Wikileaks, privy councilors and the prince

16 12 2010

US embassy cables: Thai officials express concerns over crown prince, Wednesday 15 December 2010 21.30 GMT

Monday, 25 January 2010, 07:59




EO 12958 DECL: 01/25/2030





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

1. (S) Summary: Ambassador paid a series of New Year’s-related calls on influential Thai figures, including Privy Council Chair GEN Prem, Privy Council member ACM Siddhi, and former PM Anand, to discuss the year ahead. Abhisit’s performance, issues related to the royal family, and challenges posed by Thaksin/Hun Sen emerged as the primary themes. Prem offered a more positive assessment of Abhisit’s performance than Siddhi, who criticized Abhisit for a lack of resolve and the absence of an effective team to carry out his policies. All three focused on the challenge posed by Thaksin to the government and, indirectly, to the monarchy; Anand attributed part of the King’s poor health to Thaksin, and both Prem and Siddhi were upset about Thaksin’s alliance of convenience with Cambodian leader Hun Sen. All three had quite negative comments about Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn. While asserting that the Crown Prince will become King, both Siddhi and Anand implied the country would be better off if other arrangements could be made. Siddhi expressed preference for Princess Sirindhorn; Anand suggested only the King would be in a position to change succession, and acknowledged a low likelihood of that happening.

2. (S) Comment: On the two most difficult and sensitive issues of the day in Thailand — Thaksin and the monarchy — the Thai elite appear as unsure about the future as any other sector of society. The stakes are significant for all sides, and resolution of the political divide and royal succession could still be far over the horizon. Elite concerns about Abhisit in office appear to reflect less on his performance than on general worries about the ultimate resolution of issues. End Summary and Comment.

Mixed Views on Abhisit’s performance


3. (C) Privy Councilor Chair GEN Prem shared his assessments of PM Abhisit, the Crown Prince’s relationship with Thaksin, and difficulties dealing with Cambodia/Hun Sen with Ambassador over lunch January 13. Regarding Abhisit, Prem referenced widespread criticism that the PM was too young and not strong enough to be an effective leader in trying times. However, Prem felt that Abhisit had proved in 2009 that he was up to the challenge of doing what was necessary to run a fractious coalition government, no easy task. In addition, there were no other politicians available who were more principled and had more integrity than Abhisit, and Thailand needed such a leader at this point. Prem expressed hope that Thais and foreigners alike would be more patient with Abhisit, who he believed was the right man to serve as premier.

4. (C) Fellow Privy Councilor ACM Siddhi, hosting Ambassador at his home January 11, was more critical of Abhisit than Prem. Siddhi said that he had told Abhisit’s father, his own long-time personal physician, that his son needed to be more decisive and “make more friends” in 2010. Abhisit spent too much time at the podium and not enough time assembling an effective team to which he could delegate action and rely on for well-thought out policy initiatives, in Siddhi’s view. Abhisit also needed to get out to engage the grassroots, one of Thaksin’s strengths. On Siddhi’s wish list: Abhisit pushing through a permanent appointment for Acting Police Chief Pratheep; using his power over wayward coalition parties by threatening parliamentary dissolution if they did not get in line; and telling the Army to take action to dismiss renegade MGEN Khattiya, even if Defense Minister Prawit refused to sign a dismissal order.

Political Year Ahead


5. (C) While GEN Prem expressed moderate concern about the potential for violence and political discord in early 2010, he felt the situation was no worse than six months ago. Prem asked about U.S. laws regarding demonstrations and avoiding

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excessive disruptions of government functions and daily lives of citizens; Ambassador explained the U.S. system of permits for protests which allowed for free speech but not free access everywhere. Ambassador shared U.S. frustration about decisions negatively affecting economic/investment climate, such as Ma Tha Phut and the digital lottery cancellation; the uneven application of the rule of law, breaches of contract, and regulatory shifts affected the investment climate more negatively at this point than political turmoil.

6. (C) ACM Siddhi expressed more concerns than Prem about the security situation in 2010, suggesting that Army Commander Anupong’s inability to control wayward red-affiliated MGEN Khattiya’s M-79 attacks on yellow-shirt rallies and trips to see Thaksin overseas was not a good harbinger (note: three days later, someone attacked Anupong’s office at night with an M-79, with Khattiya widely seen as the likely suspect, see reftel. End note). Siddhi said he had higher hopes for deputy Commander Prayuth, widely expected to replace Anupong in October and seen as particularly close to the Queen. Siddhi claimed Prem had sent a signal of his displeasure with Anupong by snubbing him during a group call at Prem’s residence to pass birthday greetings, not stopping to talk to Anupong personally as he did with other key military commanders.

