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Cablegate: Undercurrents, Confidence Both Weak in North

VZCZCXRO6952
PP RUEHDT RUEHHM
DE RUEHCHI #0211/01 3391852
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 051852Z DEC 06
FM AMCONSUL CHIANG MAI
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 0345
INFO RUEHZS/ASSOCIATION OF SOUTHEAST ASIAN NATIONS
RUEHBK/AMEMBASSY BANGKOK PRIORITY 0612
RUEHCHI/AMCONSUL CHIANG MAI PRIORITY 0384

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 CHIANG MAI 000211

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV TH
SUBJECT: UNDERCURRENTS, CONFIDENCE BOTH WEAK IN NORTH

REF: CHIANG MAI 169

CHIANG MAI 00000211 001.2 OF 002


1. (SBU) Summary. The government's decision to retain
martial law in most of northern Thailand Nov. 28 evoked little
reaction here beyond concern from the Chiang Mai Chamber of
Commerce for the province's image. Political contacts see
little reason to maintain restrictions, but were not surprised
that the post-coup government suspects continued loyalty to
former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra in his home territory.
Chiang Mai's previous governor, accused of "excessive loyalty to
Thaksin," has been transferred to a less prestigious post.
Most community radio stations are back on the air, but staying
clear of political talk. End summary

2. (SBU) Confidence in the post-coup government is low, with
many northerners noting the failure to fulfill the coup's stated
objectives. However several local officials described their
work as easier since the coup, a welcome contrast to the amount
of control exercised over their offices by MPs during Thaksin's
time.

3. (SBU) Contacts in Nan, Phrae, and Chiang Mai denied the
oft-stated accusation of "political undercurrents" favoring
Thaksin in the region, while readily accepting paranoia over his
possible return. Chiang Mai Provincial Administrative Officer
(PAO) Thawatwong na Chiengmai confirmed but downplayed the
occasional appearance of leaflets that accused the current
government of planning to cancel various populist programs, such
as the 30 baht health scheme, introduced by Thaksin. An
analyst from the National Intelligence Agency's (NIA) northern
office agreed that these leaflets constitute the only tangible
opposition to the coup. He described martial law as more
symbolic than operational, serving mainly as a warning against
any possible counter-coup action.

----Choosing constitution drafters----

4. (SBU) Locally elected PAOs such as Thawatwong were
designated as one of the groups to help select 2,000 members for
the National People's Assembly as a first step in drafting a new
constitution. Dr. Chanchai Silapaouychai, Provincial
Administrative Officer in Phrae, described joining 76 other
elected provincial heads in Bangkok to choose 36 colleagues for
the assembly. Noting that the group initially came up short,
with only 32 instead of 36 nominees for the assembly, Dr.
Chanchai suggested that the government's failure to fulfill the
coup's objectives combined with expectations of a Thaksin
comeback contributed to reluctance to participate. Thawatwong,
who attended the same gathering, offered a different
explanation. As an elected official, he noted that the rule
barring the final group of 100 constitution drafters from
running in elections for two years discouraged most politicians
from participating. He expressed doubt that Thaksin would
return anytime soon, although he conceded that "Thaksin won't
give up".

----Out with the old ----

5. (SBU) The expected transfer of Chiang Mai's Governor,
Suwat Tantipat, was announced Oct. 31 and effected 10 days
later. Most Chiang Mai contacts expressed sympathy for the man,
whom they regarded as being punished for simply doing what was
required of him as the senior government representative in
Thaksin's home province. In a convoluted effort to show respect
without suggesting resistance to the new regime, the Chiang Mai
business community arranged a hasty reception for the departing
governor on Nov. 7. Several hundred people attended, even
though the invitations were faxed that afternoon.

6. (SBU) In a surprising show of candor with the CG, a
hold-over Chiang Mai Vice Governor praised several
Thaksin-initiated programs, including the now-abolished CEO
Governor budget. Asked for examples of how the budget was used
effectively in Chiang Mai, he cited the "clean and green"
campaign that has placed flowers and decorative constructions on
city streets and sidewalks - albeit provoking objections from
irritated pedestrians as well as those who view monumental pink
plastic tulips as a waste of money. Another fan of the CEO
Governor budget claimed that the system was effective in
increasing the flow of government assistance for flood-hit
provinces in the past. Without this budgetary authority and
related MP involvement at the provincial level, bureaucratic
procedures have slowed assistance to the impacted areas in the
lower North, he noted. Taking the other side of the argument,
Dr. Chanchai decried the effects of the CEO budget scheme in
Phrae, detailing projects dictated by MPs that included building
a mango-drying plant in a non-mango-producing province and
coercing farmers to grow jasmine rice in a sticky rice-growing
area.

----No politics please---

CHIANG MAI 00000211 002.2 OF 002

7. (SBU) Most community radios that were closed following the
coup resumed operations several weeks later after agreeing to
conditions relayed by Third Army representatives (reftel). Many
adjusted their behavior as a condition of reopening; according
to a local print journalist, community radio stations know that
on-air political discussion is taboo.

8. (SBU) Chiang Mai's only all-English station TITS (Tourist
Information and Travel Services) 106.5 FM recently parted ways
with its entire native English-speaking staff, leaving only Thai
employees to broadcast a mix of pop music and community
announcements. Former DJs told ConOff that the owner encouraged
them to leave in part due to concerns that English-language
broadcasts were attracting the interest of military units. The
station's Thai owner informed foreign employees that military
officials had visited the station several times since it
returned to the air in October and that he was eager to
discourage any further attention into the station's affairs.
The station will now operate with a lower profile, employees
said, balancing less frequent on-air English conversations with
near-simultaneous Thai translations or Thai-only dialogue by
Thailand-born DJs.

9. (SBU) Comment: Repeated remarks by Bangkok officials
about political undercurrents in the north appear to be based
more in the government's paranoia than in reality. While a few
journalists and academics grumble about constraints on political
expression, some officials and others state the coup helped ease
a difficult situation. Most people are playing it safe for now,
possibly waiting to see which way the wind blows.
CAMP

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