1. Some background:
Cable from September 2008: 08BANGKOK2619. Below are some excerpts (emphasis added by BP):
¶1. (S) Summary: Ambassador saw Privy Councilor ACM Siddhi
Savetsila September 3 to discuss the current political
impasse and Siddhi’s views on the way forward. Siddhi laid
out a scenario which he said he would present to King
Bhumiphol in an audience at the Hua Hin Palace later in the
evening September 3. In short: PM Samak had to go. The best
replacement would be former PM Anand Panyarachun, bolstered
by “honest” figures to “rehabilitate democracy.” The House
and Senate would stay in place; the Constitution would also
remain but needed to be amended to allow non-elected MP
figures to serve in the Cabinet. Ambassador repeatedly
stressed that any action in Thailand needed to stay within
the constitutional framework, and that the U.S. would react
negatively to developments which amounted to an
extra-constitutional coup. Anand subsequently confirmed to
Ambassador that he had been involved in related discussions
for the past week, but he refused to be involved “before the
fact,” and would only discuss terms of any possible role
afterwards, focused on the least impact on the contents of
Samak has to go
¶3. (S) Privy Councilor ACM Siddhi Savetsila made clear to
Ambassador Sept. 3 that he viewed Thaksin and, by extension,
PM Samak as an existential threat to the Thailand he
supported, centered on the monarchy. Samak had lost his
legitimacy, beset by multiple court cases and the violence in
the streets of Udon Thani and Bangkok against civilians. The
only way out of the current political impasse was for Samak
to resign or the House to dissolve. But Samak refused to
leave; he had lied to coalition partners about his August 30
audience with the King, had dismissed Opposition Leader
Abhisit’s suggestion during the August 31 parliamentary
debate to call new elections which pro-Thaksin forces would
win again, and had even rejected his own wife’s and
daughter’s prostrate entreaties to resign for the good of the
country. Samak therefore had to go.
¶4. (S) Stressing that Ambassador was the only foreigner he
would share the information with, Siddhi laid out a scenario
which he said he would present to King Bhumiphol later in the
day in an audience for the Privy Councilors in Hua Hin. The
solution was not by using force but to rehabilitate Thai
democracy. The same Constitution would remain, amended to
allow outsiders (non-MPs) to serve in the Cabinet. The House
and Senate would stay. Universally respected former PM Anand
should serve as the leader of the “project,” which would
involve respected, “honest” ex-military and Ministry of
Interior officials, academics, one or two PAD members, and
perhaps some Democrat Party figures. The mandate would be to
initiate a wide array of reforms in the economic, social, and
political sphere. That in turn would “weed out” the bane
effects of Thaksinism from the system. Army Commander
Anuphong would have to deliver the message to Samak; no one
Who is behind the effort and why?
¶5. (S) Siddhi said that a group of prominent figures had
approached him with the plan, more than could fit in his
modest living room. The only one he named was Pramote
Nakorntab, a retired respected professor and political
scientist from Chulalongkorn University; others included a
high ranking Air Force officer and a Constitutional Court
Judge. Since, as a Privy Councilor, he was not supposed to
be involved in politics, only in advising the King, Siddhi
agreed to meet “as a former military leader” ready to do his
best for the country. He was willing to push forward and
present the project to the King in part to shield Privy
Council Chair Prem Titsulanonda, who had been heavily and
unjustly criticized for backing the PAD and trying to promote
a Democrat Party-led government. The stakes were high; it
was essential to rehabilitate the democratic system in
Thailand. “If we lose, Thaksin will come back, and if Thaksin
comes back, the monarchy will be lost,” Siddhi explained.
¶6. (S) Siddhi acknowledged that neither Anand nor Anuphong
were on board yet. Anand said he would need to review a
proposal in detail before accepting. Even though Anuphong
thought Samak must go, Siddhi said Anuphong was reluctant to
push in part because he disliked the PAD, especially leaders
Sondhi and Chamlong. Siddhi said he had challenged Anuphong
– was he prepared to lose his principles in support of the
monarchy because he did not like 3-4 people? Most
importantly, it was up to the King to indicate what he
thought of the plan. Siddhi would brief; the King would stay
aloof, but provide his reaction. “What will happen will
Anand more forthcoming the second time
¶9. (S) Ambassador engaged Anand after the Siddhi meeting for
the second time in 24 hours. More forthcoming this time than
on September 2 (reftel), Anand acknowledged he had been
listening to the group for the past week, but refused to get
involved directly in anything before the plan was put into
action. If the plan went forward, he was prepared to meet
with them at that point. It was imperative to ensure the
least impact on the contents of Thai democracy; even in the
case of non-elected persons of supposed quality, care needed
to be taken. Anand claimed that “I’m always my own man,” and
that he had turned down many positions offered when he
thought others sought to control him.
