shows a whopping 86.36 percent of people in the countryside approve of the coup, along with 81.6 percent of the people of Bangkok.”

Without comment on these unbelievable figures, an Army poll is also cited, noting that it probably won’t be made public:

only about 50-55 percent of Bangkok actually support the coup, while only about 35 percent of the people in the North and 30 percent in the Northeast do…. The approval numbers in the South are the highest (60-65 percent).

Despite the best efforts of the palace, military and the Democrat Party, little seems to have changed, except that the motivations of these groups are probably now a lot clearer.





Wikileaks: Briefed by the junta

4 03 2012

In yet another Wikileaks cable dated 20 September 2006, U.S. Ambassador Ralph Boyce details a briefing provided by Army chief Sonthi Boonyaratglin, fronting the junta’s then rather aptly named Council for Democratic Reform Under the Constitutional Monarchy (CDRM). The briefing was provided for the diplomatic corps and defense attaches and was held, symbolically, at the Army’s headquarters. The rest of the CDRM was also in attendance: Supreme Commander and heads of the Navy, Air Force, Police and National Security Council.

As is well-known, it was at this briefing (and in related announcements) that the CDRM provided its justification for deposing the elected government of Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra:

a lack of political confidence; rampant nepotism; corruption; unprecedented social divisions in Thailand; the inability of administrative institutions to function properly without political interference; social injustice, and offenses to the Thai monarch.

Sonthi apparently stressed that the military’s goal was to “make democracy a reality in Thailand.”However, Boyce notes that “Sonthi was evasive when pressed to explain exactly what had prompted the coup.” PPT has never considered Sonthi very bright and we think the “evasion” is just Sonthi being unwilling to say that he was ordered to do it.

All Sonthi says is that the military had “recently … learned certain facts about the (Thaksin) caretaker government. This information convinced us that further waiting would not result in democracy, so we acted.” He doesn’t say what they knew but adds that the military “have received numerous requests to act, to bring peace and normalcy back to the country.” He doesn’t say who made the “requests” but when pressed by the Australian ambassador, he replied: “The people requested us to act; they were not receiving the benefits of democracy. A democracy formed by the people did not exist.”

It is noted that the “CDRM members had an audience with the King and Queen,” but no details are provided in this cable. For those, see this cable posted some time ago, where Sonthi claims the king was “happy, smiling throughout” the meeting with the CDRM cabal of military leaders.

What is somewhat surprising is Sonthi’s statement in reply to a British diplomat, who seems to have been more persistent in questioning and skeptical of the junta than Boyce, who noted that “Sonthi had said that the coup was prompted by ‘certain facts’ concerning Thaksin which, while unspecified, must be fairly serious given the actions they provoked.” He noted that “the CDRM does not have any plans to take any legal action against Thaksin. What, asked the UK Charge, has Thaksin done?”  Sonthi replied that Thaksin “has not done anything legally incorrect…”. 

Boyce

Seemingly unable to grasp the enormity of a coup that has thrown out a premier elected with the biggest ever electoral vote, Boyce says “the good news here is that he has committed to move toward civilian rule in two weeks. We should welcome this commitment…”. It seems clear that Boyce has also welcomed the illegal putsch. Of course, Boyce had met with Sonthi in advance of the coup, several times, and knew his thoughts on Thaksin. At that time, Boyce provided succor to the general, assuring him that “policymakers in Washington … have noted that the military continues to conduct itself in a professional manner, staying on the sidelines of this crisis, and that this can largely be attributed to Sonthi himself.”

Sonthi is reported as saying that “there is no intention, whatsoever, for military involvement in the current crisis.” We doubt Boyce believed him, but he continually repeated this line to Washington. We can only speculate that Boyce knew more than he let on, for he makes no point about being misled by Sonthi in these earlier chats.

When Sonthi was asked by the Finnish ambassador about a return to democracy, the dullard in Sonthi was revealed when he replied: “Thailand is 100 percent democratic now; our reason for action is that we want real democracy in our country.” Military types seldom understand the meaning of democracy, and we assume that Sonthi is blathering about “democracy with the king as head of state.”

Boyce is critical of Sonthi for not anticipating these questions and having pat answers prepared, “[e]ven after making due allowance for the fact that the CDRM members had not gotten any sleep the previous night…”. Poor guys. Throwing out elected governments is no picnic. However, and more seriously, as noted above, we doubt Sonthi could even conceptualize electoral democracy from “Thai-style democracy,” which is no democracy at all, but a royalist regime.

Boyce seems to have been quiet and prepared to accept the coup without much questioning at all. We can only imagine that other ambassadors must have been surprised by his acquiescence but they probably also knew his support for crown and the men with guns.





Wikileaks: Boyce on the coup

3 03 2012

In what appears to be the first of several cables sent on 20 September 2006, U.S. Ambassador Ralph L. Boyce comments on the coup. We have already posted and earlier cable from the day after the coup on business reactions to the military’s intervention (apologies for getting out of order), and we have another post coming within a few hours that details some of the other cables on that day.