Royal Family: King, Crown Prince, Entourages


7. (S) Regarding King Bhumibol’s health, Prem indicated that the King was exercising 30 minutes a day on a stationary bicycle at Siriraj Hospital and passing a medicine ball with a physical therapist to build up strength and regain weight. Prem acknowledged that he had not seen the King since the hospitalization, but that the Queen and Princess Sirindhorn saw the King daily. When Ambassador asked about the Crown Prince’s involvement, Prem repeated: the Queen and Sirindhorn visit him daily.

8. (S) Prem acknowledged Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn probably maintained some sort of relationship with fugitive former PM Thaksin, “seeing him from time to time.” Prem, clearly no fan of either man, cautioned that Thaksin ran the risk of self-delusion if he thought that the Crown Prince would act as his friend/supporter in the future merely because of Thaksin’s monetary support; “he does not enjoy that sort of relationship.” When Ambassador asked where the Crown Prince was currently, in Thailand or Europe, Prem replied dismissively: “You know his social life, how he is.” (Note: a presumed reference to Vajiralongkorn’s preference to spend time based out of Munich with his main mistress, rather than in Thailand with his wife and son).

9. (S) ACM Siddhi, in a similar vein, noted that the Crown Prince frequently slipped away from Thailand, and that information about his air hostess mistresses was widely available on websites; he lamented how his former aide, now Thai Ambassador to Germany, was forced to leave Berlin for Munich often to receive Vajiralongkorn. Siddhi raised Thaksin’s controversial November Times On-line interview, which Siddhi claimed cast the King in a bad light and attempted to praise the Crown Prince as broad-minded and educated abroad, hinting that Vajiralongkorn would be ready to welcome Thaksin back to Thailand once he became King.

10. (S) Ambassador mentioned to Siddhi the Crown Prince’s more engaging approach in the early December King’s Birthday reception with Ambassadors, shaking each envoy’s hand and appearing more at ease than in the 2008 reception. Siddhi stated that succession would be a difficult transition time for Thailand. According to Palace Law, the Crown Prince would succeed his father, but added after a pause, almost hopefully: “if the Crown Prince were to die, anything could happen, and maybe Prathep (Sirindhorn) could succeed.”

11. (S) Ambassador similarly raised the Crown Prince’s more confident demeanor with former PM Anand in late December, seeking Anand’s assessment of the dynamics in play as succession inevitably drew nearer. Anand’s response was

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similar to Siddhi’s, but more detailed and blunt. Anand said that he had always believed that the Crown Prince would succeed his father, according to law. However, there could be complicating factors — if Vajiralongkohn proved unable to stay out of politics, or avoid embarrassing financial transactions. After a pause, Anand added that the consensus view among many Thai was that the Crown Prince could not stop either, nor would he be able, at age 57, to rectify his behavior. After another pause, Anand added that someone really should raise the matter with the King, before adding with regret that there really was no one who could raise such a delicate topic (note: implied was the need for an alternative to Vajiralongkorn).

12. (S) ACM Siddhi expressed his personal concern about the declining image of the royal family in Thailand, noting that something as simple as excessive motorcade-related traffic jams caused by minor royals was an unnecessary but enduring irritant. Personal Private Secretary Arsa Sarasin had raised this with the King about eight years ago, according to Siddhi, and the King had agreed, authorizing Arsa to talk to royal family members and to set up new rules limiting entourages and occasions when traffic would be stopped. Nothing had changed; Siddhi noted that he had been caught up in traffic for 45 minutes the previous week returning for a meeting with the Chinese Ambassador, due to a royal motorcade. Stories that the Crown Prince now ordered second story windows closed as his motorcade passed achieved nothing but additional popular resentment, Siddhi added sorrowfully.

Thaksin and Hun Sen


13. (C) Thaksin clearly remained on the mind of all three “establishment” figures. Former PM Anand asserted that the King’s health and mood remained poor “primarily because of Thaksin” and the challenge Thaksin posed to the stability of the country. GEN Prem asked Ambassador what the U.S. would do in the situation Thailand found itself, with a neighboring country appointing as an adviser a former leader bent on bringing down the government. Ambassador replied that while former U.S. Presidents did occasionally give paid speeches overseas, they would never work for another government; he advised Prem and Thai officials to take the high road in their public comments about Cambodia, and not to be drawn into a tit for tat with Thaksin and Hun Sen. (Note: Prem seemed to be musing out loud, but he clearly was focused on what he perceived as a threat from Thaksin and Hun Sen’s facilitation of Thaksin’s efforts).

14. (C) ACM Siddhi said that PM Abhisit had called him on his 90th birthday recently and had indicated that now that Thailand was no longer ASEAN Chair, Abhisit would feel less constrained in responding to Hun Sen’s bullying rhetoric more freely. Siddhi expressed concern that in addition to Cambodia and Brunei, clearly in Thaksin’s camp due to his close personal ties with Hun Sen and the Brunei Sultan, Laos and Vietnam might back Hun Sen in the ongoing Thai-Cambodia diplomatic spat.

