INTELLIGENCE MEMORANDUM -- THAILAND: THE PRESENT POLITICAL PHASE

Created: 10/8/1968

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DEFENSE INTELLIGENCE AGENCY DOCUMENT TRANSMITTAL

Office of Chief of Military History Department of the Army.

FROMi DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE

DEFCNSC IHTELLICEMCE AGENCY

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DOCUMENTS LISTED HEREON ARE FORWARDEDINFORMATION loan

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Summary Special Report Intelligence Memorandum

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FOE THE DIRECTOR:

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Acting Chief, Document Branch Library Division Intelligence Support Office

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CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE AGENCY Directorate of8

INTELLIGENCE MEMORANDUM

Thailand: The Present Political Phase

Sununary

Thailand isew phase of itslife. After ten years of rule by martial law, the military leadership is moving to legitimize its rule. ew constitution has been promulgated as the first step in this process, but theirtually ensures that there will be nomajor'changes at least in the near future, in the way Thailand is' governed.

The constitution does provide for the firstelections inecade. Althoughare now less than five months away,so far has done littLe to organizethem. Opposition forces are also divided.and but they may prove strong enough to denya clear-cut majority in the lowerthe outcome, the present leaders willto rule Thailand .after, the..elections, and/for the short term, there is- not-likelyimportant change in Thai domestic and

Note*; This memorandum 'was produced solely by CIA'

X. Thereimelessness about modern Thai politic* that is as comforting as it may be On the surface, nothing important seems to change. Forears Thailand has been ruledight coterie of military officers. In order to run the country, the military has maintained aalliance with civilian politicians andwith whom it2 to bring down the absolute monarchy. The civilians have exercised considerable influence, but thehas always been fundamentally one-sided. With the exceptionew short periods, the military establishment has called the tune.

without being despotic,without being reactionary, the rulinghaseasonable share of economicand social change to Thailand. With aserious disruption, it has guided thefactional strife and foreignin personalities, and the inevitableof art evolving social system. Theto cope with Thailand's problems has been

due less to the wisdom or resourcefulness of its leadership than to the fortunate tractability of those problems. Whatever their shortcomings,the leaders seem to fit in with the country.

promulgation onuneewconstitution appears, then, to havea new phase ratherew era inlife. The constitution was, afterproduct of five years of gentle agitationelements in the establishment, and theon the part of more enlightened militarythat after ten years of "martial law"-theneeded to legitimize its rule. It wasnor has it been interpreted,harpfrom pastn the contrary,had seven constitutionsachthe rules of the game only until newnew sides were_chosen, and new rules Although nine years in the writing, there

is little in the present document that distinguishes it greatly from its predecessors.

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4- razy quilt of parliamentary andsystems, the Thanom constitution is designed to perpetuate the rule of the na litary-clvi1ian It virtually ensures chat the present leaders will be in power for the forseeable future. The document providestrong executive appointed by the King on the advice o: the upper house of the legislature, or Senate* To complete the tight circle, the Senate is appointed by the executive (with the King's blessing), The Senate was chosen shortly after promulgation, and it should come as no great surprise that although the body's presidentivilian,utenate seats are filled by military officers Almost all of the new senators held seats in the old constituent assembly, whose loyalty to the government* was amply demonstrated during the nine years it spentew constitution* Any doubt about theor political complexion of the Senate, moreover, is dispelled by the presence of several prominentincluding Saiyud, who is in charge of theeffort; Knangsak, from the supreme com-mand headquarters; and, perhaps most revealing of all. General Samran, commander of the First Army, whose troops control

5* The only real departure from the quasi-constitutional arrangement under which Marshal Sarit and Prime Minister Thanom have ruled8 is the lover house, whose members will be chosen inelections early next year. It will mirror, however, imperfectly, long submerged politicalin the country, and will serve as an outlet for the expression of regional grievances. It will alsoorum for those civilian politicians who have been on the outside looking in for the past-ten years. Caughtowerful executivetacked and dominant Senate, and without authority

to vote no confidence in the government, the lower house's powers under the constitution areircumscribed.

