305. Memorandum Prepared for the 303 Committee1
- Covert U.S. Government Financial Support to Thai Elections
1. Background & Summary
Following the coup dʼetat of 1957, which resulted in the overthrow of Prime Minister Phibun Songkram, the Government of Thailand was subsequently re-established under an interim constitution. The Revolutionary Party that assumed political control of the Government established a military dictatorship, dissolved the old constitution and the parliament, and proscribed all political parties. An interim Constitution of 1959 provided for an appointive Constituent Assembly charged with the responsibility of drafting a permanent constitution. The final draft of this constitution was completed in June 1965 by the Drafting Committee of the Constituent Assembly, and following action on minor amendments and revisions, by early 1966 it is possible that the permanent constitution will be promulgated. If the Constitution is promulgated it is estimated that by the end of calendar year 1966 general parliamentary elections will be held in Thailand. Ambassador Martin has proposed [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] a program of covert political action to include the financing of a political party, electoral support for this party, and support for selected candidates for parliament from this party. While it is impossible at this time to speak of exact orders of magnitude, past experience indicates that the cost would be at least [less than 1 line of source text not declassified]. Such a program is now in preparation. After Ambassador Martin has reviewed the program in detail, he will submit definitive recommendations for the 303 Groupʼs consideration. Most of the funds required would be for use in Fiscal Year 1967.
Following the final reading of the draft permanent constitution in June 1965, Ambassador Martin was approached [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] with a request that the U.S. provide financial assist-ance to support general elections in Thailand which will probably take place in mid or late 1966. Traditionally the ruling groups in Thailand have drawn upon the Government controlled Lottery Bureau for funds to finance political activities, but because the present members of the ruling [Page 653] group have been so critical of the late Prime Minister Saritʼs misuse of Lottery Bureau funds, they appear reluctant to use this source. Support is also available from a variety of sources subject to internal pressure such as Chinese businessmen. They would expect legislative favors in return for their contributions, [3 lines of source text not declassified].
Thailand today is still under martial law which does not permit political parties or any activities by individuals, groups, or organizations that could be construed as being politically (particularly anti-government) motivated. Although some small remnants of former legal political parties still exist, notably former Prime Minister Khuong Aphaiwongʼs Democratic Party, they represent little more than disorganized and undisciplined political “outs”.
However, the illegal and underground Communist Party of Thailand is well organized and disciplined, and it can be anticipated that the Communists will make every effort to capitalize on the forthcoming election for their own purposes. (In December 1964, Prime Minister Thanom made the statement that if elections were to be held that month the Communists would win easily.) Most certainly the Communists will direct a significant part of their propaganda efforts to create additional difficulties in terms of popular confusion as to the trend of events, domestic and foreign policy issues, corruption and governmental mismanagement, etc. Also, in keeping with traditional Thai politics, there will undoubtedly be a proliferation of political parties organized to contest the elections. The Communists can be expected to attempt to influence and penetrate some of these parties as well as to organize front groups to serve their own political interests. The result can be instability if not Communist influence.
To date, the ruling group has done little or nothing to develop and organize politically in preparation for the forthcoming elections, except that largely in response to pressures kept on by the Mission over a long period of time, the key members of the ruling group have agreed to compose any differences they might have and join forces within one party. It is felt that it is both consistent and consonant with U.S. policy objectives in Thailand to support the continuity and stability of the present ruling group. To this end the funds requested in this paper will be used to underwrite some of the costs of organizing and supporting a government party in preparation for the general elections.
3. Factors Bearing on the Problem
Pertinent U.S. Policy Consideration.
The Thai Government commitment to adopt a constitution and establish an elected parliament and other democratic freedoms paves the way for the Communists to increase and expand their political agitation efforts. When political campaigning is again permitted in Thailand, it is [Page 654] to be expected that appeals for neutralism and agitation aimed at discrediting the pro-U.S. leadership of the Thai Government will be encouraged by Communist influence through every available means. There is a danger that in reacting to this increased propaganda and agitation the Government might revert to harsh suppressive measures which, although providing an immediate relief to the situation, will only serve to generate more confusion and problems over the long term. The risk of overreaction can be minimized if the transition from an authoritarian system of government to one more democratic is smooth and gradual, and it is the intent of this proposal to assist the Thai in developing the necessary popular base and political organizational structure to make a smooth and gradual transition to a more democratic form of government.
- The primary objective is to promote and organize a Government political party under the leadership and control of the present ruling group. A corollary objective is to attempt to ensure that the party created is successful in winning a comfortable and commanding majority in elections. A breakdown of funds by category of expenditure is not feasible at this time, but when the program has been fully developed and approved by Ambassador Martin, such a breakdown will be submitted.
- [1 paragraph (21 lines of source text) not declassified.
- In implementing this proposal, every effort will be made to influence the Thai to conduct elections at the local village and district levels prior to the parliamentary elections. Such elections would be for the purpose of forming elected bodies, such as provincial committees and local district councils. This influence will be exerted by overt means through the Ambassador and covert means as set forth in this paper.
- Exposure of U.S. financial support to a RTG political party would provide excellent propaganda material for the Communists. Local Government opposition groups and the World Communist press could cause considerable embarrassment to the U.S. Government and the RTG. The only insurance against disclosure is that of making witting of the operation only those Thai and U.S. Government officials absolutely essential to the accomplishment of the objective. The Thais could be expected to use as much caution and discretion in the selection of witting officials as would we. The actual mechanism by which funds and assistance are to be made available is a vulnerability which will be minimized [1 line of source text not declassified]. This will permit plausible denial of U.S. Government involvement should there be any question of the source of support.
- To avoid as much as possible the danger of corruption and misappropriation of funds, precise programs will be negotiated with the Thai prior to authorizing and passing funds. Additionally, as feasible and within the limits of security, a system of audits and fiscal controls will be employed to require simple accounting and reporting procedures from the Thai.
- This proposal for support of the development of a Thai Government political apparatus does not preclude [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] support to other political opposition groups [2–1/2 lines of source text not declassified]. Any such actions would of course not be undertaken prior to coordination with the Ambassador and approval by the 303 Committee.
This proposal originated with the U.S. Ambassador to Thailand and has been discussed with the Department of Stateʼs Far East Regional Bureau which recommends approval.2 [2–1/2 lines of source text not declassified]
[1 paragraph (2–1/2 lines of source text) not declassified]
It is recommended that the 303 Committee approve the proposal to create a political party in Thailand using as a basis the current ruling group and secure the parliamentary election of leaders of this party.
- Source: Department of State, INR/IL Historical Files, 303 Committee, 10/7/65. Secret; Eyes Alone. For background information on the role of the 303 Committee and its predecessors in approving U.S. covert actions, see U.S. Covert Actions and Counter-Insurgency Programs, pp. XXXV–XLI.↩
- In a memorandum to Thompson, October 8, William Bundy recommended that the program be supported. (Ibid.)↩