15. (C) ACM Siddhi attacked Thaksin as trying to use money, red-shirt protests, and Hun Sen to “destroy our country,” but he predicted Thaksin would not succeed. Thaksin never had tried to negotiate, Siddhi alleged, but only issued demands; had he been willing to come back and spend a nominal time in jail for his conviction, Thaksin likely would have been quickly pardoned/released as a former PM. Now Thaksin would try to create chaos, possibly sparking the use of force. While Siddhi expected Thaksin to lose the February 26 decision on his 76 billion baht ($2.3 billion) in frozen assets, he claimed his sources indicated Thaksin still had 240 billion baht ($7.3 billion) overseas. Rather than live overseas quietly, Thaksin had decided to fight, funding websites attacking the King and Queen to stir up anti-monarchy views. JOHN

[PPT: We’ll have some comments on this later.]

Wkileaks cables and opposing a coup in 2008

15 12 2010

PPT is re-posting cables and stories:

The Guardian

US embassy cables: Thai king opposed to 2008 coup

*, Tuesday 14 December 2010 20.05 GMT


1. This cable alleges Thai king Bhumibol ordered army chief Anuphong Paochinda not to attempt a coup against then prime minister Somchai Wongsawat in autumn 2008. It also suggests the king was irritated by protests by pro-royalist parties. Key passage highlighted in yellow [PPT- that is, highlighted by the Guardian. No highlighting here. It was section 6.].

Thursday, 06 November 2008, 07:30





EO 12958 DECL: 11/06/2018





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



1. (C) King Bhumibol explicitly told Army Commander Anupong Paojinda not to launch a coup, XXXXXXXXXXXX, an advisor to Queen Sirikit, told Ambassador November 4. XXXXXXXXXXXX also claimed that the Queen had not meant to signal support for the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) anti-government agenda when she presided over funeral ceremonies on October 13. XXXXXXXXXXXX said PAD’s activities had irritated the King, who reportedly wants PAD protestors to leave Government House. XXXXXXXXXXXX spoke well of Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat, saying Somchai was open to compromising with the PAD, although XXXXXXXXXXXX guessed Somchai would be forced from office by the end of the year. Separately, a politically active businessman with strong connections to the palace told us that the Queen’s funeral appearance had hurt the monarchy’s image, thereby serving the agenda of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. This contact also discussed a possible assassination plot against Thaksin and PAD plans for violence. Both contacts claimed the King suffered from back pain and his condition was frail.

2. (S/NF) Comment: XXXXXXXXXXXX’s claim that the King instructed Anupong not to conduct a coup is the strongest account we have heard to date about the King’s opposition to a coup and his communicating this to Anupong; it would explain why Privy Counselors Prem and Siddhi, both seen as opponents of the current government, gave recent assurances to the Ambassador that there would not be a coup. While XXXXXXXXXXXX did not specify how he heard of this exchange, the purported instruction does appear consistent with Anupong’s actions, other high-level military assurances to the Ambassador, and reporting in other channels. We agree that the Queen’s funeral appearance was a significant blunder, jeopardizing the public’s perception of the palace’s neutrality. PAD appears increasingly divided; this divide, as well as the intense and dynamic condition of Thai politics, may make it appear realistic to hope for a PAD-government compromise. Possible further violence, however, remains a concern. End Summary and Comment.



3. (C) Ambassador met privately at the Residence on November 4 with XXXXXXXXXXXX, a close advisor to Queen Sirikit who in the past has also served as a confidant of the King.XXXXXXXXXXXX remarked that he regretted the Queen’s October 13 appearance at the funeral of a PAD supporter (ref D). He claimed the Queen had been emotionally affected when she learned that one victim of the October 7 violence was a young lady about to be married, and that she had told her father she was going to the protest to defend the monarchy. Initially, the Queen had wanted to send Princess Chulabhorn to the funeral. It was only at the request of Chulabhorn and Chulabhorn’s companion, Chaichon Locharernkul, that the Queen decided to go herself. XXXXXXXXXXXX said there was no intention for the Queen to involve either herself or the monarchy in political matters, but, unfortunately, some members of the public could interpret the funeral appearance differently. XXXXXXXXXXXX said the Queen later reached out to seriously injured police officers in an attempt to show her neutrality, but this signal went largely unnoticed.

