2. Memorandum of Conversation1

SUBJECT

  • LOTUS

PARTICIPANTS

  • Minister Pote Sarasin
  • Ambassador Unger

After I asked Minister Pote for his assessment of how the election campaign was going and about the prospects for the government party and received some generally optimistic comments, I then proceeded to some specific points. In the first place I mentioned the party image and the fact that to many voters it might be important to know that the government party has a strong civilian component and was not just a party of military men. For this reason it seemed to me important that Pote and other civilians be brought to the voters’ attention so that they are aware of these important civilian elements. Pote said, as he had before, that he was not very skillful at public rallies, but that he would, for example, be going with the Prime Minister for the opening of several roads in the Northeast which would get a good deal of publicity. He also mentioned a very large meeting he had had awhile back with taxi drivers who have been organized into a kind of mutual benefit cooperative, and he said that when he has some kind of entrée as in this case, he has made efforts to reach the public. I noted that this was a point that could also be covered in campaign literature with pictures and brief reference to his activities.

As to election prospects, Pote specifically expressed concern about the Northeast, where one-third of the country’s population resides and where he feared that Thep and other small parties and independents might be able to pick up considerable support. He said the Northeasterners are congenitally opposed to the establishment and that Thep is also busy trying to win them over by promising to eliminate the rice premium, etc. Pote explained some of the more abstract economic arguments as to why Thep was wrong, but he acknowledged that these were unlikely to make much of an impact on voters. I said instead that the government party could make it clear what the premium is used [Page 4]for and how much benefit the farmer gets back from this tax. It was important that all the people being reached by Thep be reached by these counter arguments, whether in person or through graphic handbills or whatever.

I expressed concern about the discontented ex-SPT members who might be dividing the vote upcountry and thus preventing either the government candidate or themselves from getting into power and opening the way instead to an anti-government candidate. Pote acknowledged this problem and I asked whether some of those break-away candidates were now getting support from some of the people in the government party. Pote said that now that Chamnan is out of the political scene this was not the case. I asked what had happened to Chamnan’s well organized political machine in the provinces and Pote said that he felt it had lost a good deal of its organization and effectiveness.

On party organization Pote averred that headquarters are now being set up in every one of the changwats and they would be appropriately identified and advertised. Pote also confirmed in reply to my question that funds had now been provided to all of the candidates and all of the provincial headquarters, along the line he had earlier sketched out to me (see my message of Dec 17 [less than 1 line of source text not declassified]). I emphasized at this point and several other times the importance of candidates in the provinces being well supplied with points of argument and information that they could use effectively with the voters. For example, I said it was very important to the candidate to be able to say what the government had done and what it contemplates doing in that particular area, where projects would have special meaning for those voters.

I referred to government party policy and asked whether this would now be disseminated and whether this was related to the Pramane Grounds meeting scheduled for next week. Pote confirmed that this was the case, but he minimized the importance of a party policy statement saying that the voter was interested only in very concrete and specific matters and not in broad general principles.

I then told Pote I would like to “kibitz” a little bit about the election campaign and pass on to him some thoughts that I had developed on the basis of experience with our own elections in the US as well as other areas. I realized that some of these points would have limited or no pertinence to the Thai scene, but I nevertheless would pass them along for what help they might provide. I then reviewed the two memoranda, “Points To Be Made” and “How?”2 Pote listened rather more [Page 5]carefully than I had anticipated to my review of these points and appeared to take a number of them in. When I had finished he asked to have the papers so that he could translate them into Thai and pass them to a few people who could make good use of them. I said I would give them to him if he liked, but obviously it was very important that a US role of this sort not be known. Pote said that if they were translated into Thai any appearance of a US origin would be removed and that he would bear in mind to restrict use.

In discussing the points contained in these two memoranda Pote made a few specific observations of interest. He was particularly receptive of the idea of making full propaganda use of the government’s contribution in the economic and social fields and cited many additional specific examples, and agreed with the importance of these accomplishments of the government and future projected accomplishments being brought to public attention. He specifically mentioned a film which we had provided which he would be shortly showing to His Majesty on his return from Chiang Mai, which would then be shown on television all over the country just a week before the elections; this sets forth the Thai Government’s accomplishments over recent years. With regard to the Prime Minister, Pote mentioned that although he is not very aggressive, he does make a very effective contact with the people and that his modest manner had very considerable appeal to the Thais. On some of the specific Saha Pracha Thai activities, Pote indicated that many of these had already been considered and adopted by the party but they were waiting to use some of these until the campaign was further along. He made the point that the party wished to wait long enough so that the other parties would not have an opportunity to answer whatever campaign lines were launched.

I mentioned to Pote my conversation several days earlier with General Sawaeng 3 and said that I had contemplated having Minister Hannah pass on some of these same thoughts to Gen. Sawaeng. Pote said he would be handing the translation of what I had given him to General Sawaeng and it was not necessary to pass it along separately, to which I agreed.

  1. Source: Department of State, INR/IL Historical Files, Thailand Lotus File 1968–69. Secret; Special Handling. Drafted by Unger. The meeting was held at Sarasin’s residence. A notation on the upper right hand memorandum indicates Godley saw it.
  2. Attached but not printed. The two memoranda outline points to stress for winning elections, including emphasizing economic achievement.
  3. After his meeting with Thanom, Thanat, and Sawaeng on January 14 ( Document 1), Unger met alone with Sawaeng to discuss the upcoming Thai election. (Memorandum of conversation, January 14; Department of State, INR/IL Historical Files, Thailand Lotus File, 1968–69)