Cablegate: Ambassador Discusses with Former Pm Samak His
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FM AMEMBASSY BANGKOK
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 4536
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C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 BANGKOK 002977
EO 12958 DECL: 10/01/2018
TAGS PGOV, KDEM, KJUS, PINR, TH
SUBJECT: AMBASSADOR DISCUSSES WITH FORMER PM SAMAK HIS
REF: BANGKOK 2778 (SAMAK UNDERCUT)
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Classified By: Ambassador Eric G. John, reason: 1.4 (b, d)
1. (C) Summary: Former Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej resigned from his position as Party Leader of the People’s Power Party (PPP) September 30. He remains free on bail as he continues to appeal a years-old defamation conviction. Samak told the Ambassador September 26 that he believed Queen Sirikit, working through Privy Council President Prem Tinsulanonda, supported the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) protest movement. Samak viewed himself as loyal to the King, but implied that the Queen’s political agenda differened from her husband’s. Separately, XXXXXXXXXXXX confirmed to the Ambassador October 1 that he had begun direct negotiations with the PAD and suggested that he and the current Somchai administration had 90 days to produce results.
2. (C) Comment: XXXXXXXXXXXX’s expectation that his term in office may be short-lived tracks with a widespread view among Thais that the PPP will be fighting against the odds for its survival in upcoming party dissolution proceedings. Although XXXXXXXXXXXX provides proof that senior Thai politicians can often revive careers, we believe Samak has lost virtually all of his influence and has little prospect of staging a political comeback. PM Somchai Wongsawat appears likely to succeed Samak as PPP Party Leader. End Summary and Comment.
SAMAK QUITS PPP POST, HEADS TO DISNEY WORLD
3. (C) On September 30, a PPP official told the media that former PM Samak Sundaravej had formally resigned from his position of PPP Party Leader. This resignation followed an Appeals Court’s September 25 ruling upholding a previous conviction of Samak on defamation charges, and affirming the two-year prison sentence for Samak. In a September 26 lunch with the Ambassador, Samak explained that he expected to remain free on bail while continuing to appeal this case through other channels; he predicted his legal battle could continue for approximately two years before he might have to face incarceration. Samak planned to join unnamed associates for an extended North American vacation starting with Disney World, criss-crossing the United States and parts of Canada by car.
4. (C) Note: Once Samak lost face after PPP legislators signaled their unwillingness to support his reelection as Prime Minister (reftel), it would have been awkward for Samak to retain the position of Party Leader. PPP immediately named PM Somchai as acting party leader. Political parties typically nominate their Party Leaders for the position of Prime Minister; it would be logical to assume that Somchai will formally take the top job in PPP. Samak’s resignation will not protect Samak from a five-year loss of political rights in the event that PPP is dissolved. Party dissolution by the Constitutional Court entails sanctions against the executive board that was in place at the time of the dissolution-warranting offense.
SAMAK DISCUSSES HIS DOWNFALL, CRITICIZES THE QUEEN
5. (C) Samak described to Ambassador the political pressure against him during his seven months in office. He showed disdain for Queen Sirikit, claiming that she had been responsible for the 2006 coup d’etat as well as the ongoing turmoil generated by PAD protests. He alleged the Queen operated through Privy Council President Prem Tinsulanonda who, along with others presenting themselves as royalists, worked with the PAD and other agitators. Citing his own regular meetings with King Bhumibol, Samak claimed he -- rather than his opponents -- was sincerely loyal to the King and enjoyed the King’s support. In his discussion of the
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monarchy, Samak made no mention of the Crown Prince.
6. (C) Samak, a former journalist, lamented his opponents’ success in manipulating media coverage of his administration. Samak noted that jockeying for control over the media had often caused rifts within Thai
Rak Thai and, subsequently, the People’s Power Party.
7. (C) Samak’s eyes became misty as he recalled that, when he was contemplating returning to the premiership after eviction from office by the Constitutional Court, his wife and one of his daughters had pressed him to abandon this quest. “I told them to get out,” he related. “I didn’t need to be betrayed by them.”
Out with the Old, Out with the New?
8. (C) XXXXXXXXXXXX indicated to Ambassador October 1 that he expected the Somchai administration to be short-lived, though he hoped it could be extended if it proved successful in addressing the serious challenges facing the country. XXXXXXXXXXXX If Somchai’s administration were to prove effective, he hoped the Constitutional Court might delay dissolution proceedings against various coalition parties to allow the government more time in office (note: the Attorney General announced later on October 1 that he had referred the first case, against Chat Thai, to the Constitution Court for review).
9. (C) On the ongoing PAD occupation of Government House, XXXXXXXXXXXX said he had twice spoken with PAD XXXXXXXXXXXX, most recently on the night of September 30. XXXXXXXXXXXX described his approach toward the PAD as similar to that which he had taken toward communist insurgents in the 1970s and 80s: he would initially stress commonalities while deemphasizing differences, which would be sorted out later. (Septel will report XXXXXXXXXXXX’s views on mediating the southern insurgency.) JOHN