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Identifier
Created
Classification
Origin
05BANGKOK6855
2005-11-01 09:58:00
CONFIDENTIAL
Embassy Bangkok
Cable title:  

OPPOSITION WINS 3 0F 4 THAI BY-ELECTIONS, BUT DOES

Tags:   PGOV  TH 
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						C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 BANGKOK 006855 

SIPDIS

INFO ASSOCIATION OF SOUTHEAST ASIAN NATIONS
HQ USPACOM HONOLULU HI
CIA WASHDC

E.O. 12958: DECL: 11/01/2015
TAGS: PGOV TH
SUBJECT: OPPOSITION WINS 3 0F 4 THAI BY-ELECTIONS, BUT DOES
IT MATTER?

REF: A. A) BANGKOK 00980

B. B) BANGKOK 06119

C. C) BANGKOK 06798

D. D) CHIANG MAI 00229

Classified By: Political Counselor Susan M. Sutton For Reason 1.4 (C,D)



1. (C) Summary. Opposition parties may have won enough
seats in the October 30th parliamentary by-election to
initiate impeachment and censure moves against the ruling
Thai Rak Thai (TRT) party government. Unofficial tallies
have the opposition winning three of the four seats at stake
despite intense campaign support from Prime Minister Thaksin
for local TRT candidates, leading local press to portray the
election results as a dramatic slap in the face for the PM
and his party. While this is an important morale boost for
the usually hapless opposition, these victories may have
hinged more on local politicking than anger with the PM, and
may yet be invalidated by fraud charges. Moreover,
Thaksin,s majority in parliament remains unassailable and
the opposition does not appear to have a clear plan for using
the impeachment or fraud motions to regain broader power.
End Summary.



--------------------------


DO OVER ELECTIONS FOR FOUR SEATS


--------------------------





2. (U) Thailand held by-elections on Sunday, October 30th for
four MP seats in Phichit, Uthai Thani, Singburi, and Satun.
The Election Commission of Thailand (ECT) had concluded that
questionable election practices occurred during the February
2005 general election in these constituencies, necessitating
special by-elections for each (Reftel B). A few days before
the by-election, a high-level opposition party member told
Polcouns that he was very pessimistic about the upcoming
elections (reftel C). Embassy Poloffs used this occasion to
visit Uthai Thani and Singburi to meet with candidates, local
officials, and NGOs involved, while Poloff from Consulate
Chiang Mai did the same in Phichit (reftel D).



--------------------------


WHY SO IMPORTANT?


--------------------------





3. (SBU) Given TRT,s dominant performance in the February
election*netting 377 of the 500 seats*the contest for these
four slots would hardly seem to be critical to the balance of
power in Thailand. However, if the opposition coalition of
the Chart Thai, Democrat, and Mahachon parties were able to
pick up three of the four seats at play, they could have the
125 votes necessary to initiate censure or impeachment
motions against TRT government ministers.



4. (SBU) With these stakes in mind, both Thaksin and
opposition leaders poured their time, attention and other
support into these races. The PM visited Uthai Thani twice
in the weeks preceding the contest, including hosting a
Friday night rally that drew between ten to twenty thousand
people. Opposition leaders tried to mirror these efforts,

with noteworthy MPs from around the country streaming into
Singburi and Uthai Thani to campaign for their compatriots.
These rallies were of noticeably smaller size and sparkle,
reflecting opposition concerns that they could not compete
against the slick, massively funded TRT campaign machine.
Indeed, opposition candidates in both Singburi and Uthai
Thani told us that their chances of victory were, at best,
even. (Note, TRT did not field a candidate in the Democratic
Party stronghold of Satun. End Note.)



--------------------------


INITIAL RESULTS SUGGEST OPPOSITION WIN


--------------------------





5. (SBU) The unofficial results of the by-elections were a
surprise to many observers, with the opposition parties
capturing 3 of the 4 constituencies by considerable margins,
and the TRT winning back their lone seat in Singburi by a
mere 750 votes. Clearly the biggest surprise was in Phichit
(reftel D), but nearly on par is the result from Uthai Thani,
given the tremendous amount of TRT resources poured into that
constituency. Below are initial vote counts for each race:

Phichit

--Siriwat Kachornprasart (Mahachon) 39,412
--Nawin Boonset (Thai Rak Thai) 22,000

Uthai Thani

--Thirapan Wirayuthawattana (Chart Thai) 40,259
--Prasaeng Mongolsiri (Thai Rak Thai) 30,259

Singburi

--Payap Panket (Thai Rak Thai) 53,669
--Chaiwut Thanakamanusorn (Chart Thai) 52,919
Satun

--Horsaree Marem (Democrat) 46,296 (unopposed)



--------------------------


WHAT WAS THE ELECTION ABOUT FOR THE VOTERS?