BP: Samak was conveniently disqualified by the Constitutional Court on September 9 instead….
Cable from October 2008 ( #08BANGKOK3192 ). Below are some excerpts:
¶9. (C) Later in the day on October 22, the Ambassador and
poloff called on Privy Councilor Siddhi Savetsila. The
Ambassador reiterated the USG position that a coup or
coup-like action would not be acceptable. Siddhi said he did
not know how political actors would resolve the current
standoff, but he did not envision a coup. He also said the
Democrat Party and a large portion of the Senate would refuse
to go along with Somchai’s plan for constitutional amendment.
Siddhi spoke vaguely of a type of “people’s power” action,
similar to that by opponents of President Marcos in the
Philippines, adding that the people engaged in such a
movement would need the military “to protect them,” although
there was no military solution to the standoff.
¶10. (C) Siddhi envisioned the establishment of a “Committee
to Revive Democracy,” consisting of respected figures such as
former Prime Minister Anand Panyarachun, scholar Pramote
Nakhorntap, Democrat Party officials Abhisit Vejjajiva and
Korn Chatikavanij, as well as other unnamed “clean people”
from the military and the (now seemingly defunct) Palang
Dharma party, formerly associated with PAD co-leader Chamlong
Srimuang. Siddhi said this Committee could play a (not
clearly defined) role in governance for two to three years;
during that time, the parliament could also be reshaped to
include (selected) representatives of various social groups,
as the PAD had advocated, although they would comprise less
than the 70 percent representation that PAD initially
¶11. (C) Siddhi said that, under his vision, the Prime
Minister could be any figure acceptable to all sides. As the
Ambassador probed Siddhi’s vision, however, it became clear
that Siddhi’s concept was notional and far from fully
thought-out. Siddhi mentioned that some of the figures who
had gathered at his home to discuss the way forward included
Chamlong Srimuang; academic Pramote Nakhorntap, academic
Chai-anam Samudavanija; Army General Saprang Kalayanamitra;
and Constitutional Court Justice Jarun Pakditanakul. Siddhi
was accompanied at the October 22 meeting with the Ambassador
by MFA Deputy Director General of the East Asian Department
BP: So you see Pramote and Chai-anan – also current Constitutional Court Judge Jaran who consistently rules against PPP and Puea Thai (in both cases regarding the dissolution of the Democrats, he unsurprisingly voted not to dissolve the Democrats).
The Nation in August 2013 (before the Amnesty Bill) reported on a group who were trying to remove the government.
The anti-government People’s Army yesterday revealed the names of 30 high-ranking officials, including military men, who back the group in its campaign to bring down the Thaksin regime.
The group, led by Admiral Chai Suwannaphap, Thaikorn Polsuwan and General Preecha Iamsupan, held a press conference announcing the names of supporters. These include former Army chief General Wimol Wongwanit, former supreme commander General Saiyud Kerdphol, former Air Force chief ACM Kan Pimanthip, and Admiral Bannawit Kengrian. Prasong Soonsiri, former chief of the National Security Council, would act as adviser.
The Bangkok Post in December 2013:
A group of retired senior military and police officers will tomorrow join the mass anti-government rally which aims to oust Caretaker Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra.
The group, led by former air force chief Kan Pimanthip, also urged current military leaders to support the public and hold talks with the caretaker government to end the ongoing political conflict.
“[The military]can’t be neutral in this crisis. It must take the side of what’s right,” ACM Kan said at the Royal Turf Club yesterday.
“People’s demonstrations are rational and peaceful,” he added.
Other key members of the group include former police chief Pratin Santiprapob, former National Security Council chief Prasong Soonsiri, and former National Anti-Corruption commissioner Kamol Prajuabmor.
ACM Kan said the group’s stance was also supported by former army chief Wimol Wongwanit and former navy commander Wichet Karunyawanich.
About 300 retired military and police officers were expected to take part in the rally tomorrow, ACM Kan said.
Crispin for ATOL on January 30, 2014:
While recent media coverage has focused largely on the PDRC’s street actions and the caretaker government’s and its supporters’ responses, the push and pull is a reflection of ongoing and unresolved behind-the-scenes negotiations between Thaksin and senior royalists comprised mainly of retired senior soldiers, according to diplomats, mediators and a well-placed military insider familiar in varying degrees with the situation. Those negotiations through intermediaries have to date failed to reach a new stabilizing accommodation.
