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Cablegate: Oaths, Insults, and Restrictions Amid Thai

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DE RUEHBK #5881/01 3240947
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
O 200947Z NOV 07
FM AMEMBASSY BANGKOK
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 0759
INFO RUEHZS/ASSOCIATION OF SOUTHEAST ASIAN NATIONS IMMEDIATE
RUEHKO/AMEMBASSY TOKYO IMMEDIATE 0084
RUEHBY/AMEMBASSY CANBERRA IMMEDIATE 7992
RUEHBJ/AMEMBASSY BEIJING IMMEDIATE 5203
RUEHUL/AMEMBASSY SEOUL IMMEDIATE 3948
RUEHWL/AMEMBASSY WELLINGTON IMMEDIATE 1995
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RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHINGTON DC IMMEDIATE
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RUEAIIA/CIA WASHINGTON DC IMMEDIATE
RHHMUNA/CDR USPACOM HONOLULU HI IMMEDIATE

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 BANGKOK 005881

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
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DEPT FOR EAP/MLS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PHUM KDEM TH
SUBJECT: OATHS, INSULTS, AND RESTRICTIONS AMID THAI
ELECTION CAMPAIGN

REF: A. BANGKOK 5740 (CANDIDATE REGISTRATION)

B. BANGKOK 5667 (CAMPAIGN RULES EASED)
C. BANGKOK 5600 (MILITARY INTERFERENCE)
D. BANGKOK 5578 (THAI ELECTION SEASON)
E. BANGKOK 5482 (ELECTION DECREE ADVANCES)

SUMMARY
-------

1. (SBU) Citing new election laws, the Election Commission of
Thailand (ECT) ruled on November 16 that 111 "banned" former
executives of the dissolved Thai Rak Thai party could not
participate in the December 23 election campaign. The ECT
later said its ruling was merely advisory, but some affected
individuals vowed to legally challenge the ruling on the
grounds that it violated their constitutional rights.
Political parties objected to an ECT plan to number ballots
that they believed would lead to voter confusion.
Controversy surrounded pro-Thaksin People's Power Party (PPP)
leader Samak Sundaravej after he made sexually suggestive
comments regarding a female reporter and the constitution,
and when he failed to attend an ECT-sponsored religious
ceremony forswearing vote-buying. The press reports that an
ongoing ECT investigation has confirmed some significant
aspects of Samak's claim of a military plan to subvert PPP's
prospects in the coming election. In a move labeled by some
as "reeking of politics," former Prime Minister Thaksin
Shinawatra and Bangkok's Democrat Party Governor announced
competing plans to promote soccer in the Kingdom. End
summary.

POLITICAL ACTIVITIES RESTRICTED
-------------------------------

2. (U) Following the May dissolution of the Thai Rak Thai
(TRT) party and the five year "political ban" of its
111-member executive board, many TRT executives feared they
would be banned from all political party activity, not just
controlling political parties. On November 16, their fears
became a reality when Election Commission of Thailand (ECT)
Chairman Apichart Sukhagganond declared that the former TRT
executives, including former PM Thaksin Shinawatra, could not
publicly appear with candidates for Thailand's upcoming
December 23 elections, be photographed with candidates,
appear in campaign advertisements, or act as political party
consultants. The ECT explained its ruling was based on
October election legislation which restricted the permissible
activities of executives of dissolved political parties.

3. (SBU) The reaction to the ruling was mixed. PPP leader
Samak Sundaravej felt the ruling would not impact his party,
widely considered TRT's successor, since banned politicians
would continue assisting "behind the scenes." Former TRT
executive member Chaturon Chaisaeng called the ECT decision a
"cowardly act" that violated constitutional freedom of speech
protections and announced his intention to legally challenge
the ruling. Notably, even arch TRT rival Abhisit Vejjajiva,
the leader of the Democrat Party, warned that the ECT had
"overstepped its mark."

4. (SBU) Following the backlash, on November 18 two ECT
commissioners clarified that the ECT ruling was merely a
"recommendation," but added that parties who permit banned
politicians to campaign on their behalf could be dissolved by
the Constitutional Court. Banned TRT executives Surakiart
Sathirathai and Suranand Vejjajiva, who had served on the
Motherland Party's advisory board, resigned in order to
reportedly spare the party from legal complications. On
November 19, some banned TRT executives announced plans to
petition the National Human Rights Commission and Amnesty
International over the ECT announcement. Other banned
executives announced plans to challenge the ECT ruling by
leading a rally in a Bangkok park on November 23. After the
controversy erupted, we contacted the ECT on November 19 to
request the text of the ECT's determination; ECT officials
told us they had not yet issued any written ruling on the
matter.


