Cablegate: Palace Insider Tells Ambassador of the King's
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O 060730Z NOV 08
FM AMEMBASSY BANGKOK
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 4937
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S E C R E T SECTION 01 OF 03 BANGKOK 003317
NSC FOR WILDER AND PHU
EO 12958 DECL: 11/06/2018
TAGS PGOV, KDEM, MOPS, ASEC, TH
SUBJECT: PALACE INSIDER TELLS AMBASSADOR OF THE KING’S
OPPOSITION TO A COUP AND TO PAD PROTESTS
REF: A. BANGKOK 3289 (POLARIZATION TO PERSIST) B. BANGKOK 3280 (THAKSIN ADDRESSES UDD) C. BANGKOK 3226 (HOPES FOR MEDIATION) D. BANGKOK 3080 (QUEEN SHOWS SUPPORT)
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Classified By: Ambassador Eric G. John, reason: 1.4 (b and d).
SUMMARY AND COMMENT
1. (C) King Bhumibol explicitly told Army Commander Anupong Paojinda not to launch a coup, XXXXXXXXXXXX, an advisor to Queen Sirikit, told Ambassador November 4. XXXXXXXXXXXX also claimed that the Queen had not meant to signal support for the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) anti-government agenda when she presided over funeral ceremonies on October 13. XXXXXXXXXXXX said PAD’s activities had irritated the King, who reportedly wants PAD protestors to leave Government House. XXXXXXXXXXXX spoke well of Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat, saying Somchai was open to compromising with the PAD, although XXXXXXXXXXXX guessed Somchai would be forced from office by the end of the year. Separately, a politically active businessman with strong connections to the palace told us that the Queen’s funeral appearance had hurt the monarchy’s image, thereby serving the agenda of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. This contact also discussed a possible assassination plot against Thaksin and PAD plans for violence. Both contacts claimed the King suffered from back pain and his condition was frail.
2. (S/NF) Comment: XXXXXXXXXXXX’s claim that the King instructed Anupong not to conduct a coup is the strongest account we have heard to date about the King’s opposition to a coup and his communicating this to Anupong; it would explain why Privy Counselors Prem and Siddhi, both seen as opponents of the current government, gave recent assurances to the Ambassador that there would not be a coup. While XXXXXXXXXXXX did not specify how he heard of this exchange, the purported instruction does appear consistent with Anupong’s actions, other high-level military assurances to the Ambassador, and reporting in other channels. We agree that the Queen’s funeral appearance was a significant blunder, jeopardizing the public’s perception of the palace’s neutrality. PAD appears increasingly divided; this divide, as well as the intense and dynamic condition of Thai politics, may make it appear realistic to hope for a PAD-government compromise. Possible further violence, however, remains a concern. End Summary and Comment.
3. (C) Ambassador met privately at the Residence on November 4 with XXXXXXXXXXXX, a close advisor to Queen Sirikit who in the past has also served as a confidant of the King.XXXXXXXXXXXX remarked that he regretted the Queen’s October 13 appearance at the funeral of a PAD supporter (ref D). He claimed the Queen had been emotionally affected when she learned that one victim of the October 7 violence was a young lady about to be married, and that she had told her father she was going to the protest to defend the monarchy. Initially, the Queen had wanted to send Princess Chulabhorn to the funeral. It was only at the request of Chulabhorn and Chulabhorn’s companion, Chaichon Locharernkul, that the Queen decided to go herself. XXXXXXXXXXXX said there was no intention for the Queen to involve either herself or the monarchy in political matters, but, unfortunately, some members of the public could interpret the funeral appearance differently. XXXXXXXXXXXX said the Queen later reached out to seriously injured police officers in an attempt to show her neutrality, but this signal went largely unnoticed.
4. (C) XXXXXXXXXXXX remarked that King Bhumibol was highly irritated by PAD’s occupation of Government House and other disruptions caused by the anti-government group, but the King was unsure how best to ensure PAD would vacate the compound. XXXXXXXXXXXX said the King had instructed two of his loyalists to convey his desire that PAD leave Government House. (One of these messengers was well-known associate of the King Disathorn
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Watcharothai, who said publicly on October 29 that Thais who love the King should “go home”; see ref A.) XXXXXXXXXXXX considered XXXXXXXXXXXX to be obstinate, however, saying Sondhi had become obsessed with his own sense of mission. By contrast, XXXXXXXXXXXX thought that XXXXXXXXXXXX was reasonable and willing to compromise.