--------------------------





6. (C) Issue politics remains a mythic creature in Thai
politics. Although the local media has cast the election as
a public backlash against the TRT juggernaught and a
humiliating defeat for PM Thaksin, our meetings in Uthai
Thani and Singburi suggest that there were many other factors
at work, including tactics, money, and local personalities.
Both are overwhelmingly rural communities dependent on local,
small-scale farming. Those voters working the land tend to
vote for TRT, while those in the small cities and &urban8
areas lean towards the opposition. The public rallies we
attended underscored these impressions. At both the
opposition and TRT rallies in Uthai Thani, the loudest
audience applause was saved for promises of new
infrastructure projects and money for the community. Any
mention of broader, national issues was met with tepid
hand-clapping, at best.



7. (C) Personality and tactics matter too. In Uthai Thani,
the TRT candidate barely squeaked out a victory in the
February election against three divided opposition candidates
before the race was voided by the ECT. This time, the
opposition pooled their resources behind a single candidate,
noticeably improving his chances. Moreover, neutral NGO
pollwatchers explained that the TRT candidate Prasaeng was
generally disliked for his aloofness and long residency in
Bangkok. A Chart Thai official added in a separate
conversation that Prasaeng hadn't even tried to meet with the
voters in the first few weeks of the campaign.



8. (SBU) In Singburi, opposition candidate Chaiwut focused
most of his public presentations on the need to hold the
current government accountable thru the magic 125 opposition
seats. We accompanied Chaiwut, trailed by a handful of
helpers and a couple of grim-faced Democrat MPs from other
provinces, as he walked through a city neighborhood, quietly
explaining his background in finance and making his case
face-to-face with voters.



9. (SBU) When we caught up with his opponent, Payap, we were
treated to a slightly different style. Riding on the back of
a custom pick-up truck trailed by several other vehicles and
wielding a bullhorn, Payap was trumpeting his long service to
the community as a farmer, local official and MP. He proudly
told us that his convoy would number nearly 100 vehicles the
day before the election. Payap also explained that over 80%
of Singburi,s voters were farmers and that their top
concerns were water for irrigation and development projects.



--------------------------


BUT THE GAME ISN,T OVER YET


--------------------------





10. (C) Accusations of election irregularities may delay the
official results by up to several weeks and could force yet
another do-over election. In both Phichit and Uthai Thani,
each candidate filed complaints against the other for illegal
campaigning activities, which are referred to the ECT in
Bangkok. The ECT will take anywhere from a few days to a few
weeks to consider the charges, and then decide whether or not
to penalize a candidate or uphold the election results. That
said, NGO pollwatch officials in Uthai Thani told us that the
ECT would only invalidate the election there if the TRT
candidate won; if Chart Thai took the seat, the ECT would let
the election stand.



11. (SBU) No complaints of illegal activities were filed in
Singburi, but the opposition parties have asked for an
examination of the invalidated ballots. The vote counters
invalidated nearly 5,600 ballots (4.9%) in Singburi, which is
higher than expected. (Note, in the February election nearly
9% of ballots were voided, in large part to the problems
senior citizens had making a correct mark on their ballot.
Local officials switched to rubber stamps to avoid this
problem this time around. End Note.) Given the narrow gap
between the two candidates, it is remotely possible that the
opposition may yet capture the fourth seat.



12. (C) Finally, the ECT is on the brink of announcing a
second round of violations stemming from the February 2005
parliamentary elections, putting the exact number of
opposition controlled seats in doubt. Our contacts suggest
that the ECT will invalidate elections (i.e. hand out
"yellow" or "red" cards, per the soccer terminology used by
the ECT) for five more MP,s, three of whom are opposition
party members.



--------------------------


SO WAS IT WORTH IT?


--------------------------





13. (C) Opposition candidates made their crusade for 125
seats a central tenet of their campaigns, suggesting that
this authority would allow them to hold the TRT government
accountable for mismanagement and corruption. If the
opposition bloc is able to hold on to enough seats to hit the
125 mark, it remains unclear how much effective their new
powers will be. When a censure or impeachment measure
against a government minister passes, it then goes to the
nominally non-partisan Senate for a vote that is the final
determinant of the outcome. However, a majority of the
Senate tends to be TRT-leaning. When queried on what the
opposition planned to do with this new power, if successful,
none of the MP,s we spoke to were able to elucidate a clear
plan, or explain which ministers would be targeted.



--------------------------


COMMENT


--------------------------





14. (C) The opposition parties' success in the by-elections
arms them with a potentially significant power that is, in
reality, more bark than bite. Although they now have the
power to initiate impeachment and censure proceedings, the
likelihood of actually pushing these measures to completion
is slim, given that much of the officially non-biased
Senators are unofficially TRT-leaning. We have no doubt that
the election results have prompted some frustration in TRT
(at the rally in Uthai Thani the PM said that he would likely
lose his mind if the TRT candidate lost there*we have seen
no evidence of such, yet) but it is hardly the serious public
backlash presented in the press. Thai Rak Thai remains very
popular nationwide, and still holds the largest single-party
majority in Thai political history. That said, the next
round of red and yellow cards will probably force yet another
round of by-elections soon and with that, another chance for
the opposition to irritate the Prime Minister.
BOYCE