From the album: Timeline Photos By Andrew MacGregor Marshall
Bhumibol Adulyadej, sitting beside Sirikit, formally approves royalist military coup, at around midnight on the night of September 19/20, 2006. In the foreground with his back to the camera is Prem Tinsulanonda.
In comments to U.S ambassador Ralph Boyce, Democrat Party deputy leader Suthep Thaugsuban claimed this photograph is a signal that Sirikit supported the coup against Bhumibol's wishes. See section 8 below:
SUBJECT: DEMOCRAT OFFICIAL WARNS OF SONTHI'S AMBITIONS, SURAYUD'S WEAKNESS
Classified By: Ambassador Ralph L. Boyce, reason: 1.4 (b) and (d).
SUMMARY ----- ¶1. (C) There is mounting evidence of serious rifts between PM Surayud and junta leader General Sonthi. An experienced politician told us on April 23 that Sonthi has at least considered replacing Surayud. Democrat Party (DP) Secretary General Suthep Thaugsuban recounted a discussion in early April in which Sonthi recruited him for a ministerial slot, and raised the possibility of heading something like a national unity government. Although Suthep believed the tensions might have eased since then, he said that Surayud faced a hostile alliance that includes military officers and other high profile activists who organized large protests in Bangkok in 2005 and 2006. Suthep said the CNS wanted to establish its own party and therefore had a shared interest with others who would like to weaken the DP or see a change in the party's leadership. Suthep declined to predict how the Palace would react to a change in government leadership, but he claimed the King only signaled his support for the 2006 coup after the fact, when urged by the Queen. Suthep said he disagreed with some key provisions of the draft constitution, but he would be willing to accept the current draft in order that elections can be held in 2007. End Summary.
WARNING ABOUT SONTHI ------------------ ¶2. (C) Democrat Party Secretary General Suthep Thaugsuban warned in an April 23 meeting of serious rifts between CNS Chairman General Sonthi Boonyaratglin and PM Surayud Chulanont. While Sonthi previously appeared apolitical, Suthep said that events subsequent to the coup had affected Sonthi's ambitions. Being in a position of greater power also had stoked interest on the part of Sonthi and other CNS figures, such as CNS Secretary General Winai Phattiyakul, in using their influence to accumulate wealth. Surayud, however, remained clean, Suthep claimed.
¶3. (C) Suthep said he had dined with Sonthi prior to the April 13-17 Songkran holidays. At that dinner, Sonthi invited Suthep to join a cabinet which Sonthi might form, in the event that Sonthi were to replace Surayud and install himself as Prime Minister. Suthep said he had declined Sonthi's offer, saying the Democrats would not serve any government installed by a coup. At one point in the meal, Sonthi took out a pen and paper to note down whatever names Suthep might suggest as suitable cabinet members, indicating his interest in perhaps forming some kind of national unity government.
KEY FIGURES OPPOSING SURAYUD -------------------------- ¶4. (C) Suthep said that Surayud faced a number of prominent opponents; Sonthi was just the most prominent of these figures, who are united primarily by opposition to Surayud's relative restraint and reliance on legal procedures in efforts to punish Thaksin for abuses of power during his time in office. Included in this group were CNS Secretary General Winai, CNS Deputy Secretary General Saprang Kalayanamitr, media mogul Sondhi Limthongkul, retired General Chamlong Srimuang, and perennial plotter (and Constitution Drafting Committee Chairman) Prasong Soonsiri. (Note: Sondhi and Chamlong were the highest profile members of the People's Alliance for Democracy -- PAD -- which was instrumental in mobilizing members of the middle and upper class against PM Thaksin; the PAD has in recent weeks been publicly critical of Surayud. End Note.) Suthep believed that it would not be necessary to stage a coup to oust Surayud -- he did not want to be PM anyway, and he would be ready to resign if asked.
¶5. (C) Suthep noted that Prasong Soonsiri hoped to become Prime Minister. In the event of Surayud's resignation, however, Suthep felt it was certain that Sonthi would take the top job for himself. Suthep claimed the anti-Surayud camp's plan for seizing power was dubbed as the "1-4-4" formula: elections would be delayed for one year, and then a CNS figure or proxy would serve as PM for two full four-year terms.
¶6. (C) Privy Council President Prem Tinsulanonda -- widely seen as a key figure behind the September 2006 coup d'etat -- had recently signaled his displeasure with Sonthi, according to Suthep. Suthep related that Prem had spoken warmly with Surayud at a Songkran event; by contrast, when in Sonthi's presence, Prem refused to address the CNS Chairman. Suthep interpreted Prem's shunning of Sonthi as reflecting displeasure with Sonthi's growing ambitions.
