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Cablegate: Thai Election Season Prompts Campaign, Fraud, And

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DEPT FOR EAP/MLS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PHUM KDEM TH
SUBJECT: THAI ELECTION SEASON PROMPTS CAMPAIGN, FRAUD, AND
SAFETY WORRIES

REF: A. BANGKOK 5332 (ELECTION CLOCK TICKING)

B. BANGKOK 5482 (ELECTION DECREE ADVANCES)

SUMMARY
-------

1. (SBU) Thailand's campaign season is under way following
the enactment of the royal decree establishing a December 23
general election. Political parties and journalists raised
strong objections to the Election Commission of Thailand's
(ECT) strict new campaign rules which dramatically restrict
campaign activities and media advertisements. A
controversial government anti-vote buying campaign led by
Deputy Prime Minister and coup leader Sonthi Boonyaratglin
was launched as a new poll suggests a majority of Thai voters
are prepared to sell their votes in the upcoming election.
Local officials will investigate a potentially
politically-motivated killing of a Phrae province provincial
official and People's Power Party (PPP) supporter. End
summary.

ELECTION DECREE LEADS TO CAMPAIGN RESTRICTIONS
--------------------------------------------- -

2. (SBU) The royal decree (reftel B) establishing a election
date of December 23 was endorsed by the King on October 21,
published in the Royal Gazette on October 24, and came into
force on October 25, marking the official start of Thailand's
general election campaign season. During the week of October
15-19, the Election Commission of Thailand (ECT) finalized a
plan to geographically designate 157 parliamentary electoral
districts throughout the country. Under the new
constitution, each electoral district will contribute between
one and three seats to the 480-seat House of Representatives.

3. (SBU) The publication of the election decree permits the
ECT to begin to enforce strict campaign regulations that were
announced by the ECT on October 24. The new regulations
restrict the quantity, size and shape of campaign posters,
require television stations to give equal airtime to all
political parties, and prohibit parties from airing TV and
radio advertisements outside of allotted time slots.
Candidates are prohibited from participating in Buddhist
merit-making ceremonies until the election. The ECT rules
also require candidates to submit detailed campaign
expenditure reports and recommend against recruiting popular
celebrities to participate in their campaigns.

4. (SBU) The regulations prompted a fierce backlash from
political parties which view the rules as overly restrictive.
Party leaders are particularly incensed about restrictions
of campaign venues and on television advertising. The leader
of the Pracharaj party said that the rules would favor large
parties at small parties' expense, while a Democrat Party
official complained the new rules contravened international
election practices by restricting the ability of political
parties to communicate their messages to the public. Another
Democrat told us that the regulations would favor PPP and
other parties that engage in vote-buying, since they motivate
their voting base with money, rather than with campaigning.
(Comment: The Democrats claim that they never resort to
vote-buying; although this is hard to credit, the Democrats
have not recently commanded the kind of war chest that would
make them competitive in the vote-buying market. End
comment.) We asked whether the ECT was deliberately
targeting specific parties with these restrictions; the
Democrat responded, "No, they're just crazy." Local
journalist organizations have also raised concerns. In
response to these complaints, the ECT announced it would
consider relaxing some of the new regulations.

SONTHI CONVENES ANTI-VOTE BUYING COMMITTEE
------------------------------------------

5. (SBU) During the week of October 15-19, retired General
and Deputy Prime Minister Sonthi Boonyaratglin convened a
committee to battle vote-buying in the upcoming election, a
problem that has plagued Thailand's democracy for decades.

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The press reported that Sonthi's committee will combat
vote-buying by raising awareness of the problem, offering
$600-$6,000 (20,000 to 200,000 baht) rewards for vote-buying
whistle blowers, and by asking voters to "pick good and
capable individuals to run the country." Although ECT
officials are reportedly members of the committee, some
political party members raised concerns that Sonthi's efforts
would unconstitutionally duplicate or supersede the ECT's
role in policing campaign irregularities. An ECT official
told us on October 25 that the ECT would accept Sonthi's
help, but the ECT would remain independent and not report to
Sonthi or any committee he heads.

6. (SBU) The anti-vote buying efforts seemed particularly
opportune following the publication of an Assumption Business
Administrative College (ABAC) poll conducted between October
15 and 20 which found that 65% of respondents expressed a
willingness to receive gifts or money in exchange for their
votes in the upcoming election. The poll also revealed that
83% of respondents would not inform authorities of
vote-buying occurrences even if they had evidence that it was
taking place. (Note: Under newly enacted election laws
(reftel A), individuals buying votes, as well as those found
to be selling votes, could lose their voting rights and face
imprisonment if convicted. End note.)

PRO-THAKSIN PARTY SUPPORTER KILLED
----------------------------------

7. (SBU) In a possible case of election-related violence,
Phrae Provincial Administrative Organization president
Charnchai Silapauaychai was shot while jogging in a sports
stadium on October 22 in the northern Thai province. The
press reported that Charnchai had recently declared his
support for the pro-Thaksin People's Power Party (PPP).
Police contacts have told us the killing appears to have been
a professional hit. A close associate of the victim has told
us that the killing was politically motivated, although
police have yet to uncover evidence suggesting a motive or
identifying a killer. (Note: Administration organizations on
the provincial and district level are the equivalent of city
councils; they control significant resources and have a big
impact on local development. These officials are often
embroiled in local disputes. End note.) The killing prompted
a PPP spokesman to ask the government to launch an
investigation and ensure the safety of candidates.

8. (SBU) Comment: Politically-motivated violence is not rare
in Thailand -- ten political canvassers were killed before
the 2005 elections in possibly election-related violence, and
local administration officials have been killed in recent
years as well. A TRT former MP was the victim of a
professional killing in mid-2006 in central Thailand. Few of
these cases were resolved. Police in general have better
luck in catching and prosecuting the hired guns than they do
the alleged planners of the crimes. This case is receiving
very high level attention, but, based on the police track
record, we are not optimistic that they will identify and
successfully prosecute the perpetrators, much less the
organizers. End comment.
BOYCE

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