Identifier
Created
Classification
Origin
05BANGKOK2087
2005-03-23 09:16:00
UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY
Embassy Bangkok
Cable title:  

THAILAND: AMBASSADOR CALLS ON NEW DEMOCRAT PARTY

Tags:  PGOV PREL TH US FTA BIO 
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This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 BANGKOK 002087 

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE

DEPARTMENT FOR EAP/BCLTV, INR/B
PACOM OF FPA (HUSO)

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PREL TH US FTA BIO
SUBJECT: THAILAND: AMBASSADOR CALLS ON NEW DEMOCRAT PARTY
LEADER APHISIT

REF: BANGKOK 1933

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 BANGKOK 002087

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE

DEPARTMENT FOR EAP/BCLTV, INR/B
PACOM OF FPA (HUSO)

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PREL TH US FTA BIO
SUBJECT: THAILAND: AMBASSADOR CALLS ON NEW DEMOCRAT PARTY
LEADER APHISIT

REF: BANGKOK 1933


1. (SBU) SUMMARY: On March 21 the Ambassador met with
newly installed Democrat Party (DP) leader Aphisit
Wetchachiwa. Aphisit spoke candidly about mistakes made by
the DP during the election and discussed how he hoped to form
the party into an effective opposition to Prime Minister
Thaksin's Thai Rak Thai (TRT) party. Acknowledging the
seriousness of the situation in southern Thailand, Aphisit
said the creation of a National Reconciliation Commission
(NRC) offered the Thaksin administration a rare opportunity
to change its current failing policy; but the DP was not
convinced Thaksin would turn from populist calls for a
continued hard-line approach. Aphisit said Free Trade
Agreements would continue to be the government's highest
external priority. Aphisit is young, smart, telegenic,
articulate, and ambitious and could develop into a serious
future challenger for Thaksin. END SUMMARY

AFTER THE ELECTION DISASTER, A NEW DEMOCRAT LEADER


2. (U) On March 21 the Ambassador met with newly installed
Democrat Party (DP) leader Aphisit Wetchachiwa at the party's
headquarters. Aphisit assumed leadership of the DP after
Banyat Bantadtan stepped down (along with the entire DP
Executive Board) on February 8, 2005 following the party's
staggering defeat in the general election. The DP's 96 seats
in Parliament leave them unable to raise censure motions
against Prime Minister Thaksin's ministers.


3. (U) The DP, with more that 3.8 million registered
members, is Thailand's oldest active political party and has
deep roots in modern Thai democratic history (reftel).
However, the party has struggled with its current role as the
opposition party and has developed few successful approaches
to confront Thaksin and the TRT. During the election, the DP
was unable to pose a strong alternative to Thaksin, offering
policies that mimicked the TRT's while virtually conceding
defeat more than a year in advance.

WHAT HAPPENED TO THE DEMOCRATS IN THE ELECTION?


4. (SBU) Discussing the recent election, Aphisit admitted
the DP never offered a credible alternative to Thaksin and
Thai Rak Thai (TRT). He said the DP had "no clear message,"
and didn't offer policy ideas clearly different from

Thaksin's populist measures. Aphisit said the DP would not
be an effective opposition party until they convinced the
public that they could effectively govern the country. He
promised that the DP would start offering alternatives to
Thaksin and TRT, instead of just criticizing from the
sidelines.


5. (SBU) Aphisit has indicated publicly that he is serious
about restructuring the DP to be more pro-active and capable
of dealing with the new style of politics that Thaksin has
introduced. He has also set a target of attracting at least
14 million votes in the 2009 general election; almost double
the votes the party received in February of this year.
Aphisit told the Ambassador that the DP would learn from
Thaksin and TRT's sophisticated campaign methods.

BECOMING AN EFFECTIVE OPPOSITION


6. (SBU) Aphisit agreed that Thai politics is evolving into
a two party system. However, the DP has a long way to go
before it is a credible alternative to Thaksin's TRT.
Aphisit said that the DP's goal was to establish a "shadow"
cabinet within two years, and within four years to have
developed enough credibility with the public to be viewed as
a real alternative to TRT.

WILLING TO WORK WITH THAKSIN ON THE SOUTH


7. (SBU) The Democrats won decisively in southern Thailand,
winning 52 of the region's 54 seats. They did especially
well in the three troubled provinces of Pattani, Yala, and
Narathiwat, winning 10 of 11 seats -- including six held by
TRT incumbents. The DP's strong regional victory seems to
indicate a popular backlash to the Government's heavy-handed
security policy. Following the election, Aphisit has
traveled to the region, and has publicly discussed
alternatives to Thaksin's policies.