6. The new constitution, in short, does not give away the keys to the kingdom. Nor is there any reason to believe, at least at this juncture, that the constitution will set in motion unforeseen forces

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that will upset the applecart. On the contrary, the politicians, the parties, and the issues that have emerged thus far only add to the impression thathas changed in Thailand. Almost all of theplayers, both on the government side and in the ranks of the opposition, were active ten or more years ago. The leader of the major opposition Democratic Party, for example,rominent political figureears ago, and although other opposition leaders are somewhat more contemporary, at this writing at least there isyoung turk* in the bunch. IX is as if Sarit's coup8 put the countryhelf, and now ten years later the old pieces are being brought down, dusted off and put back together-The Thai electorate will have to look elsewhere if it wants fresh faces and new ideas next year,

7. There is no guarantee,hat this picturo of political continuity will stand up. The fact remains that Thailand iseriod of political change- The ten-year interregnum is about to end,ifferent, albeit far from new, set of arrangements will follow in its wake. Against its better instincts, the military oligarchy is taking Its case to the Thai people. Although there is every reason to believe the military leaders can negotiate the transitional period with their hold on powerthe subtle pressures that brought them this far may takeood deal farther than they are presently prepared to go. reat deal will depend on how they run the elections, and, finally, on how well they do-

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Bangkok Municipal Sleetions

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B. Ji the outcome of the September Bangkokelections is any sign, the government may be inarder time than it anticipated in next year's elections * The Democratic Party, the only nationwide opposition party currently active, tookfeats in the municipal assembly. Threegovernment slates managed to elect only two progovernment candidates. The first meaningfulin Thailand in ten years, the municipal election was touted as an important political barometer.

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9- The Democrats have always been strong in Bangkok, but their sweep cameurprise toand opponents alike. Thereumber of reasons for the Democrats' extraordinary showing. For one thing, Bangkok has longartyand the Democrats apparentlyow-key but effective campaign there. The other causes,cut closer to the bone and have widerfor next year's elections. In addition to rallying their normal supporters, the Democrats were the beneficiaries of- an antiadministration vote that stemmed from local issues. It wouldistake to dismiss the importance of the Democratic sweepit was based, in part, on local issues, however. Rising pork prices and increased bus fares may not have much impact in the countryside, but every area of Thailand has local grievances and the regime is in trouble if voters cast ballots on the basis of fixing responsibility for local ills. The lowin Bangkokairly good signajor voter revolt is not in the cards, but the voting does suggest that there may be more antigovernment sentiment in the country than has been recognized heretofore.

The Democratic victory can also be traced to the indecisiveness, disunity, and apparentof the government. Administration strength was dissipated by the fielding of three slates, and organizers failed to get out the vote among those elements who might be expected to back thef some elements thought that some last-minutemight carry the day, they had not counted on tudent poll watchers who saw to it that the electionas one of the country's cleanest.

Whatever the reasons for the Democratic sweep, it may have an important bearing on next-year's legislative elections. For the Democrats, the victoryuch-needed psychological boost. Out .of the limelight for ten years andby the death of their leading public figure, the Democrats are suddenly in the position ofat least "nominally, theargest and most important city. Its greatestowever, may be on the government side, The election is a

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major disappointment to those elements who had hopedemocratic Party defeat in Bangkok would clear the way for an easy victory in the legislative The Bangkok skirmish may prove toude but much-needed awakening for complacent Thai leaders. The election resultsisquieting sign that the ruling oligarchy will have to put aside its squabbling and marshal its considerable resources if it hopes tolear-cut victory in next year's elections.

