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IdentifierCreatedClassificationOrigin
08BANGKOK468 2008-02-13 09:35:00 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Bangkok
Cable title:  

CHART THAI LEADER AND AMBASSADOR DISCUSS CABINET,

Tags:   PREL PGOV PHUM ECON EINV SNAR KDEM TH 
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					  C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 BANGKOK 000468 

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E.O. 12958: DECL: 02/13/2018
TAGS: PREL PGOV PHUM ECON EINV SNAR KDEM TH
SUBJECT: CHART THAI LEADER AND AMBASSADOR DISCUSS CABINET,
DRUGS, ECONOMY


BANGKOK 00000468 001.2 OF 002


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

SUMMARY
-------



1. (C) Former Prime Minister Banharn Silapa-Archa told the
Ambassador he had decided to join the People's Power Party's
governing coalition in order to promote stability. In a
February 12 meeting, Banharn said Prime Minister Samak
Sundaravej had shown signs that he might exceed low popular
expectations. Banharn said it was important to amend the
constitution to tone down strict conflict of interest rules.
After the Ambassador emphasized his interest in promoting
trade and investment, Banharn spoke encouragingly about the
government's plan to proceed with large infrastructure
projects. The Ambassador expressed concern with the
possibility of a return to Thaksin-era counternarcotics
efforts; Banharn suggested a new counternarcotics campaign
could avoid excesses of the past. End Summary.

IF YOU CAN'T BEAT 'EM, JOIN 'EM


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





2. (C) In a February 12 meeting with the Ambassador, former
Prime Minister (and current Chart Thai Party Leader) Banharn
Silapa-Archa explained that he had decided to join in the
People's Power Party (PPP) coalition in order to promote
political stability. Banharn said he felt comfortable with
the Democrat Party (DP), one of his partners in the 2005-2006
parliamentary opposition block. Nevertheless, a coalition of
the DP, Chart Thai, and the Motherland Party (which
cooperated closely with Chart Thai during negotiations after
the December election) still would have fallen short of
commanding majority support in the House of Representatives.
These three parties would have controlled enough votes to
bring down the government, since any legislators serving as
Ministers, as well as the House Speaker and his deputies, are
prohibited from voting on a no-confidence motion. However,
Thailand would be better off without further instability;
Banharn portrayed his decision to join with PPP as motivated
by the desire to spare his country from further turmoil.

REMARKS ON PRIME MINISTER AND CABINET


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





3. (C) Describing his longstanding relationship with Prime
Minister Samak Sundaravej, who had served as Deputy PM in
Banharn's cabinet, Banharn said Samak was easy to talk to and
capable, and he understood important issues well.
Nevertheless, Samak would need to show a new attitude in
order to run the country effectively -- specifically, Banharn
acknowledged, he would need to be less aggressive and more in
control of his temper, especially in his dealings with
journalists. Banharn said he had seen signs Samak was
adjusting his manner of dealing with people.



4. (C) The Ambassador asked Banharn's view of the current
cabinet. Banharn indicated he considered some of the media's
criticism (which claims some members lack suitable
credentials) legitimate, saying some cabinet members did not
appear well suited for their positions, and there would
likely be a reshuffle after six months. He lamented strict
conflict of interest rules in the 2007 Constitution that
deterred many people from joining the cabinet. Banharn
regretted that these rules also precluded legislators from
serving in advisory positions in Ministries. It would be
important to amend the constitution, although not
immediately, in order to revise these provisions. Banharn
also complained that the Constitution made it too easy for
wrongdoing by political party members to lead to a party's
dissolution or even the imprisonment of the party leader.
(Note: Chart Thai is currently under threat of dissolution
because of Election Commission findings that a Chart Thai
executive engaged in vote-buying in the December election.
End Note.)

BANGKOK 00000468 002.2 OF 002



REVITALIZING THE ECONOMY


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





5. (C) The Ambassador explained his interest in promoting
trade with and investment in Thailand. Banharn said that the
key to revitalizing the Thai economy was ensuring a flow of
money down to the grassroots level and encouraging
consumption. He welcomed the currently high prices of
agricultural commodities, saying these would benefit farmers
(and noting as an aside that he was pleased his party members
were in top positions at the Agriculture Ministry). He hoped
the government would proceed with major infrastructure
development projects, saying he felt the government had the
necessary resources to finance them. He also said the
Ministry for Tourism and Sports -- now headed by a Chart Thai
Deputy Leader -- would aim to establish one of Thailand's
islands as a major tourist attraction, with a casino, a free
port, and other special tax regulations.

WAR ON DRUGS


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





6. (C) The Ambassador expressed concern about a prospective
revival of the Thaksin-era "war on drugs." Banharn
acknowledged the problems associated with the Thaksin policy:
law enforcement personnel in each province were given numeric
targets to meet, with the top performers receiving awards,
and they sometimes took action against targets without
evidence of wrongdoing. Despite those prior abuses, Banharn
hoped for a new anti-drug effort, saying that drug
trafficking had worsened in Thailand during the interim
administration, especially in the southern border provinces.
He said law enforcement efforts should be accompanied by
education and job creation, which would provide the poor with
alternatives to engaging in the drug trade.

COMMENT


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





7. (C) Banharn may well have been motivated principally by
self-interest when deciding to team up with PPP, but he
presents a reasonable case that it is in the nation's best
interest to have a large governing coalition. Banharn leads
the most independently-minded party in the governing
coalition, and his willingness to give Samak and his PPP
allies a chance to prove themselves provides a hopeful sign
that the political arena may be reasonably stable in the near
term.
JOHN