BANGKOK 00005881 002 OF 003


CANDIDATE REGISTRATION IGNITES CONTROVERSY
------------------------------------------

5. (SBU) Under the new constitution, 400 seats in the
parliament will consist of representatives from 157 electoral
districts throughout the country (an additional 80 seats will
be elected based on party lists). Each electoral district
will contribute between one and three seats to the 480-seat
House of Representatives, depending on the size of the
constituency. On November 18, the ECT announced that 39
political parties and 3,894 candidates had registered to
compete for these constituency seats. Some candidates,
however, protested an ECT plan whereby political parties drew
lots to determine the numerical placement of their candidates
on the constituency ballot. Individual numbers will
correspond with candidates of different political parties in
each electoral district. Traditionally, ballots do not
indicate the name of the party or candidate associated with
each number. (For example, while in one constituency the PPP
may have drawn the number "7" resulting in the ECT assigning
the numbers "7", "8", and "9" on the ballot for PPP
candidates, in another constituency it may have drawn the
number "1" and been assigned numbers "1", "2", and "3".)
6. (SBU) Candidates in some parties squabbled internally over
which candidate would correspond to which number on the
ballot, fearing voters would only remember the first of a
party's three assigned numbers. Many political parties also
feared the ECT plan will confuse voters who may have to
memorize as many as four numbers corresponding to their
constituency and party list candidates of choice. (Note: see
ref A for the ECT party list ballot procedures. End note.)

CANDIDATES FORSWEAR VOTE-BUYING
-------------------------------

7. (SBU) As part of its campaign to stamp-out vote-buying,
which has plagued previous Thai elections, the ECT invited
political party representatives to temples around the country
to swear that their parties will not engage in vote-buying
leading up to the December 23 elections. Eleven party
leaders gathered in Bangkok's historic Temple of the Emerald
Buddha on November 15 to swear before a revered religious
icon that their parties would conduct a clean election
campaign. The media widely reported that pro-Thaksin PPP
leader Samak Sundaravej did not participate in the ceremony.
Samak claimed a competing engagement.

"WHOM DID YOU SLEEP WITH LAST NIGHT?"
-------------------------------------

8. (SBU) Samak and the PPP have faced criticism for recent
events perceived by many Thais as insulting. During a
November 9 press conference, Samak angrily responded to an
inquiry on a possible rift within the PPP by asking a
reporter, "Whom did you sleep with last night?" (Samak's
point was that some matters should be considered private.)
At the same press conference, Samak called the 2007
constitution "trashy" and vowed to amend it if he became the
Prime Minister. On November 14, National Legislative
Assembly member Prasong Sonsiri called for an investigation
into the PPP after the party allegedly distributed a pamphlet
whose title associated the constitution with male genitalia.
The bad publicity prompted some PPP candidates on November 19
to ask Samak to "shut his mouth." A high-ranking PPP figure
speaking privately to us on November 20 conceded the negative
publicity Samak generated had hurt the party's prospects for
the coming election, although our contact remained highly
confident PPP would win a plurality by a large margin.

MILITARY DOCUMENTS CONFIRMED, WITH QUALIFICATION
--------------------------------------------- ---

9. (SBU) The ECT is close to concluding its investigation
into Samak's claim that certain documents provide evidence of
an effort by the military to subvert the PPP (ref C).
According to press reports citing various named and unnamed
sources, the investigation has confirmed that authentic
documents exist which closely resemble those presented by

BANGKOK 00005881 003 OF 003


Samak, but investigators have found some discrepancies
between the authentic versions and Samak's versions.

FROM THE POLITICAL ARENA TO THE SOCCER FIELD
--------------------------------------------

10. (SBU) In a move with possible political overtones, former
PM Thaksin, the owner of the British Manchester City soccer
team, announced on November 16 that his franchise will sign
three Thai soccer players and open a branch of its football
academy in Thailand. Not to be outdone, Bangkok governor
Apirak Kosayodhin, a Democrat Party Deputy Leader, announced
on November 19 that the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration
would build a Thai soccer school for children with the
assistance of Liverpool's Everton Football Club, Manchester
City's rival in the British Premier League. Both Thaksin and
Apirak denied the announcements were politically motivated.
However, some media commentators have labeled the
announcements as "reeking of politics." (A high-ranking PPP
figure told us recently that Thaksin would organize events at
the Manchester City stadium to celebrate King Bhumibol's 80th
birthday, demonstrating his loyalty to the King.)

ENTWISTLE

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