The Government Prepares for Elections

the opening round in thealready over, with nationwide electionsfive months away, and with three years ofand organizing under its belt, thedoes notolitical party. There areof reasons for this state of affairs,the fact that the individuals with the bestability in the government areones who have been against elections from The major problem the government faces ina unified political party, however, is simply

that the government itself is not unified. Theof elections has aroused rather than soothed -long-standing factional differences within theoligarchy. On the one hand, there is thesplit between civilian "liberal" elements, exemplified by Foreign Minister Thanat and Minister of National Development Pote Sarasin, and the old-guard military establishment. And on the other, there are the more important: divisions within the military group itself. The breakdown is roughly between Prime Minister Thancm and Deputy Prime Ministerhe two men whose working relationship has kept the country stable since Marshal Sarit's death

factional differences will have to

be sorted out and some acceptable understanding reached -before the government's political activity cannto high gear. Much of the responsibility for the slow progress belongs to Prime Minister Thanom. For all of his virtues, Thancra has shown littleor ability to harness the ambitions of the other factional leadersnified effort. Indecisive and colorless, the prime minister' has done little during the five years he has at least nominally ruled

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Thailand to buildolitical organization responsive to him or the regime,ollowing in the country that can be translated inco political power in an election year. onsequence, Thanom has no power base outside the establishment, and the regime has to build an organization virtually from scratch.

military leaders .hope to createparty broad enough to include all ofthat have helped rule the country forten years while, at the same time,its umbrella political elements with somein the country whose ties to Bangkok andof power have been negligible. Thewith Prime Minister Thanom has beensince late last year to line up former members

of the National Assembly for the party. Independents, or former members* of moribund parties, they are the professional politicians with local connections whose support could prove indispensable in theelections. The effort has been halfhearted and has not gone particularly well. One problem is that many of these politicians, although flattered by their new-found importance and eager to collaborate with the establishment, are confused by conflicting instructions and leadership from Bangkok. Theirhas been in determining who speaks for the government.

an initial period of studiedDeputy Prime Minister Praphat has.movedinto the vacuum left by Thanom and his Praphat is in an enviable position tograss-roots support for the regime. Whenhis minister of interior hat, Praphatextensive and.far-reaching provincialthat stretches, from provincial capitalsvillages. Whatever its weaknesses, itbest apparatus in the country, Praphat'sthe Free People's League of Thailand, aanti-Communist group set up last yearand his crony, Director of .the Department ofChamnan* The league will soon have aFree Peoples Partynd Praphat hasup an impressive array of supporters. they include several well-known leftists such as

Sang Patanothai, and Buddhist leader Phra Pi Hon than. Neither Praphat nor the leftists apparently intend to let ideology stand in the way of good politics.

Praphat has assured other government leaders that his Free Peoples Party will merge with theparty once the latter gets off the ground, hrewd political infighter, there is good reason to believe- as many of his opponents suspect, that Praphat intends to use the FPP to further his own ambitions.

The problem of determining who speaks for the government is complicated further by therole being played by Minister of Economy Pote Sarasin. As the most prominent and ambitious civilian in the cabinet, Pote was expected toey figure in preparing the way for the return to parliamentary rule. After getting the green light from PrimeThanom to organize on behalf of the leadership,

as early5 Pote began to sound out oldand financial interests. He made some headway but the important people were still waiting for Praphat and the other generals to make their move. By the fallhen it was clear that thewould soon be out, Praphat swung into action and Pote soon found the ground cut from under him. Inhanom picked General Dawee as secretary general of the still-unnamed governmentost that Pote once thought he was in the runningthe economic minister's organizationalcameirtual standstill. At least for the moment, the regime appears to have lost theof the leading figure of its civilian wing.

