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IdentifierCreatedClassificationOrigin
08BANGKOK1290 2008-04-28 07:49:00 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Bangkok
Cable title:  

THE AMBASSADOR'S DINNER WITH THAKSIN

Tags:   PREL PGOV PINR ECON TH 
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					  C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 BANGKOK 001290 

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E.O. 12958: DECL: 04/28/2018
TAGS: PREL PGOV PINR ECON TH
SUBJECT: THE AMBASSADOR'S DINNER WITH THAKSIN


BANGKOK 00001290 001.2 OF 002


Classified By: Ambassador Eric G. John, reason: 1.4 (b) and (d).

SUMMARY
-------



1. (C) I hosted a small private dinner for Thaksin Shinawatra
and his wife, Khunying Potjaman, at the Residence the evening
of April 24. Also attending were Deputy Prime Minister
Somchai Wongsawat and his wife (and Thaksin's sister),
Yaowapa, as well as former Minister for Transportation
Pongsak Ruktapongpisal. Thaksin and his wife were in
excellent spirits and health, and expansive in their
discussion. Although he still asserts that he is permanently
retired from politics, Thaksin retains a clear interest in
the inner workings of the Cabinet. He outlined his plans for
retirement but was most enthusiastic whenever the topic of
his soccer team, Manchester City, was raised. End Summary.



2. (C) At the suggestion of several RTG cabinet officials,
including FM Noppadon, I hosted a small dinner April 24 for
Thaksin Shinawatra, the former Prime Minister who was ousted
in the September 2006 coup. This was my first meeting as
Ambassador with Thaksin.

ASSESSMENT OF GOVERNMENT FIGURES


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





3. (C) Thaksin emphasized without qualification that he had
retired from politics, although he said he would remain
interested in political affairs. He claimed he enjoyed an
excellent relationship with Prime Minister Samak, noting that
Potjaman had selected him to lead the People's Power Party.
Thaksin lauded Samak as a very good leader and added, "I like
him a lot." Thaksin claimed that the frequent press accounts
of friction between himself and Samak were completely
inaccurate. In a general swipe at the Thai press, he added
that his supporters had entirely disregarded both broadcast
and print news reporting during the period from the 2006 coup
until the 2007 election.



4. (C) Thaksin said he was very pleased with Noppadon
Pattama's performance as Foreign Minister, describing him as
"excellent." He remarked that Deputy Prime Minister/Commerce
Minister Mingkwan Sangsuwan was experiencing some difficulty
adjusting to his government role. (Mingkwan's background is
in the private sector; this is his first cabinet position.)
Nevertheless, Thaksin seemed to feel that Mingkwan could
adapt; he did not appear inclined to advocate Mingkwan's
dismissal from the cabinet.

COMMENTS ON POPULIST PROGRAMS


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





5. (C) I asked Thaksin for his assessment of the Thai
economy, and in particular whether farmers would be dismayed
to find that middlemen were receiving a disproportionate
amount of the benefit from high global rice prices. Thaksin
emphasized that his administration's village fund program --
which provided each village with a million Baht (which then
equated to approximately 25,000 USD) for small loans -- had
significantly expanded the number of rice mills in rural
areas. This led to a more equitable distribution of profits
between farmers and millers, and also kept more wealth in the
villages where rice was grown. Farmers recognized,
therefore, that they were benefiting directly from high rice
prices because of Thaksin's policies.



6. (C) This discussion led Thaksin to highlight other
accomplishments of his administration, including his other
high-profile populist program, the provision of health care
for only a minimal 30 Baht charge. He explained that he had
envisioned that the low cost to the public would encourage
Thais to seek out preventive care; the fixed fee would also
allow both hospitals and the public to more accurately
anticipate health care costs. "I based it on Blue Cross/Blue
Shield," he stated.

PLANS FOR RETIREMENT


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



BANGKOK 00001290 002.2 OF 002





7. (C) Thaksin said that he anticipated continuing charity
work, especially his efforts in the educational field. Aside
from providing scholarships, he appeared interested in
helping to reform the Thai educational system. (Notably, he
made no reference to Deputy PM Somchai concurrently holding
the position of Education Minister, and Somchai remained
silent throughout this discussion.)



8. (C) Thaksin explained that he hoped to found a club or
forum for former leaders, principally from APEC countries.
He noted in particular his friendship with former Japanese PM
Junichiro Koizumi. He also claimed a close friendship with
former British PM Tony Blair, to whom Thaksin made frequent
references throughout the dinner. Putin is another candidate
for the club.



9. (C) The topic that seemed dearest to Thaksin's heart was
his Manchester City soccer team, which he had purchased while
living abroad after the coup. He spoke enthusiastically
about the team, noting that it held the potential to be a
worthwhile investment, not in terms of ticket sales, but as a
merchandise marketing platform. Thaksin remarked that, after
his purchase of Manchester City, he had been offered the
Houston Rockets for a price of 500 million USD, but he did
not indicate he had any interest in pursuing that opportunity.

COMMENT


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





10. (C) Thaksin appeared sincere in claiming to have retired
from politics, and he has generally kept a low profile since
returning to Thailand. I expect that his retirement means
simply that he has no immediate plans to seek a formal
position (which, in any event, he cannot hold before 2012,
according to a 2007 ruling of the Constitutional Tribunal).
He retains enormous informal influence, however, and I do not
doubt that he stands ready to make his views and preferences
known to those currently in office. His deference to his
wife, moreover, would seem to confirm widespread reporting
that she also remains a formidable force in Thailand.
JOHN