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Cablegate: Thai Election Campaign Rules Eased but Tensions

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PP RUEHCHI RUEHCN RUEHDT RUEHHM
DE RUEHBK #5667/01 3060954
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 020954Z NOV 07
FM AMEMBASSY BANGKOK
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 0494
INFO RUEHZS/ASSOCIATION OF SOUTHEAST ASIAN NATIONS PRIORITY
RUEHBJ/AMEMBASSY BEIJING PRIORITY 5092
RUEHBY/AMEMBASSY CANBERRA PRIORITY 7884
RUEHKO/AMEMBASSY TOKYO PRIORITY 9981
RUEHWL/AMEMBASSY WELLINGTON PRIORITY 1937
RUEHUL/AMEMBASSY SEOUL PRIORITY 3838
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC PRIORITY
RHEFDIA/DIA WASHDC PRIORITY
RHHMUNA/CDR USPACOM HONOLULU HI PRIORITY

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 BANGKOK 005667

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

DEPT FOR EAP/MLS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PHUM KDEM TH
SUBJECT: THAI ELECTION CAMPAIGN RULES EASED BUT TENSIONS
SIMMER

REF: A. BANGKOK 5600 (MILITARY ELECTION INTERFERENCE)
B. BANGKOK 5578 (THAI ELECTION SEASON)
C. BANGKOK 5482 (ELECTION DECREE ADVANCES)

SUMMARY
-------

1. (SBU) On October 31, the Election Commission of Thailand
eased restrictive election campaign rules issued a week
earlier following widespread public criticism. While most
rules remain unchanged, the amendments, issued over the
objections of one outspoken election commissioner, loosen
restrictions on media election coverage and reduce
limitations on public campaign activities by political
parties. The ECT plans to investigate allegations of
election interference by the military and has met with
government and private entities as preparations for the
December 23 election continue in earnest. End summary.

CAMPAIGN RULES EASED
--------------------

2. (U) On October 31, the Election Commission of Thailand
(ECT) amended strict campaign regulations that were
originally published on October 24 and which sharply
restricted permissible campaign activities for political
parties and candidates ahead of December 23 elections. The
ECT promised to amend the regulations after receiving fierce
criticism from political party representatives and the media
over the rules, which some called "undemocratic and unfair."
The election regulations circumscribed media election
campaign coverage, forbade certain public events, and
restricted campaign poster sizes, among other restrictions.

3. (SBU) The ECT revisions ease the ability of political
parties to use vehicles for campaigning, loosen restrictions
on erecting stages in public, and permit parties to organize
parades and dances (a tradition in Thai election campaigns).
The ECT also granted greater discretion to media outlets in
covering the campaign and interviewing candidates by
eliminating guidelines that originally required that the
media grant equal air time to all political parties (Note:
approximately 70 parties are currently registered by the ECT.
End note).

4. (U) The majority of the regulations remain unchanged,
however, including October 24 campaign finance rules that
limit the amount of money each candidate for electoral
district races may spend to $44,200 (1.5 million baht).
Additional rules similarly limit the amount of money each
political party can spend campaigning for the 80 party list
seats in the House of Representatives. The ECT, however, did
not amend campaign "advice" included in the regulations that
urged parties to train election workers on electoral laws, to
use "polite words" while campaigning, and to avoid
"exploiting" popular figures by featuring them in their
campaigns.

ELECTION OFFICIAL PROTESTS RULE CHANGES
---------------------------------------

5. (SBU) On November 1, the ECT announced that outspoken
commissioner Sodsri Sattayatham, who had earlier defended the
strict campaign rules and had spoken out against amending
them (reftel B), would take 15 days of sick leave "for health
reasons." Sodsri had claimed that there was no legal basis
for amending the regulations after their issuance. Media and
election observers speculated that Sodsri was not ill, but
rather taking leave to protest the ECT's decision to ease the
widely-criticized election rules. Sodsri reportedly skipped
the ECT meeting that approved the rule changes, as well as
subsequent meetings between the ECT and other government
agencies. The ECT chairman publicly denied there was a rift
within the ECT and insisted commissioners were free to
express their own opinions.

THE PPP HOT POTATO
------------------

BANGKOK 00005667 002 OF 002

6. (SBU) The media have reported on the hesitancy of the ECT
to investigate an October 23 accusation by pro-Thaksin
People's Power Party (PPP) leader Samak Sundaravej that the
Council for National Security (CNS) plotted to impede his
party's election prospects. Samak's accusations were based
on allegedly leaked RTG documents that purportedly prove the
CNS planned to use the military to limit voter support for
the PPP (reftel A). While the election laws empower the ECT
to investigate these allegations, the media reported that ECT
officials were initially split as to whether the complaints
were legitimate and merited an investigation. Under election
laws, the ECT can punish those who violate election laws with
substantial fines, jail terms, and disenfranchisement,
thereby raising the political stakes should the ECT launch an
investigation. The ECT has announced it plans to nominate an
investigative committee to examine Samak's accusations.

LAYING THE BUREAUCRATIC GROUNDWORK
----------------------------------

7. (U) During the week of October 30-November 2, the ECT held
meetings with other government agencies and private entities
to solicit cooperation in administering the December 23
elections. The ECT exacted pledges from the Interior,
Foreign Affairs, and other government ministries, as well as
the Royal Thai Army and Police to assist in holding a free
and fair election. The ECT also reportedly met with
companies vying for an ECT contract to print approximately
100 million election ballots.

BOYCE

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