The Opposition

ruling group is going into theandeader who can, on hismuch support in the country. All is farhowever* The regime's deficiencies mustagainst the fact that it still has farat its disposal than do itsariety of reasons they are hardly inposition to take advantage of their

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Democratic Party is the onlythat comes out of the ten-year hiatusmall but loyala strong sense of identity. The party isin Thailand- Established6roup

of former followers of leftist leader Pridi Phanomyong, the Democrats are conservative monarchists, with strong ties to the royal family. The party has been anfactor in every Thai election, and although its strength is concentrated in Bangkok, it has some backing in both the northeast and the north.

Democrats' prospects in nextelections may be importantly affectedperformance in running Bangkok. Within municipal affairs, thereealas one of the newly elected Democraticrecently admitted, that the party will notgrade. Nevertheless, the Democrats have anopportunity to prove their mettle, and theyable to uncover evidence of the corrupttheir predecessors which can be put to good use

in the legislative elections. Even if thingsthere is little chance that the Democratsfollowers or financial assets to pull offupset next year. Even the party's mostsupporters do not believe it can musterthan one third of the seats in the loweris possible, however, that the Democrats andparties of the center and left canenough seats to deny the government party a'

The Left

all the political groups that arein Thailand, none faces themore dispirited, fragmented, or withthan the Thai left. Harassed by theassociated in the public mind with foreign there is good reason to questionleftist figures and parties cantogether in time toactor in umber of the more prominentremarkably enough some who have spent long

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fears in government prisons for alleged Communist activities, will join government forces in the near future. Other leftists, like Thep Chotinuchit, leader of the socialist United Front, are keeping the faith. Thep has been working with old-timeand socialists, particularly in the northeast, in an effort to get the Economist Party ready for the elections. By all accounts, he hasard time getting financial support, and organizational efforts on behalf of the party are making little Other splinter parties with left-of-centcr political colorations may yetcalled the Democratic Front has alreadytheywill not have much following.

is possible, however, that the leftbetter in next year's elections than itswould suggest. Although more than aelapsed since the last election, the leftturnedreditable performanceelections in the past. In the February for example, leftist candidates tookoutn the lower house, and didwell in another election later in the year. no indication that the leftists were muchthen than they are now. Most of thepoliticians come from the northeast, whereidentity is strongest in Thailand, andthrough the years to identify themselvesregion's aspirations. Some of thesea high personal price duringorthe northeast's grievances in Bangkok. Itpossible that they will reap their reward

at the polls next year,

position of former prime minister last of the promoters ofne additional factor on the left that couldhave some bearing on next year'sthe fact he has spent the pastearsCommunist China, Pridi isame that has

to be reckoned with in Thailand. As the country's best-known leftist, and the founder of its leading university, Pridi has become somethingegendary figure among intellectual circles in the capital.

The amount of pro-Pndi sentiment in che countryhole is difficult to determine, but judging by the regime's refusal to permit him to return toit may stillolitical factor. Theof political activity in the country may give fresh inspiration to Pridi's periodic thoughts of leaving China. If he gets out, even if only toEurope, the weight of his voice and activities on behalf of opposition elements may exert someon the way the voting goes.

Amorphous Center

is still too early to determine howparties will field candidates in theelection. The government's politicalprohibits independent candidates, however, and

onsequence there mayroliferation of small parties with little ideological standing and few direct ties to the past between now and the elections. In addition, there mayumber of second-echelon politicians with past connections to pro-Phibun and pro-Sarit parties who, notome in theparty, strike out on their own in the hope they canetter deal after the elections. The electoral fortunes of these elements will depend on the local appeal of their candidates. Despite an electoral law that minimizes the influences of local-based politicians, splinter parties will probably manage toew lower house representatives.

politician from this field who maysomewhat wider swath in the election is 'An indefatigable politician with apower that has long since outdistanced anyconviction he may once have had,been associated, at one time or other, withevery major faction in Thai politicswar. He has been busy over the past yearold cronies and establishing ties withelements, but it is still not certainhis Peoples Party will get off the ground,win extensive support in the elections. name may notousehold wordears at the same game Liang should be well

enough known in the northeast to ensure that his Peoples Party, if it participates in the election, will send atoken contingent to theAssembly. What it will do once it gets there is even less clear, although cooperation with the government party seems toood bet,if the government's price is right.

