CABLE: THAI PRIME MINISTER SKIPS LUNCH DATE WITH ASSEMBLY OF THE POOR

“28991”,”3/17/2005 8:31″,”05BANGKOK1969″,

“Embassy Bangkok”,
“UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY”,””,
“This record is a partial extract of the original cable.
The full text of the original cable is not available.
“,”UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 BANGKOK 001969

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE

DEPARTMENT FOR EAP/BCLTV

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PREL, PHUM, TH, TRT – Thai Rak Thai
SUBJECT: THAI PRIME MINISTER SKIPS LUNCH DATE WITH ASSEMBLY
OF THE POOR

1. (U) SUMMARY: Newly sworn-in Prime Minister Thaksin
Shinawatra disappointed a three-day gathering of mostly rural
villagers from the Assembly of the Poor NGO by going on
vacation in Japan rather than stopping by for lunch. The
900-strong peaceful demonstration in front of Thailand\’s
Parliament attracted some media attention and some prominent
political opposition figures, but was mostly ignored by
Members of Parliament. A nearly nonstop array of speakers
addressed the protesters and called for greater public
participation in decision-making on large scale development
projects and for Thaksin to make good on promises he made in
his first administration. END SUMMARY.

PEACEFUL RALLY FEATURES VARIETY OF SPEAKERS AND ISSUES

2. (U) A group of approximately 900 grassroots demonstrators
from about 30 of Thailand\’s 76 provinces gathered for three
days in front of Parliament in Bangkok to press for a greater
voice for ordinary people in the democratic process.
Organized by the NGO Assembly of the Poor and seven other
local NGOs, villagers traveled to Bangkok from all parts of
Thailand via bus on the night of March 14 and set up a small
stage with a few microphones on the sidewalk across the
double lane street from the front gate of Thailand\’s
Parliament building. They camped out under blue plastic
tarps on either side of the stage and sat on straw mats
interspersed with small charcoal grills used to cook pots of
rice and fish. They endured temperatures of over 100 degrees
Fahrenheit, and an unusual heavy rain on the morning of March
16 added a thick humidity to the already steamy atmosphere.
The Assembly of the Poor, a nationwide NGO, is comprised of
over 200 smaller grassroots organizations concerned about
various government programs that have led to land use
disputes.

3. (U) Poloff spoke to Assembly of the Poor organizers
Somkhuan Phromthong and Wannida Tantiwitthayapitak who told
him that they originally planned to hold the rally in early
January during the February 6 general election campaign. But
the December 26, 2004 tsunami affected many of the member
groups from Phuket and Phangnga provinces, so the earlier
plans had to be postponed. The organizers said that for this
demonstration they had received good cooperation from the
City of Bangkok, which provided drinking water and mobile
toilet facilities. They also had no complaints about the
police or other security officials, whom Poloff observed
taking pictures of his movements and conversations from
across the street. Somkhuan did say they had been fined 200
baht ($5.25) for making too much noise the first day but had
not been troubled by police since paying the fine.

FAMOUS GRANDMA ACTIVIST MISSES LUNCH WITH THE PM

4. (U) One of the featured speakers and organizers at the
rally was a Northeast Thailand legend known as \”Yai Hai\” or
Grandma Hai from Ubolratchathani Province. Her twenty-year
struggle to reclaim her farm, which she claimed had been
illegally taken from her for a government dam project, has
been featured in local and international media as a victory
for grassroots organizing in rural Southeast Asia. She asked
why the Prime Minister had turned down the Assembly\’s offer
for lunch remarking, \”He likes \’plaa tip\’ (raw fish, meaning
sushi) more than \’plaa taek\’ (Northeastern fish paste).\” The
Prime Minister had departed for Japan on a family vacation
the day before and did not stop by the rally or send a
representative to meet with the villagers. Yai Hai did
testify to the House of Representatives Subcommittee on Human
and Social Welfare about rural economic issues. Notably
absent from the rally, according to its organizers, were
Members of Parliament from any of the provinces or areas
represented by the demonstrators, except for one Thai Rak
Thai MP from Lamphun Province. Some noted Thai Senators,
such as Thaksin critics Kraisak Choonhavan, Chermsak Pinthong
and Democrat Party Leader MP Abhisit Vejjajiva did stop by
the rally to listen and show their support.

KEEPING WATCH ON THAI RAK THAI

5. (U) The Assembly of the Poor speakers presented a wide
array of grievances against the government, but all
reiterated the need for increased citizen participation in
the democratic process. Many complained of environmental
problems associated with locating of coal fired power plants
or industries, such as paper mills near their homes. Others
spoke about misuse of development funds and of policies to
develop the country at the expense of the forests, water and
other natural resources. One group opposed the joint venture
Thai-Malaysia pipeline in southern Thailand, claiming
government corruption in land allocation for laying the
pipeline. Wannida noted that Thaksin\’s populist policies,
such as the 2003 war on drugs, or the 30-baht health scheme,
were quick fixes or \”tiger balm\” (a soothing Asian medicinal
rubbing balm) that temporarily allayed public worries but did
not provide systemic solutions to social problems. On March
17, the group will submit recommendations to the Parliament
and hold a press conference. They also plan to release a set
of alternative national policy objectives once the Thaksin
government reveals its policy planning statement in
Parliament on March 23. Most important, the Assembly for the
Poor will establish a People\’s Social Policy Monitoring
Committee to assess the effect of government infrastructure
projects on villagers in the hope of serving as a check on
Thaksin\’s large majority in the Thai parliament.

A MISSED OPPORTUNITY?

6. (SBU) Comment. Less than one week after stating in his
inaugural address that he would seek greater public
participation in the democratic process in Thailand, Thaksin
has missed an excellent opportunity to make good on his
words. While his snub of the lunch offer from the grassroots
Assembly of the Poor has not resulted in massive criticism or
rowdy demonstrations, he has let down a group of down-home
country Thai folks committed to their families and
communities and to participating in the future of Thailand.
New Democrat Party Leader did not miss his chance to
demonstrate that he will keep an ear open to their critiques
of Thaksin administration policies. End Comment.
BOYCE

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