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Cablegate: Thailand: Pm Thaksin Kicks Off His Re-Election

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 BANGKOK 007216

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE

DEPARTMENT FOR EAP, EAP/BCLTV

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV ECON TH TRT
SUBJECT: THAILAND: PM THAKSIN KICKS OFF HIS RE-ELECTION
CAMPAIGN WITH PROMISES APLENTY

REF: (A) BANGKOK 7186 (B) BANGKOK 6995

1. (U) Summary. In a live nationally-televised Bangkok
rally on October 17, Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra
officially opened his run for re-election with a flurry of
"populist" promises to the Thai voters. From job training
programs and new housing projects to expanded transportation
systems and river basin development, Thaksin promised to
eradicate poverty in Thailand within his next term if his
government is given another four year lease in office.
Thaksin was in rare form, alternately boasting of his ability
to deliver while lambasting the main opposition Democrat
Party (DP) for its inability to do so. In a calculated ploy
to humanize his image, Thaksin admitted to a tendency to lose
his temper with critics and bemoaned the effect of being
Prime Minister on his sex life. DP Leader Banyat Bantadtan,
not surprisingly, criticized Thaksin for holding a gaudy
campaign inauguration while providing no answers to the
issues of Avian Flu and southern violence. Despite -- or
perhaps because of -- recent polls showing a softening in
voter support, the Prime Minister is mounting a pronouncedly
populist political campaign that offers something for
everyone in Thai society. End Summary.

GRAND OFFICIAL LAUNCH OF THAKSIN'S SECOND BID

2. (U) PM Thaksin formally launched his bid for a second
four year term before thousands of loyalists from his Thai
Rak Thai (TRT) party in a nationally televised extravaganza
on October 17. The Hua Mark indoor Stadium venue in Bangkok
was connected through a teleconferencing link to thousands
more TRT supporters at eight locations throughout Thailand,
including Samut Sakhon, Chon Buri, Chiang Mai, Nakhon
Ratchasima, Khon Kaen, Nakhon Phanom, Saraburi and
Phattalung. The Prime Minister came with a full bag of
trademark "populist" promises for his next term, designed to
appeal especially to voters in the nation's 74,000 villages.
Vowing to the national audience that he will eradicate
poverty in Thailand over the next four years, Thaksin
promised his crucial rural constituency that his earlier
rotating village fund scheme will evolve into a system of
village "banks" offering easy access to loans for farmers.
Thaksin also announced that his government will form a
organization to take out loans for poor farmers that the
recipients will be able to repay with produce and livestock.

3. (U) Thaksin declared that his second administration will
also dispatch "poverty eradication caravans" throughout
Thailand to provide job training for the unemployed, who
would also be given a 100 baht daily allowance (approx. 41
baht equals 1 US dollar) for participating. Thaksin also
promised that land right papers will be issued to squatting
farmers who are now occupying and using public land. In
another nod to the nation's lower income group, Thaksin
announced that he will expand his 30 baht medical care
program through increased levies on tobacco, alcohol and
other "vices." The poor will also be given more low cost
housing and slums will be eradicated (though no one will be
forced to leave them, he reassuringly added).

4. (U) Thaksin also provided for Thailand's middle class in
his package of promises. Addressing a subject dear to the
heart of every Bangkok commuter -- the city's massive traffic
jams -- Thaksin vowed to spend 1.1 trillion baht to improve
traffic flow in and around the capital. He promised to build
more "sky train" (elevated tracked transport) and subway
routes -- while keeping fares low for the ridership. Tax
deductions up to 60,000 baht will be offered to those caring
for elderly parents. Small business will be granted a higher
tax deductible income base on their revenue. Thaksin told
his supporters and the nationwide audience that that his
second administration also will develop the country's river
basins and construct more reservoirs to combat drought.
Bureaucratic performance will be improved and corruption
addressed.

"I CAN DELIVER"

5. (U) Thaksin, casually dressed in his TRT party jacket
and clearly dominating his enthusiastic, flag-waving crowd,
repeatedly pumped on the theme of TRT's ability to deliver on
its promises. He outlined his own successes and also made
repeated references to the opposition Democrat Party's
"failures." Referring to the question of how he will fund
all of his promised programs, Thaksin -- the country's most
successful businessman -- declared that "we have the money
because I know how to make money. And when I promise to do
something, you can be sure I can deliver, unlike the other
party that failed because they promised but couldn't
deliver." Thaksin referred proudly to his record as prime
minister over the past four years, pointing out that during
this period Thailand came out of the economic crisis that had
plagued it since 1997. (Note: Thaksin emphasized how his
government has performed for the nation's economy. For
example, he pointedly noted to his audience in the DP
stronghold southern city of Phattalung that under his
administration rubber and palm oil prices are good, as are
tourist numbers)

THAKSIN MAKES SOME INTERESTING ADMISSIONS

6. (U) Thaksin told the assembled faithful that, though
weary from his four years in office, he believed he had
successfully addressed many of the country's problems. In a
moment of introspection, Thaksin admitted that he had been
"rash and hot headed at times" with his critics, but vowed to
"keep cool." (Note: This is not the first time the Prime
Minister has vowed to curb his famous temper.) Oddly, after
ruing that his duties as Prime Minister has given him little
time to spend with his family, he volunteered that "my sex
life also suffers." The two-hour show concluded with
displays of cheering crowds, balloons and fireworks.

TRT TARNISHED IN RECENT MONTHS

7. (SBU) Comment: Thaksin has come out with a strong
populist platform that will undoubtedly excite his rural vote
base, if not the more skeptical Bangkok electorate. He is
anxious to shore up a widely perceived sag in his party's
popularity since last summer's win of the Bangkok
governorship by the Democrat Party. Troubled by an inability
thus far to stem chronic violence in the south and a recent
revival of the Avian Flu scare, Thaksin is talking more
defensively. His public comments scale back his earlier
predictions of a massive Thai Rak Thai win in the next
general election. In recent remarks, Thaksin appeared to
back away from his earlier call for 400 out of 500
parliamentary seats. On October 12, Thaksin told the
"Nation" newspaper that the TRT is "certain" to win 200 seats
and to take a proportionate number of the 100 party list
seats given automatic appointments in ratio to their parties'
total vote. Apart from the latest reshuffle (ref b), Thaksin
has been rolling out a number of public initiatives recently
to buttress his popularity. These include the recent
inauguration of a campaign against corruption, salary hikes
for low-level government employees and minimum wage
increases.

CAMPAIGNING TO ACCELERATE

8. (SBU) Comment continued: Election campaign-related
activities will continue to pick up. So will the exchange
between the opponents. DP Leader Banyat Bantadtan criticized
Thaksin for holding a gaudy campaign inauguration while
providing no answers to the issues of reemergence of Avian
Flu and southern violence. Thaksin, for his part, will
likely repeat his characterization of the DP as weak, out of
touch and unable to deliver on campaign promises. Thaksin
appears confident that his hold is secure on the vote-rich
north and northeast regions of the country. He is preparing,
however, for a battle with the DP for the much less certain
south and central regions. His campaign kickoff suggests
that Thaksin will rely on a re-election strategy of direct
appeal to voters over the head of local power brokers,
something similar to the method that served him so well in
2000-01. He is again prepared to offer the electorate as
many blandishments as it takes to win, whether they are
financially sound and fully realizable or not. End
Comment.

JOHNSON

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