By Thanong Khanthong
The Nation
Published on April 15, 2009

Before noon yesterday, key red-shirt leaders like Veera Musikapong and Nattawut Saikua, among others, realised it was time to cave in. They understood that it would be futile to continue fighting because their boss, Thaksin Shinawatra, had been finished.

Yes, the plug had been pulled and the fugitive former PM was completely routed.

It will be difficult for Thaksin to seek asylum because most countries would not want to welcome him now that they have witnessed the riots and subversive tactics used by his supporters in Bangkok. Thaksin was caught telling blatant lies on CNN and BBC, feeding false information to the global audience that his red-clad supporters were fighting for democracy - when in fact they were burning Bangkok to pave the way for his return.

He was reading a script, telling the international news channels that the military had killed many of his pro-democracy protesters, when in fact there was not a single such case of death reported. The only two people who died, had done so during clashes between Bangkok residents and the protesters.

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva was wisely exercising restraint, allowing Thaksin to make blunders.

Thaksin, who bet all his political fortune on April 13, has failed miserably. He had his red shirts set fires around Bangkok just as Neptune overshadowed the Sun - a bad omen.

He thought he had big military and police bosses on his side, as well as some politicians on the government wing. He remembered to move his family out of Thailand a few days before the Songkran inferno. Khunying Pojaman is currently shopping in Dubai, still with plenty of money in her pocket.

Thaksin thought he could hold Thailand hostage as he bargained for his return, his amnesty and his Bt76 billion in assets. He thought he was entitled to a royal pardon because he had Thailand in the palm of his hand.

But his strategy backfired. Thaksin failed to get critical mass support. On the contrary, Bangkok residents rose against his red-shirt supporters, who were burning Bangkok while he - just as Nero fiddled while Rome was burning - was singing on his karaoke machine. The subversive tactics being used by the red shirts appalled the global audience.

This was a critical factor. If most Thais were to rise against the red-shirt movement, then Thaksin could only go under. Thaksin thought that the burning of Bangkok would force the country into lawlessness and the military would step in to intervene in his favour.

The plan did not work.

The whole world realised that Thaksin had duped it all along, and many Thais were disgusted by his ability to destroy the nation in exchange for his return to power.

Bangkok was ravaged all Songkran Day, before the security forces brought the situation under control. By then Thaksin must have realised that the game was up.

Now all the red-shirt leaders will be going to jail under treason charges. If you plant gas tanks and threaten to set them ablaze, you are committing an act of terrorism and subversion against the state. It is not too difficult to trace who ordered the trucks to be brought onto the streets.

Now Abhisit has emerged as a strong leader. He has almost transformed overnight from a lame-duck PM who was forced to cancel the Asean Summit in Pattaya into a leader who can defuse a political crisis in a subtle and artful way. There were no deaths during the authorities' crackdown against the red shirts. Only two persons were pronounced dead, both as a result of shooting by the red shirts.

Abhisit has prevailed despite the military, the police, the security people and his own political partners plotting against him.

Though we have no evidence to substantiate doubts that these top people are linked to Thaksin, we did not see Army chief General Anupong Paochinda or police boss Patcharawat Wongsuwan show up while the red shirts were ambushing the Asean Summit. The security forces were not doing their duty, standing by idly as the protesters wreaked havoc in Pattaya.

So far none of Thailand's top security people have come out to admit that they failed to provide security for regional leaders and Thailand's guests.

Abhisit is known to have sought advice from a special unit, set up in haste under his command. As Thaksin played his cards one by one, the advisers countered each hand effectively until Thaksin lost his bet.

At this hour, with the power of the emergency decree in his hand, it is Abhisit - not the Army chief - who is the most powerful person in Thailand. He must use this occasion wisely by controlling the red shirts and dealing with the failure of the security apparatus, which has been undermining national interest and the government's stability.

We expect to see a reshuffle of top security and peacekeeping personnel soon.

However, if Abhisit resorts to his image of a timid Oxford graduate, he would be missing out on an opportunity to take the country forward. Now is the time for him to stand tall and be the prime minister of Thailand.