The Issues

26. The way the Thai voter casts his ballot next year is likely to be determined more by the personalities of the candidates and the impact of local or regional interests than by anything else, If past elections are any guide, the influence of substantive issues will be all but lost as themoves from Bangkok into the villages. Thai political parties, even those of an egalitarian stripe interested in doing so, have never managed to generate issuesense of dissatisfaction with the status quo that couldoter rebellion in the countryside. There is noat this stage of the game at least, that they will be more successful this time.

2 7. This estimate, however, is not as firmly based as it may appear. umber of important if not revolutionary changes in the countryside have taken place in the ten years since Thailand's last election. New roads have opened up isolated areas, new markets have been created, new crops have been introduced, and new patterns of living and perhaps wants have been created in the villages. Even though the impact of these changes on the substance of rural life should not be overstated, there is little doubt that sane of the insularity of the average Thai villager has been worn away in the past ten years. Since Thailand's last election, for example, transistor radios, and with them contact with the outside world, have appeared in virtually every village in the country. No one can predict with any confidence what changes in politicalthey may have brought.

28. It is reasonable to assume, however, that although personalities and local interests will

still be the most important factor in the voting, nextlection is likely to be more issuer oriented than any in the past. And the opposition, whether or not it is able to exploit them, hasreasonably good issues. By all cdds, the most damaging to the government will be corruption* Mo one issue seems toore universal and deeply felt response among the Thai people than that of corrupt practices of Thai officials. Young or old, villager or urbanite, educated or illiterate,is against corruption, and everybody thinks thethe wayward constable to the venal cabinetriddled with it. Even the Communists, who cannot seem to sell the Thai on anything else,esponsive chord when they rail against the corrupt practices of the "Bangkok clique.,"

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30. hin and often indistinguishable line separates criticism of the corrupt practice ofleadersore fundamental questioning of.-the way in which Thailand is ruled. Someinfluential elements in the capital are beginning to ask whether the close relationshipgovernment leaders and business interestsood thing for the country. .Foreign Minister Thanat, for example, was recently attacked in the Bangkok press forigh-ranking (although probably honorific) position with an Americantrading company, not because of any corrupt dealings the foreign minister may have had in mind, but because it was felt thatosition conflicted

with his government responsibilities. otion still seoms foreign to the Thai style of governing, but it could become more important. There isin at least some circles that the nexus of governmental and entrepreneurial power has ledituation in which government leaders are motivated less by their concern for the country than for their Such sentiments have not been given clear voice yet, nor do they appear to have widespread currency in the country. They are potentiallyhowever, for under the guise of anticorruption, they constitute nothing less than an attack against the establishment itself and the power system that has ruled Thailand

31* There areumber of domesticrelating to the allocation of economic resources and the establishment of developmental priorities that may provide grist for the opposition's mill. Although Thailand has made considerable economic progress under the military regime, and its growth rate ccmpares favorably with that of other nations, the fact remains that its per capita incccne is still extremely low. There are some people inalthough they are few in number and exercise only marginal influence, who are asking whether the country's economic gains are being made in the right areas and are reaching the right people. Criticism has been voiced, for example,ecline in the number of secondary school students,urgeoning population, and what some regard as the regime's neglect of Thailand's school system. It seems likely that some of the opposition politicians will try to make profit in next year's election by suggesting that there is more to economic progressuilding boom in Bangkok.

