Thaksin Shinawatra, Thailand’s former prime minister whose political party has a clear lead before an election on 3 July, reduced free speech, made immense personal profits and dominated politics “in a way never before seen”, claimed secret US diplomatic cables now revealed.
To tackle insurgent violence in the south he pushed through an emergency decree that was criticised by some activists as giving the security forces a “licence to kill”, and had little tolerance for dissenting views, the cables claim. “Thailand remains a democracy, but one in which the balance among the political and social forces is unhealthy,” the then US ambassador Ralph “Skip” Boyce, says in a 2005 dispatch to Washington.
The cables also suggest Mr Thaksin, who was elected in 2001 and re-elected in 2005 only to be ousted by a military coup the following year, did not always have warm relations with King Bhumibol Adulyadej. “In the age of Thaksin, the King has on several occasions made public his differences with Thaksin’s style and, more importantly, his philosophy,” Mr Boyce writes elsewhere.
The claims are in the second instalment of an account written by former Reuters’ journalist Andrew MacGregor Marshall. The first instalment, in yesterday’s Independent, highlights the allegedly divided nature of the Thai royal family. It also details anxiety about the succession process, when the ailing 83-year-old king dies.
After Mr Thaksin, 62, was forced from office in 2006, he went into exile in Dubai, Britain and elsewhere. In October 2008, a Bangkok court found him guilty of corruption in absentia and sentenced him to two years in jail. The ruling related to a cut-price land deal he was alleged to have helped his wife, Pojaman, secure in 2003. Mr Thaksin has always protested his innocence and said the charges were politically motivated.
In a cable, written in March 2005, Mr Boyce claims: “Thaksin, his family and his business and political allies have made immense profits in the past four years and seem on track to continue doing so. Is it something in the entrepreneur’s gene pool that cannot switch off the quest for more, better, greater, now, now, now? There are nuances to understand, but in all aspects of public life (Burma policy and the current follow-on jet-fighter acquisition deal come to mind), a good case can be made that business or political considerations are uber alles.”
The cables refer to Mr Thaksin’s efforts to clamp down on the press, and also detail attempts by the administration of Thailand’s incumbent Prime Minister, Abhisit Vejjajiva and his Democrat party, to do the same. They refer to the increase in the use of lese majeste, a defamation law that carries up to 15 years in jail for anyone guilty of insulting the monarchy.
A 2009 cable by then ambassador Eric John notes: “Legal action in the courts and against websites on grounds of lese majeste… have seemingly increased under the new Democrat-led coalition government.”
Opinion polls give a lead of more than 10 points to Pheu Thai (PT), a party financed and led by Thaksin Shinawatra, with his younger sister, Yingluck, as its prime ministerial candidate .
In a statement, Mr Thaksin said: “Wikileaks represent openness and Internet democracy, but these false allegations are one person’s subjective view – a totally ill-formed view based on smears inspired by my political enemies.
“I gave up my companies when I was elected. Every other company on the Stock Market benefited in the boom years not just my former holdings.
“With regards to the allegations about fighting the insurgents in the South, my policies were entirely within the scope of the law. I regret that some officers may have misbehaved, but they were properly investigated, removed and punished where found guilty.
“And as to the Monarchy, everyone in Thailand knows my absolute respect and loyalty to His Majesty. And it will always continue.
“The allegations about media freedom are untrue; I have always believed that media freedom is essential to democracy and indeed there was an increase in the number of free radio stations when I was prime minister.”