General Prawit Wongsuwan, a former army commander, defense minister and elite Queen’s Guard, is the most visible of what some diplomats refer to as an amorphous “council of elders” now negotiating with Thaksin through varied channels and intermediaries. Other military “elders” reportedly include 2006 coup maker Lieutenant-General Winai Phattiyakul, former National Security chief and known Thaksin nemesis Squadron Leader Prasong Soonsiri, and retired General Saiyud Kerdphol, a former Supreme Commander and father of current army chief of staff Gen Aksra Kerdphol.
BP: Lt-Gen Winai’s son is a PDRC leader.
As you can see there were plans by establishment figures behind the scenes in 2008 to remove the government, and then it started up again before the PDRC had even hit the streets. You had some of the same former military figures and those close to the establishment plotting to remove the government from 2008 returning again in 2013.
2. Man of the State Plan
Then back in late January/early February, a video was released online from a meeting by a group calling themselves “รัฐบุคคล” or “Man of the State” who consist of former military officers and one group of lawyers who met at the Polo Club. Siam Intelligence has details of the meeting participants which have excerpted below (BP has added some additional details and links)
A. Gen. Saiyud Kerphol (พล.อ.สายหยุด เกิดผล) is 92.Former Supreme Commander from 1978-1982 (overlapping with the time Prem was Army C-in-C) , ISOC Commander, and P-NET* boss (he was current EC Commissioner’s Somchai boss there).
B. Former Army Commander-in-Chief Gen. Wimol Wongwanich (พล.อ.วิมล วงศ์วานิช) who is 80. He was also Deputy Minister of Defence in the Anand 1 government.
C. Former Air Force chief ACM Kan Pimanthip is head of a group of military officers (in Thai กลุ่มนายทหารนอกประจำการที่ภักดีต่อสถาบันฯ) who have been protesting since late 2013.
D. Amorn Chantarasomboon, former Secretary-General of the Council of State, and well-known legal expert on public law.
E. Dr. Pramote Nakornthab, a political scientist, who as previously a drafter of the 1974 Constitution. He was closely aligned with the PAD and promoted the Finland Plot – see posts on this here and here.
G. Suraphong Chainam, who Secretary-General of the PM’s Office (kind of like Chief of Staff) under Surayud. He is a former diplomat. He also faces charges regarding the airport takeover in 2008.
BP: There are some other members included, but the above are the main ones. You will see people like Gen. Saiyud, Pramote and Chai-anan have long been plotting to get rid of a pro-Thaksin government. As noted in Thai Rath‘s political analysis of April 16, they are the same old faces who have long been involved in opposing the Puea Thai government (มันก็เป็นความเคลื่อนไหวของกลุ่มต้านรัฐบาลพรรคเพื่อไทยหน้าเดิมๆ)
3. What do they want?
The Bangkok Post on April 15:
A group of retired soldiers and former state officials has called on Privy Council president Prem Tinsulanonda to step in to help defuse the political crisis.
The group wants Gen Prem to act as a ”middle man” to work under His Majesty the King in finding ways to end the country’s turmoil.
Group member Gen Saiyud Kerdphol and chairman of the People’s Network for Elections said Gen Prem should function as an intermediary between the King and other parties, since His Majesty has said he cannot be involved directly with political problems.
Gen Saiyud said Gen Prem could consult judicial agencies, the military and leaders of other organisations to draft a proposal to end the crisis. That proposal could then be forwarded to the King, who could instruct the statesman on how to proceed.
He argued the statesman’s post was originally created to carry out royal commands in times of crisis and perform responsibilities as directed by the King.
Another member of the group, Pramote Nakhonthap, said the King’s wishes should be heeded in the event of national emergencies. But he insisted the group is not asking the King to install a prime minister.
Retired General Saiyud said Prem had been informed of the proposal that he take on the mediator role, in the form of a written request and published articles, but he had not yet given a reply. Saiyud stressed that this mediator role was a position that would not exercise the King’s power under the Constitution’s Article 7.
He said his group’s proposal was immediately actionable, as the country had endured enough hardship. “Even [if] the PDRC’s reform is implemented and leads to the setting up of a new government after the election, the other side would likely begin to resist it and repeat what the PDRC has done, which would lead to the country’s crisis continuing,” he said.
Saiyud said independent academic Pramote Nakhonthap – who attended the session – had coordinated between Prem and the group. Pramote repeated later that his group’s proposal would not encroach on the King’s authority, or create any difficulties for him.
BP: Prem initially commented publicly stating that “do you think they will listen to me?” (คุณคิดว่าเขาจะฟังผมเหรอ) which suggests that he didn’t want to get involved. It didn’t completely put an end to rumours, but they mostly went away.