32. In doing so, the opposition will almost certainly argue the economic issues along thebattle lines separating Bangkok and the central plain from the other major regions. eneral rule, the farther one gets from Bangkok, the easier it becomes to translate differences in economic policies into regional quarrels. Although it is not possible to be confident about such things,

regional differences and attitudes appear to have yielded only grudgingly, if ac all, to thechanges that have taken place in thesince the last election.

the south, for examplef observersthat local politicians, businessmen,the kind of people whoback thegrowingover what they regard as Bangkok'sneglect. ecline in the price ofof the south'snot helpednor has the example of Bangkok'sinterest in the northeast sat Even in the northeast, where Bangkokits strongest developmental effort overfive years, there is little reason forthat thetrong sense of regionalnotarge factor in the lower house

Foreign Policy and the US

Despite the fact that Thailand is on the periphery of the Vietnam war, that its bases have been used for bombing attacks against North Vietnam, and that both Hanoi and Peking have backed anmovement in the countryside to underline warnings about the consequences of maintaining close relations with the US, Bangkok's foreign policy will probably not ccene under close scrutiny during the election campaign. This stems frcsn the fact that the major opposition groups are in general agreement with the direction of the regime's foreign policy, and more importantly, because they probablythat there is not much political mileage in the foreign policy issue. This does not mean,that the ruling group's relations with the US will fail to generate debate or interest in theelections.

Close0 US military personnel have been moved to bases in Thailand in theshort period of three years. The ease with which the deployment has been made is testimony to

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the forthrightness of the government, the affability of the Thai people, and the prudence of US It should come as no surprise, however, that it has also ledrowing une'asiness over what the Thai regard as the unfdrfconate by-products of the American presence. The sense of cultural shock, especially strongeople who take pride in their independence and who simply have not come into contact with large numbers of Westerners before, has been felt throughout the society, including thegroup itself. The publicationitter anti-US diatribe in one of Bangkok's most respectedthe tongue-lashing US officials recently received from young Thai newspapermen, and exaggerated stories of the depradations of US soldiers, all pointascent anti-American sentiment in the country. Although difficult to gauge, suchdoes not appear to be sufficiently strong or widespread toajor impact in the elections, but it is likely that even conservative opposition groups, like the Democrats, will argue that theestablishment has gone too far in accommodating the US and has not been sufficiently solicitous of Thai interests,

36. For its part, the government hassome sensitivity to the possibility thatbe in trouble with the voters on variousissues. The leadership has taken asteps over the past six months that areto improve its standing in the countrydeflate, even* before they get pumped up,of the antiregime forces. An effortmade toild but growingin the.capital byork

^^ncTTeeping the pxbus fares

was rescinded, and an effort is apparently under way to take some of the sting out of anti-American sentiment by suggesting that at least some qovern-ment leaders feel the sane

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rectiveeleventh^hour moves will prove to be is hard to telljbut if, as seems likely,and locaX'affairs still rule the political game, they may be enough to ensure that there are no major surprises after the votes are counted.

Prospects

is good reason to questiongovernment will come out of nextlear-cut majority in the lowerthe recordlegislative electionsyears, and the slow progress the government

has made organizing for the upcoming one, suggest that the military group may have to settle for something less. The failure toajority ofower house seats will make the government's job somewhat more difficult, but with all of theassets of both friendly and unfriendlyat their disposal, the military leaders should have little trouble patching together aparliamentary majority from among fragmented and, in all likelihood, opportunistic opposition elements.

Even if such an arrangement is notor there is some major surprise in theresults, it is not likely that the lower house will prove overly obstreperous* Whatever their other traits, the opposition politicians currently on the scene are neither idealistic enough to push for fundamental changes in the way the country is ruled, nor foolish enough to think that they could possible succeed.

Although they may not enjoy quite as much freedom of choice as they once did, the present leaders will continue to rule Thailand after the elections and, at least for the short term, in pretty nuch the same way. The new constitution and the elections, then, are not likely to bring anychanges in Thai domestic or foreign policies

in the near future. The larger question, which cannot

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yet be answered, is whether the new constitutional arrangement proves toirst step towardchange in the power system that has been In forcer only more of the same. ime will tell.

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