4. (C) XXXXXXXXXXXX remarked that King Bhumibol was highly irritated by PAD’s occupation of Government House and other disruptions caused by the anti-government group, but the King was unsure how best to ensure PAD would vacate the compound. XXXXXXXXXXXX said the King had instructed two of his loyalists to convey his desire that PAD leave Government House. (One of these messengers was well-known associate of the King Disathorn

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Watcharothai, who said publicly on October 29 that Thais who love the King should “go home”; see ref A.) XXXXXXXXXXXX considered XXXXXXXXXXXX to be obstinate, however, saying Sondhi had become obsessed with his own sense of mission. By contrast, XXXXXXXXXXXX thought that XXXXXXXXXXXX was reasonable and willing to compromise.



5. (C) XXXXXXXXXXXX claimed to have spoken to Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat about the current standoff. XXXXXXXXXXXX told the Ambassador that Somchai had agreed that the government could meet with the PAD and reach a compromise, but the time was not yet ripe. In his conversation with the Ambassador, XXXXXXXXXXXX spoke highly of Somchai, saying he was “very good” and had many qualities that made him suitable to be Prime Minister, including a sense of fairness and a moderate temperament. Nevertheless, XXXXXXXXXXXX predicted that Somchai could not remain long in office because he would likely be forced out by an adverse Constitutional Court ruling in the People’s Power Party (PPP) dissolution case (ref A), which XXXXXXXXXXXX believed the Court might issue before the King’s birthday (December 5). XXXXXXXXXXXX guessed Somchai would dissolve the parliament before being forced from office.



6. (C) XXXXXXXXXXXX predicted that the current turmoil would not result in a military coup. He said that the King, speaking with Army Commander Anupong Paojinda, had referred to the 2006 coup and made a statement to the effect that there should be no further coups.



7. (C) We also met on November 5 with XXXXXXXXXXXX (strictly protect), the well-connected scion of a wealthy family with close palace ties. XXXXXXXXXXXX had a leading role in the XXXXXXXXXXXX; his wife, XXXXXXXXXXXX, has the royal title of “XXXXXXXXXXXX” and works closely with the Queen. XXXXXXXXXXXX agreed that the Queen’s appearance at the October 13 funeral had highly negative ramifications, saying that even politically neutral Thais felt she had inappropriately brought the monarchy into politics. He also acknowledged increasing semi-public criticism of the monarchy, focused on the Queen (septel). XXXXXXXXXXXX stated with confidence that the King had sought to deter the Queen from attending the funeral by questioning the wisdom of that plan, but had stopped short of forbidding her to do so.

8. (C) XXXXXXXXXXXX discussed former Prime Minister Thaksin’s statement in his November 1 address to supporters (ref B) that either “royal mercy or the people’s power” could allow his return to Thailand. XXXXXXXXXXXX said this juxtaposition, which he viewed as highly strategic, had the predictable effect of energizing Thaksin’s opponents in the royalist camp. This reaction allowed Thaksin to demonstrate publicly that many palace figures were aligned against him, thereby eroding the prestige that the palace derived from its status as an institution above politics. (Separately, after Thaksin’s remarks, a member of Thaksin’s legal team told us that the sentence in question was part of a “very refined product” and that she had heard this sentence “four or five times” in Thaksin’s rehearsal of the speech.)



9. (C) XXXXXXXXXXXX believed PAD continued to aim for a violent clash that would spark a coup. He asserted that he had dined on October 6 with a leading PAD figure (NFI), who explained that PAD would provoke violence during its October 7 protest at the parliament. The unnamed PAD figure predicted (wrongly) that the Army would intervene against the

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government by the evening of October 7. XXXXXXXXXXXX asserted to us that PAD remained intent on a conflict that would generate at least two dozen deaths and make military intervention appear necessary and justified.

10. (C) We mentioned to XXXXXXXXXXXX the claim by Thaksin associate XXXXXXXXXXXX that Thaksin had been the target of an assassination plot (ref C). (Note: Subsequent to the Ambassador’s meeting with XXXXXXXXXXXX, another Thaksin ally related the same claim, and said Thaksin himself had spoken of this plot. End Note.) XXXXXXXXXXXX suggested XXXXXXXXXXXX’s list of conspirators — including two prominent judges — was not credible, but XXXXXXXXXXXX said he could confirm (presumably because of first-hand discussion with an organizing figure) that certain enemies of Thaksin (NFI) had sought to kill him. XXXXXXXXXXXX said he had been surprised to learn that the contract on Thaksin’s life entailed a relatively low payment of only several hundred thousand Baht (in the range of 10,000 USD), although it also entailed resettlement abroad for the person(s) directly involved.



11. (C) XXXXXXXXXXXX (late August/early September). At that time, he said, the King’s complexion appeared healthy, but overall the King appeared frail. He added that the King was upset with the Thai doctor who had organized the team that performed back surgery on the King two years ago, as the operation had not worked as well as the King had been led to expect. XXXXXXXXXXXX, in his meeting with the Ambassador, also said the King was suffering from back pain, and his activities were more limited than in recent years. JOHN

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