8. (SBU) Aphisit told the Ambassador the situation in
Thailand's far south is a "national problem," and that he is
willing to work with the Thaksin administration. He said
there had been some hopeful recent developments in the South,
leading to a more conciliatory atmosphere. Aphisit said as
members of the National Reconciliation Commission (NRC) are
publicly announced -- and as new policies were presented --
the DP would offer suggestions and would not be overly
critical.


9. (SBU) Aphisit opined that the creation of the NRC gave
the government a small window of opportunity to change its
approach to the problems of southern Thailand. Aphisit said
Anand Panyarachun, the universally respected former Prime
Minister and designated Chairman of the NRC, will give the
government good advice, and would not be unduly influenced or
bullied by Thaksin. Aphisit is worried, however, that
Thaksin will "respond" to public opinion -- which clamors for
a hard-line approach -- and end up ignoring the NRC's
findings.


10. (SBU) Aphisit blames Thaksin for the deteriorating
situation in the south and the widening gap between the
Buddhist and Muslim communities. He cited Thaksin's decision
to dissolve the combined civilian, military and police
command (CMP-43),which had been successful in building trust
among the local populace and coordinating security forces,
and his insensitive statements about Muslims. He said
Thaksin's hard-line approach plays right into separatist
hands by further alienating the population.

U.S./THAI RELATIONS - FOCUS ON THE FTA


11. (SBU) Turning toward the state of U.S./Thai relations,
Aphisit noted that much of the public's perceptions of the
U.S. would be influenced by developments in Iraq. He said
the government, however, is focused on the FTA. Aphisit
believes that Thaksin wants Thailand to become the first
country to have an FTA with China, India, Japan, and the U.S.
He said that the FTA will be the focus of our bilateral
relationship, and is correspondingly at the top of the DP's
agenda.

COMMENT


12. (SBU) Aphisit is very articulate and speaks in a crisp
English accent. He has made for TV good looks, and appears
even younger than his 40 years. With his appearance,
intellect, and experience, Aphisit could evolve into a
formidable political presence. However, he has yet to
demonstrate a forceful personality needed to counter
Thaksin's. Aphisit also has a huge challenge in crafting the
often fractious Democrats into a real opposition party, with
national reach, that can stand up to Thai Rak Thai and
recapture Government House. END COMMENT

BIOGRAPHIC NOTE


13. (U) Aphisit was born on August 3, 1964, in Bangkok.
His father, Dr. Atthasit Wetchachiwa, was Deputy Public
Health Minister in the Anand Panyarachun Administration. He
completed junior and senior high school at Eaton College,
England. Aphisit continued his studies in England, receiving
a bachelor's degree in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics
(with First Class Honors) from Oxford University in 1986.
Upon returning to Thailand he taught economics for two years
at Chulachomklao Royal Military Academy, earning the rank of
Army Sub-Lieutenant. During this period he earned a LL.B.
from Ramkhamhaeng University. Aphisit then returned to
England where he completed a master's degree in Economics at
Oxford University, ranking first among 200 graduates.


14. (U) Due to his extraordinary academic record Aphisit
was admitted to the Economics Faculty of Thammasat University
in 1990 without undergoing the normal written examination.
During his two-year teaching stint at Thammasat he was well
regarded by both colleagues and students. During a one-year
period after the 1991-coup d'etat Aphisit joined the
well-known economist and TV commentator Dr. Choemsak Pinthong
in running a political-oriented TV program "Mong Tang Mum" or
"From Different Angles". Aphisit was an active academic
during this period, and publicly stood against the
military-dominated regime.


15. (U) Aphisit began his political career in March 1992
when he won a close race over a Phalang Tham Party candidate
to become the DP's only Bangkok MP. His decision to enter
politics came as no surprise to colleagues familiar with his
political ambition. He won successive elections in September
1992, July 1995, and November 1996. In the January 2001 and
February 2005 elections, he was elected from the DP Party
List.


16. (U) Aphisit was Government Spokesman from 1992-1994,
Deputy Secretary to the Prime Minister in 1995, Chairman of
the House Standing Committee on Education during 1996-1997,
and Minister attached to the PM's Office from 1997-2001 --
his first ministerial assignment. At the DP's general
meeting on April 20, 2003, he lost a bitter leadership
contest to Banyat Bantadtan after former Prime Minister Chuan
Leekpai stepped down as DP leader. In that meeting, he was
chosen as the first deputy party leader.


17. (U) Following the TRT's landslide victory in the
February 2005 general election, the DP General Assembly
elected Aphisit as the new Party Leader with veteran southern
MP Suthep Thuaksuban as the Party Secretary General.


18. (U) Aphisit is married to Phimphen, the daughter of a
political scientist of Chulalongkorn University, Phongphen
Sakuntaphai, and a Bank of Thailand Assistant Governor,
Praphaiphan. They have 2 young children. END BIOGRAPHIC NOTE
BOYCE