Using what PPT thinks is the best and most accurate moniker for the junta, Boyce refers to it as the Council for Democratic Reform under the Monarchy. In later cables it becomes the Council for Democratic Reform under Constitutional Monarchy. Boyce seems comfortable in reporting the coup and stating that the junta is “in control of the government after a bloodless coup on the evening of September 19.”

Boyce’s attitude is almost nonchalant – Coup? So what? He immediately appears to be justifying the coup by reporting that the:

CDRM promises to cede control to an interim civilian government soon, and civil society contacts we spoke to today believed this would happen. Politicians and academics have expressed support for the military’s actions, believing that there was “no other way” to proceed with political reform free of the control of Prime Minister Thaksin’s enormous wealth and political power.

He does add that this “is a sad commentary on the weak state of Thailand’s democratic institutions,” but doesn’t seek to explain this or decry the end of every single democratic institution and all freedoms by the actions of the military-palace alliance to toss out Thaksin. Boyce turns to what he repeatedly says is the “good news”: the junta has promised “to return the government to civilian control ‘as soon as possible’.”

Remarkably, Boyce refers to a junta member telling “the Ambassador last night that it might take a few days before the military would cede control to a civilian.” It is revealing that Boyce was talking with coup plotters on the very night of the coup. Perhaps that is because the U.S. is considered so significant for the military in Thailand, but that Boyce reports this as “good news” suggests a remarkably cosy relationship.

The “bad news” is barely mentioned and waved off as Boyce steamrolls on to tell his bosses that the coup has seen “Bangkok rejoice.” There is then a long list of comments that indicate wide support for the coup:

Post has spoken to a range of contacts in Bangkok about the coup. PAO academic contacts could only be described as ebullient. They gave a variety of justifications for the army’s move, alleging that Thaksin had deliberately incited problems in the South to strengthen his political position, for example, and even claiming he was behind the bomb attacks in Hat Yai. One said that army was only reacting to the “coup” already staged by Thaksin, a reference to what is seen as his anti-democratic ruling style. They all felt that the coup was inevitable and it was good that it happened while Thaksin was out of the country.

Those academics are probably pleased that Boyce didn’t name them, but it is well-known which academics were regularly talking with the U.S. embassy, and some have been mentioned in previous posts.

The cable then turns to “political party contacts” who turn out to be only the coup-supporting Democrat Party and Chart Thai. Both are reported as recognizing that the coup “looked bad” internationally but shrugged and said “what else was there to do? Thaksin’s enormous wealth made him unbeatable in elections. He had emasculated the Constitution’s checks and balances.”

It is remarkable that Boyce is simply repeating anti-Thaksin scuttlebutt as if it were fact. Even if he believes some of it, repeating rumors with no balancing observations is giving them support.

Boyce then talks about Thaksin and basically assures Washington that he is finished for the moment. Boyce mentions that some Thai Rak Thai Party politicians have been arrested but is happy enough with assurances from his CDRM buddies that “they were well.” Likewise, he seems relieved that claims People’s Alliance for Democracy activists were also being detained was not correct.

This is a remarkable cable and one that puts a lie to any residual claims that the ambassador and the U.S. did anything other than welcome the military-palace coup.





Wikileaks, Prem and the coup

4 09 2011

In PPT’s continuing series on Wikileaks cables, we examine U.S. Ambassador Ralph Boyce’s cable of 26 September 2006 that refers to his visit to see Privy Council President General Prem Tinsulanonda just a few days after the 2006 military coup.

Boyce begins by explaining to Washington that he visited Prem on “September 25, explaining I wanted to check on his well-being, given reports on the night of the coup that [ousted Prime Minister] Thaksin [Shinawatra] had tried to arrange Prem’s arrest.” At the time of the coup, Thaksin was in New York.

The ambassador states: “Sounding relaxed, confident, and very pleased with the course of events, Prem assured me he was well.”

The only other item in the cable refers to a conversation Boyce had with former Thaksin government spokesman Borwornsak Uwanno, who after belatedly acquiescing to pressure from a privy councilor, had changed sides and was now close to some of the coup plotters.

Borwornsak had told Boyce that the junta (Boyce prefers to call it the CDRM, the Council for Democratic Reform under Constitutional Monarchy, as the junta initially referred to itself) would not appoint a “civilian Prime Minister until the middle of the first week of October.”

Boyce “stressed to Prem that the international community would be watching the clock, and the CDRM would come under criticism if it missed its self-imposed two-week deadline for transitioning to a civilian administration. Prem urged me to start counting the days from September 20, rather than September 19, as the CDRM needed to buy itself as much time as possible to get affairs in order.”

There’s no doubt that, at this time, Prem would have been feeling elated. After all, the military was back in charge and the hated Thaksin was out and effectively exiled, meaning that all of Prem’s work in getting the military on-side for the coup had paid off handsomely.








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