¶7. (C) After the Songkran holidays, Suthep told us, he had greeted Sonthi at a wedding reception. At that event, Sonthi reportedly told Suthep that he was feeling more comfortable with the political climate. Nevertheless, Suthep felt the political situation remained unstable, and he suggested that we do what we can to bolster Surayud's position, so as to decrease the likelihood of Sonthi taking full control of the government.
VIEW OF THE KING'S POSITION ------------------------- ¶8. (C) We asked Suthep how he believed the Palace would view efforts by the CNS to force Surayud -- a former member of the Privy Council -- out of office. Suthep declined to speculate, but he said King Bhumibol had not favored the 2006 coup. Suthep claimed that, on the night of the coup, the King had resisted meeting with the Generals who overthrew Thaksin. In the end, the King gave in to the entreaties of Queen Sirikit, but he publicly signaled her role in the coup by approving the release of a photograph of that audience which showed the King, casually dressed, in profile, while the Queen faced the camera.
PRESSURE ON THE DP LEADERSHIP --------------------------- ¶9. (C) We asked about the possible dissolution of the Democrat Party; the Constitutional Tribunal's verdict is due to be announced at the end of May. Suthep said there were many outside and even inside the DP who hoped for its dissolution. Sonthi and Winai were working with former TRT official Phinij Jarusombat to establish a new political party that would act as the CNS's political vehicle, Suthep said. (Note: Ref B reported Phinij's participation in a new political grouping. End Note.) Intending to use this new party to compete for power when elections take place, the CNS had a clear interest in weakening the Democrat Party and other rivals, Suthep said. In this respect, CNS and Thai Rak Thai (TRT) interests overlapped.
¶10. (C) Former PM Chuan Leekpai also had supporters who hoped for Chuan's return to preeminence in the DP, and they would welcome a Constitutional Tribunal ruling dissolving the party. Such a ruling would pave the way for Chuan, now sidelined as a senior advisor, to head a reconstituted version of the DP. Suthep -- whose allegedly improper actions lie at the core of the Constitutional Tribunal proceedings against the DP -- declined to predict the Tribunal's ruling. However, he noted that Thaksin had budgeted 500 million Baht (over 14 million USD) in order to influence the Tribunal members, and Suthep alleged that the wife of Tribunal President (and concurrently Supreme Court President) Panya Thanomrod had accepted a portion of this money.
CONSTITUTIONAL ISSUES ------------------- ¶11. (C) When asked for his views on the draft constitution, Suthep decried it as an unsatisfactory compromise product. He joked that the draft was so poor that it was almost as if the drafters themselves wanted the public to reject it. (In a more serious tone, he suggested that General Sonthi likely had an alternate constitution prepared in the event that he needed one.)
¶12. (C) Suthep said the drafters should have abolished the Senate rather than making it an appointed body. He also expressed dissatisfaction with provisions that establish in unclear terms a new method for election to the House from one or more party lists. Suthep advocated abolishing the party list system entirely, saying that party lists improperly signal that those elected by virtue of their positions on the lists are more elite than their colleagues who are elected on a constituency basis. The party list MPs generally fail to attend community events and disregard the electorate, Suthep complained.
¶13. (C) The DP was currently assembling its formal reaction to the draft constitution, Suthep said. Nevertheless, despite his dissatisfaction, he told us if he had to choose today, he would vote in favor of this constitution, simply to make it more likely that elections would take place this year, as planned. After elections, the legislature could amend the constitution.
¶14. (C) Suthep's discussion mirrors others we have been hearing here. People are worried that the political situation is precarious, and they do not trust any of their political leaders. Despite claims to the contrary, there appear to be serious differences between Surayud and Sonthi, and it is widely believed Sonthi has at least considered taking over from Surayud. (Even General Winai recently confirmed to the Ambassador that Sonthi's interest in pursuing elected politics had grown -- ref A.) In the longer term, the CNS has to be worried about how to ensure their continuing safety from reprisal from Thaksin. More immediately, it has to figure up how to shore up the public's dwindling confidence in the interim government and somehow stumble through the current transition back to elected government. The Ambassador has scheduled a dinner with Sonthi on May 2 and will use the occasion to reinforce strongly our interest in civilian governance during the interim administration, elections in 2007, and fair treatment of political parties and their constituents.
PPT finally has time to get back to Wikileaks cables and is trying to look through the 6,000 or so cables and see what we missed in our past searches of them. We are doing this in a systematic way,......