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Cablegate: Thailand: Cabinet Reshuffle As Censure Debate And

VZCZCXRO2376
PP RUEHCHI RUEHCN RUEHDT RUEHHM
DE RUEHBK #0046/01 0071053
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 071053Z JAN 10
FM AMEMBASSY BANGKOK
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UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 BANGKOK 000046

SIPDIS

STATE FOR EAP/MLS, NSC FOR WALTON

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV TH
SUBJECT: THAILAND: CABINET RESHUFFLE AS CENSURE DEBATE AND
MORE RED SHIRT PROTESTS LOOM ON HORIZON

REF: A. 09 BANGKOK 2642 (CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENTS
UNCERTAIN)
B. 09 BANGKOK 2459 (CHARTER CHANGE ONE STEP CLOSER)
C. 08 BANGKOK 3712 (NEW THAI CABINET APPOINTED)

BANGKOK 00000046 001.2 OF 003


This cable is Sensitive But Unclassified. Please handle
appropriately.

1. (U) Summary: After months of speculation, Prime Minister
Abhisit Vejjajiva seems set to initiate a minor government
reshuffle of Democrat Party figures slightly more than a year
after taking office in late December 2008. In the wake of
Public Health Minister Witthaya Kaewparadai,s resignation in
the face of allegations of planned procurement
irregularities, Witthaya will be replaced by Education
Minister Jurin Laksanavisit, who will in turn be replaced by
chief government whip Chinnaworn Bunyakiat. Witthaya will
then replace Chinnaworn as government whip. In addition, the
DPM for Economic Affairs -- Democrat Korbsak Sapavasu -- will
fill the vacant slot of Secretary General for Prime Minister
Abhisit, while veteran Democrat MP Trairong Suwannakhiri is
slated to take Korbsak's place as DPM.

2. (SBU) The planned reshuffle is not as comprehensive as
some would have hoped, however, particularly in view of
Deputy Public Health Minister and Phumjai Thai member Manit
Nopamornbordee,s refusal to resign in the face of the same
allegations of procurement irregularities that toppled the
Public Health Minister. The timing of the cabinet moves is
important, given the looming censure debate in Parliament, as
well as the promise of renewed red-shirt rallies in the next
two months with the stated goal of bringing down this
government. Further complicating matters for the PM, Abhisit
must also deal with renewed calls for charter change from the
Democrat Party's junior coalition partners.

3. (SBU) Comment: The MoPH portfolio is important to the USG
because of compulsory licensing issues, the ongoing
negotiation of the CDC operating agreement, and the extensive
MoPH involvement with Mission Bangkok, one fourth of whose
employees work on bilateral and regional health
collaboration. New MoPH Minister Jurin is now Deputy Chief
of the Democratic Party; his former posts include Deputy
Minister of Commerce and then Agriculture, and Minister to
the PM. Like former Minister Witthaya, Jurin is not a health
professional; unlike Witthaya, who had no public health
experience whatsoever, Jurin was Secretary-General to the
MoPH Minister in 1988. Witthaya was distrusted by the press
and many citizens who said he misled the public on the H1N1
epidemic; Jurin may avoid this problem with his experience as
Democratic Party spokesman and a reputation for being
straight-talking and transparent. Jurin was an IVP
participant in 1989.

4. (SBU) Comment, cont: Annual cabinet reshuffles are common
for Thailand's coalition governments, and coalition partners
are generally given wide latitude to adjust their ministry
allotments as they see fit. Given the opposition Puea Thai
party,s plans for a no-confidence vote later this month,
however, PM Abhisit must tread even more carefully than usual
while also contending with junior coalition partners seeking
to leverage the uncertainty for a bigger piece of the cabinet
pie. The net impact of the likely changes will probably be
minimal; less certain is the impact of red protests, with the
main push now expected for February. End Summary and
Comment.

RESHUFFLE FINALLY COMES TO A HEAD
---------------------------------

5. (U) After months of cabinet reshuffle chatter, the
Minister of Public Health made the first move with his
December 29 resignation. From the moment the coalition
cabinet was cobbled together in December 2008, opponents
attacked PM Abhisit's government and called for the
replacement of some key individuals, most notably Foreign
Minister Kasit Piromya, but the coalition survived its first
year with only one minor minister change (REF C).


BANGKOK 00000046 002.2 OF 003


6. (U) Democrat Witthaya Kaewparadai resigned after an
independent panel named him and ten others in connection with
budget irregularities and flawed management of 86 billion
baht in the Thai Khemkhaeng ("Thailand: Investing from
Strength to Strength") program; a rural doctor activist had
blown the whistle on the planned procurement irregularities
before they actually occurred. On January 6, PM Abhisit
announced that Education Minister Jurin would replace
Witthaya, with government whip Chinnaworn Bunyakiat moving
into Jurin's slot at the Education Ministry, and Witthaya
moving into the whip job. Abhisit said that the only other
change to his cabinet would be the appointment of Democrat MP
Trairong Suwannakhiri to replace DPM for Economic Affairs
Korbsak Sapavasu, who had long been tabbed to serve as PM
Secretary General, filling the void created by Niphon
Promphan's resignation several months earlier.

