Cables From Bangkok, Phnom Penh Show Varying Analyses

US officials in Bangkok be­lieved Prime Minister Hun Sen’s decision to name former Thai premier Thak­­sin Shinawatra his economic adviser in late 2009 “back­fired” by driv­ing pop­ular sup­port to the Thai incumbent, a re­cently released ca­ble from the US Embassy in Bang­kok reveals.

At the time, the polarizing Mr Thak­sin was already in self-exile to avoid a corruption conviction.

According to a November 2009 cable released last weak by anti-se­crecy group WikiLeaks, “many Thai commentators” speculated that Mr Hun Sen’s aim was to pressure the current Thai government into new elections that would bring Mr Thak­sin’s Pheu Thai Party to power.

The embassy in Bangkok ap­peared to buy into the interpretation.

“At least for now, it would appear that Thaksin, opposition [Pheu] Thai chairman Chavalit [Yong­chai­yudh] and Hun Sen have miscalculated how the gambit to name Thak­sin an adviser to the Cambo­dian govern­ment…would play in the Thai domestic context,” the cable said.

The embassy cites a “snap poll” after Thailand’s decision to re­call its am­bassador from Cam­bo­dia in reta­lia­tion, showing that support for current Thai premier Ab­hi­sit Vej­ja­jiva jumped from 23.3 per­cent to 68.6 percent, and even topped 50 percent in the pro-Thak­sin northeast.

“Voices across the Thai spectrum…have been uniformly harsh in criticism of the trio,” it said.

A leaked cable from the US Em­bassy in Phnom Penh that same month, however, offered a more nuanced interpretation.

The embassy described Mr Hun Sen as a long-term strategist, willing to suffer any immediate fall­out in ex­change for maintaining relations with what he was sure would be Thailand’s next elected government.

“Hun Sen has clearly calculated that whatever diplomatic downgrades are initiated by the Abhisit gov­ernment do not outweigh the benefits that Hun Sen’s friendship and support to Thaksin could provide to Cambodia both now and in the future,” the cable stated.

The assessment proved prescient. Pheu Thai crushed Abhi­sit’s Democrat Party during Thai­land’s na­tional elections earlier this month.



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