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Cablegate: Thailand: Censure of Transport Minister Ends In

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

UNCLAS BANGKOK 004238

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE

DEPARTMENT FOR EAP/BCLTV, USPAC FOR FPA HUSO

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PREL TH
SUBJECT: THAILAND: CENSURE OF TRANSPORT MINISTER ENDS IN
AFFIRMATIVE VOTE OF CONFIDENCE

REF: BANGKOK 4001

1. (SBU) SUMMARY. The Thai Parliament voted overwhelmingly
and along party lines not to censure Transport Minister
Suriya Jungrungreangkit for irregularities related to bribes
reportedly paid by InVision Corporation to win a procurement
contract for airport scanners at Bangkok's new international
airport. While the outcome of the no confidence vote came as
no surprise, Thai media stories are characterizing the
parliamentary debate as an example of democratization in
Thailand. It remains to be seen whether the opponents of PM
Thaksin's Government can continue to use the scanner scandal
effectively to attack him. Rumors abound that Thaksin will
continue to do damage control by reshuffling the Cabinet,
perhaps as early as mid-July. END SUMMARY.

VOTE COMES AS NO SURPRISE

2. (U) On June 29, the Thai Parliament responded to more
than 14 hours of debate held the previous day by voting not
to censure Transport Minister Suriya. As expected, the
voting went mainly along party lines: 367 opposing censure,
119 in favor, with 7 abstentions. None of the ruling Thai
Rak Thai (TRT) MPs present voted to punish Suriya while all
of the opposition Democrat and Chart Thai MPs voted in favor
of censure. The two MPs from the Mahachon Party abstained.
Six MPs were absent.

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FOCUS ON SNOH

3. (U) While the vote was never in doubt, pundits were all
watching how TRT faction leader Snoh Thienthong would vote.
Snoh has been involved in a very public feud with PM Thaksin
-- even threatening to leave the TRT with his supporters.
Speculation over whether Snoh would fall on his sword over
the case died once he opted not to attend the vote on
censure. Notably, Snoh's son, Sorawong Thienthong, voted
with his TRT colleagues against censure.

OPPOSITION LEADER PROVIDES THEATER

4. (U) The most colorful part of the parliamentary debate
centered on Democrat Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva locking
horns with the well-coached Suriya. Among other things,
Abhisit alleged that InVision Corporation paid bribes through
a local contracting company to TRT officials in order to win
the airport baggage scanner contract and that those TRT
officials in turn used that money to finance TRT's
overwhelming electoral victory in February. Abhisit also
erroneously claimed that a report issued by the U.S. Justice
Department alleged bribes were paid to a Thai political party
-- a charge Suriya refuted.

PUBLIC OPINION MIXED -- DEMOCRACY SUPPORTED

5. (U) The national media generally credited Abhisit with
having won his verbal sparring match with Suriya, even though
the final vote went Suriya's way. The Nation newspaper
heralded the censure debate as "an exemplary demonstration of
checks and balances at work in a parliamentary democracy." A
number of Thai political observers have taken to quoting a
recent Asian Wall Street Journal editorial which noted that
InVision was allegedly involved in bribing officials in three
countries -- the Philippines, Thailand and China -- but that
only Thailand chose to conduct its own inquiry into the
matter.

COMMENT

6. (SBU) By ensuring that Snoh's supporters, including
Snoh's son, marched in step with the rest of the TRT, Thaksin
demonstrated his firm control over his Party. It remains to
be seen whether the corruption scandal can continue to help
Abhisit breathe new life into the Democrat Party -- or
whether Abhisit's performance in the debate will improve his
ability to win new supporters for his Party. Rumors continue
to circulate widely in Bangkok that, in response to the
corruption scandal and as a way to show his characteristic
decisiveness, Thaksin might shuffle his Cabine

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