PHUMJAI THAI DIGGING ITS HEELS IN
---------------------------------

7. (U) Key deputy coalition partner Phumjai Thai has long
appeared content with its position within the coalition.
Deputy government spokesman and party heavyweight Suphachai
Jaisamut told reporters in December that Phumjai Thai (PJT)
ministers would remain in place in any reshuffle. PJT
recently came under fire, however, when the same panel that
implicated Minister of Public Health Witthaya also named
Deputy Minister of Public Health Manit Nopamornbodi,
prompting public calls for Manit's resignation. PM Abhisit
refused to sack Manit, claiming it was an internal PJT
decision. PJT executives on January 5 signaled support for
Manit, who vowed to clear his name and said he would only
resign if the National Counter Corruption Commission found
him guilty.

UNDERSTANDING THE POLITICAL CONTEXT OF THAI COALITIONS
----------------------------------- ------------------

8. (SBU) Thailand's tradition of fractious multi-party
coalitions, aside from the Thaksin era from 2001-2006, has
led to some unusual dynamics in coalition management.
Pre-coalition negotiations determine specific ministerial
portfolio allocations between parties when the government is
formed, with the PM usually unable to influence the
composition of ministers outside his own party. Each party
reserves the right to change the composition of "their" slots
based on its own standards/criteria, and often faces
pressures between different factions within a party to allow
for "rotations" between key faction figures. Even in
Thaksin's era, such reshuffles occurred almost annually.

9. (U) An interesting window into Thai re-shuffle dynamics
played out in public view in early December 2009 when Deputy
Prime Minister Sanan Khachornprasart, currently affiliated
with the Chart Thai Pattana (CTP) party, said he wanted to
resign to make way for his son, Siriwat, an MP representing
Phichit Province. Government opponents quickly cried foul
and leveled accusations of blatant nepotism, charging that
Sanan was perpetuating politics-as-usual. The furor
eventually petered out as the CTP remained quiet; Abhisit
brought the matter to a close on January 4 when he announced
that he had asked Sanan, a former Democrat Party Secretary
General, to remain in his position.

10. (U) Another potential cabinet move looms: Deputy Finance
Minister Pruttichai Damrongrat from the Puea Pandin Party
could eventually lose his position following the Election
Commission,s decision to petition the Constitutional Court
to disqualify Pruttichai for violating a Constitutional
provision barring ministers from holding a significant stake
in private companies. If a decision comes down prior to the
end of this government, there would be every expectation that
Puea Pandin would exercise its right to name a replacement.

PILING ON: PARTNERS DEMAND CHARTER CHANGE
-----------------------------------------

11. (U) Adding to the expected pressure from the opposition
Puea Thai and UDD, Abhisit faces renewed demands from junior

BANGKOK 00000046 003.2 OF 003


coalition partners to amend the constitution. CTP senior
member Somsak Prissananthakul said the party would focus on
amending articles dealing with electoral constituencies and
international treaties (REF B). PJT leader and Interior
Minister Chaovarat Chanvirakul publicly stated that if the
Democrat Party did not take immediate steps to amend the
constitution then his party would consider joining with the
opposition Puea Thai to press for the amendments. Meanwhile
Puea Thai remained firm in its opposition to amending the
2007 charter piecemeal and continued to publicly lobby for
the reinstitution of the 1997 constitution (REF A).

OPPOSITION PRESSURE: CENSURE DEBATE AND PROTESTS
--------------------------------------------- ---

12. (SBU) The cabinet reshuffle was expected in advance of
the opposition Puea Thai's promise to file a censure motion
against the Abhisit government after parliament reconvenes on
January 21. Nuttawuth Prasertsuwan from Chart Thai Pattana
and the Democrat Party's Niphon Bunyamanee both told us that
reshuffling the cabinet before Puea Thai filed the censure
motion could strengthen support for the coalition before the
contentious grilling that a censure debate would almost
certainly entail, since Wittaya was sure to be a central
target. On the other hand, Voravuth Silapa-archa, CTP
strongman Banharn Silapa-archa's son, told us that the
censure vote nevertheless still represented a big risk for
Abhisit and that coalition partners would make significant
demands of the government in order to stay on board.

13. (SBU) At the same time the Abhsit administration must
navigate its way through the looming censure debate, it must
simultaneously prepare for the next wave of red shirt
demonstrations. The United Front for Democracy Against
Dictatorship (UDD, or "red-shirts") announced their intent to
resume protests in January, with the stated goal of bringing
down the Abhisit government. Red-shirts planned to kickoff
the effort January 11 by holding a demonstration in Khao Yai
National Park near a home in the park belonging to Privy
Councilor and former Prime Minister Surayut Chulanon. UDD
leaders said they would use force if they were prevented from
carrying out their protest. Red-shirt leaders also announced
they would meet on January 15 to finalize plans for protests
in Bangkok, which they claimed would attract a million
supporters and lead to the dissolution of the government
"within seven days." The final date has not yet been set,
but red-shirt leader Jaran told us in December to expect
February to be the "hottest month."
JOHN

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
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