POSITIVE VIEW OF SOMCHAI
5. (C) XXXXXXXXXXXX claimed to have spoken to Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat about the current standoff. XXXXXXXXXXXX told the Ambassador that Somchai had agreed that the government could meet with the PAD and reach a compromise, but the time was not yet ripe. In his conversation with the Ambassador, XXXXXXXXXXXX spoke highly of Somchai, saying he was “very good” and had many qualities that made him suitable to be Prime Minister, including a sense of fairness and a moderate temperament. Nevertheless, XXXXXXXXXXXX predicted that Somchai could not remain long in office because he would likely be forced out by an adverse Constitutional Court ruling in the People’s Power Party (PPP) dissolution case (ref A), which XXXXXXXXXXXX believed the Court might issue before the King’s birthday (December 5). XXXXXXXXXXXX guessed Somchai would dissolve the parliament before being forced from office.
KING TO ANUPONG: NO COUP
6. (C) XXXXXXXXXXXX predicted that the current turmoil would not result in a military coup. He said that the King, speaking with Army Commander Anupong Paojinda, had referred to the 2006 coup and made a statement to the effect that there should be no further coups.
POLITICIZATION OF THE MONARCHY
7. (C) We also met on November 5 with XXXXXXXXXXXX (strictly protect), the well-connected scion of a wealthy family with close palace ties. XXXXXXXXXXXX had a leading role in the XXXXXXXXXXXX; his wife, XXXXXXXXXXXX, has the royal title of “XXXXXXXXXXXX” and works closely with the Queen. XXXXXXXXXXXX agreed that the Queen’s appearance at the October 13 funeral had highly negative ramifications, saying that even politically neutral Thais felt she had inappropriately brought the monarchy into politics. He also acknowledged increasing semi-public criticism of the monarchy, focused on the Queen (septel). XXXXXXXXXXXX stated with confidence that the King had sought to deter the Queen from attending the funeral by questioning the wisdom of that plan, but had stopped short of forbidding her to do so.
8. (C) XXXXXXXXXXXX discussed former Prime Minister Thaksin’s statement in his November 1 address to supporters (ref B) that either “royal mercy or the people’s power” could allow his return to Thailand. XXXXXXXXXXXX said this juxtaposition, which he viewed as highly strategic, had the predictable effect of energizing Thaksin’s opponents in the royalist camp. This reaction allowed Thaksin to demonstrate publicly that many palace figures were aligned against him, thereby eroding the prestige that the palace derived from its status as an institution above politics. (Separately, after Thaksin’s remarks, a member of Thaksin’s legal team told us that the sentence in question was part of a “very refined product” and that she had heard this sentence “four or five times” in Thaksin’s rehearsal of the speech.)
THAKSIN’S ENEMIES’ PLANS FOR VIOLENCE
9. (C) XXXXXXXXXXXX believed PAD continued to aim for a violent clash that would spark a coup. He asserted that he had dined on October 6 with a leading PAD figure (NFI), who explained that PAD would provoke violence during its October 7 protest at the parliament. The unnamed PAD figure predicted (wrongly) that the Army would intervene against the
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government by the evening of October 7. XXXXXXXXXXXX asserted to us that PAD remained intent on a conflict that would generate at least two dozen deaths and make military intervention appear necessary and justified.
10. (C) We mentioned to XXXXXXXXXXXX the claim by Thaksin associate XXXXXXXXXXXX that Thaksin had been the target of an assassination plot (ref C). (Note: Subsequent to the Ambassador’s meeting with XXXXXXXXXXXX, another Thaksin ally related the same claim, and said Thaksin himself had spoken of this plot. End Note.) XXXXXXXXXXXX suggested XXXXXXXXXXXX’s list of conspirators -- including two prominent judges -- was not credible, but XXXXXXXXXXXX said he could confirm (presumably because of first-hand discussion with an organizing figure) that certain enemies of Thaksin (NFI) had sought to kill him. XXXXXXXXXXXX said he had been surprised to learn that the contract on Thaksin’s life entailed a relatively low payment of only several hundred thousand Baht (in the range of 10,000 USD), although it also entailed resettlement abroad for the person(s) directly involved.
REMARKS ON THE KING’S HEALTH
11. (C) XXXXXXXXXXXX (late August/early September). At that time, he said, the King’s complexion appeared healthy, but overall the King appeared frail. He added that the King was upset with the Thai doctor who had organized the team that performed back surgery on the King two years ago, as the operation had not worked as well as the King had been led to expect. XXXXXXXXXXXX, in his meeting with the Ambassador, also said the King was suffering from back pain, and his activities were more limited than in recent years. JOHN