4. Prem confirms he will play a role?
Then suddenly on Saturday, Gen. Saiyud spoke again. The Nation:
The Privy Council president has agreed to a proposal by the Man of State group to seek His Majesty the King’s assistance to help end the political crisis and allow the country to move forward, according to the group’s leader.
Saiyud Kerdphol, a retired Army general who is a former armed forces supreme commander, said yesterday that General Prem Tinsulanonda, the chief royal adviser, would submit to the King an appeal by the group for a royal command to solve the ongoing crisis.
He said the measure suggested by the group, in a bid to restore peace in the country, would be in line with the Constitution.
“It will not involve Article 7 of the Constitution or a neutral prime minister. But I will not talk about it in detail now,” Saiyud said in an interview with the Nation Group yesterday.
Saiyud, 93, said he met Prem personally on Friday for about an hour to talk about the matter. He said Prem agreed to his group’s idea of seeking royal assistance.
Thai Rath also interviewed Gen. Saiyud (which they broadcast on their new channel on Saturday night) and reports similarly that Gen. Saiyud said he had met with Prem on Friday, had agreed to act as statesman, and he had agreed it to submit the Royal Command to HM the King.
However, then yesterday, Wassana of the Bangkok Post reported:
Privy Council president Prem Tinsulanonda “only listened” to a proposal to end the political turmoil by a group calling itself Rattha Bukkhon (State Citizens) during their meeting on Friday but did not agree with nor commit to any of their suggestions, his close aide Lt Gen Pissanu Putthawong said on Sunday.
Gen Pissanu said Gen Prem had learned about Gen Saiyud’s interview with the press and did not complain. “He said he merely listened to him [at their meeting] and did not make any oral promise to him,” he quoted Gen Prem as saying.
“People should be able to consider for themselves what objectives Rattha Bukkhon has because it has tried to give comments linking Gen Prem to the group on several occasions,” Gen Pissanu said [BP: This could be interpreted negatively]
“Gen Prem listened to him and only expressed minor opinions. He asked and then listened; he did not agree, oppose or give any assurance, especially asking the Rattha Bukkhon to draw up a proposal or royal command.
“Gen Saiyud made the claim himself,” Gen Pissanu said, adding that he understood the former supreme commander did so because he wanted to see an end to the protracted political problems.
BP: Thai Rath has a shorter article from yesterday morning although the wording from Lt Gen Pissanu denies that Prem agrees, but it is as if he speaking on behalf of Prem, doubting Prem would agree (he talks it was likely just listening only and it is likely that it was not agreeing).
Then Thai Rath speaks to Gen. Saiyud again and he expresses concern that Prem has changed his mind. He states that “now don’t know whether Prem will accept or not accept. If not, then [you] will have to ask him, but on April 25 when [I] went to speak, Prem said to submit a draft of a [royal command]; that is what he said. Whether now, he has changed his mind then you will have to ask him” said Gen. Saiyud (“…ซึ่งตอนนี้เราไม่รู้ว่า พล.อ.เปรม จะรับหรือไม่รับก็ต้องไปถามท่าน แต่วันที่ 25 เม.ย. ที่เข้าไปพูดคุย คือ พล.อ.เปรม ให้เสนอร่างเข้าไปก่อน ท่านว่าอย่างนั้น ซึ่งตอนนี้ท่านจะเปลี่ยนใจหรืออย่างไรก็ต้องไปถามท่าน” พล.อ.สายหยุด กล่าว).
BP: Either Prem was unhappy that Gen. Saiyud confirmed things, Prem changed his mind, or Gen. Saiyud misunderstood the conversation. Regardless Gen. Saiyud has created a problem for Prem despite the denials now and also for himself.
Originally, the post was going to be about the proposal and the role the group wanted Prem to have, but upon rereading everything, it is so unclear what they want Prem to do and what will be in the Royal Command and what that means for any election or for a PM. It is vague generalities they are talking about – well at least what Gen. Saiyud is saying in public – which makes it seem like a backdown from the grandiose plans in 2008 which are much closer in line with the PDRC wants now. The late April talk by the Man of State group has the air of talking about compromise and neutrality, but BP suspects when they talk about neutrality they mean good people running things (i.e they are good as they hate Thaksin) and once people know the “truth” and have been made aware of Thaksin’s “crimes” then the political situation will change. BP views the Establishment are naïve and live in their own little bubble , but perhaps they really have realised that things have changed and they want some compromise although if so, shouldn’t they talk to the other side first before submitting any draft royal command….