Thaksin's deceit leads to his demise
Duplicity and insincerity brought about the downfall of the caretaker government on Tuesday night.
The frantic telephone conversation between New York and Bangkok revealed hollow promises and utmost concern for personal safety, wealth and safe passage for family members. There was no mention of issues relating to democracy or the public.
The call from New York came at around 5pm after military commanders had mustered troops to outnumber those of the pro-government clique. They had also uncovered the government's plan to revamp the military line-up in order to consolidate power.
In exchange for aborting the military takeover, Thaksin Shinawatra promised not to cling to power. His past vows to step down had been broken again and again. No one believed he would keep his word.
Less than two hours after the negotiating parties rang off, the Thaksin government became history. Just a few loose ends had to be tied up before the announcement of the peaceful transition of power to the Council for Democratic Reform under Constitutional Monarchy at around 11pm.
The day of the military takeover began with rival camps trying to outwit and outlast one another.
With the green light from the Defence Ministry, the Army mobilised troops for a "routine exercise to test combat-readiness" in the morning. Crack infantry troops from Kanchanaburi, special warfare units from Lop Buri and cavalry divisions from Prachin Buri and Phetchabun were ordered to descend on Bangkok.
Supreme Commander General Ruengroj Mahasaranont, Army chief General Sonthi Boonyaratglin, Navy chief Admiral Sathirapan Keyanon, Air Chief Marshal Chalit Pukbhasuk and National Police chief General Kowit Watana monitored the "exercise" closely.
The troops' mobilisation happened against a backdrop of two important factors - Thaksin was poised to sack Sonthi, while government politicians, namely Yongyuth Tiyapairat and Newin Chidchob, were engineering to disrupt peace on Wednesday.
The clash between pro- and anti-government mobs, if allowed to happen, could have set the stage for the government to declare a state of emergency, seen as a prelude to purge professional soldiers and anti-government campaigners.
In the government's game-plan, First Infantry Division commander Maj-General Prin Suwanthat and Second Cavalry Division commander Maj-General Sanit Phrommas were Thaksin's trusted allies designated to sway troops from Sonthi.
If the two were to have succeeded in their mission, the military would have cracked down on the anti-government rally planned for Wednesday. However, key battalion commanders in Bangkok rallied around Sonthi by early on Tuesday afternoon.
Third Army Area commander Lt-General Saprang Kalayanamitr and his counterpart in the Second Army Area, Lt-General Sujet Watanasuk, pitched in with unconditional support for their Army chief.
Provincial troops raced against time to reach the capital in order to stage a show of power.
While their fellow officers from the Pre-Cadet Class 10, seen as the pro-government clique, kept a low profile, Prin and Sanit were increasingly isolated as the day progressed.
From New York, Thaksin personally kept tabs on the unfolding power struggle between the top military officers.
His top lieutenants in Bangkok, including Chidchai Vanasatidya, Prommin Lertsuridej and Thamarak Isarangura, were delegated to stand on the sidelines and await his instructions.
After the majority of Thaksin's Pre-Cadet Class 10 allies, including First Army Area commander Lt-General Anupong Paochinda, sided with their fellow soldiers, Prin stood down.
Sanit summoned his cavalry troops from Prachin Buri before redirecting them to perform guard duties on the outskirts of Bangkok.
With the pro-government clique retreating, Thaksin placed his crucial telephone to Sonthi to negotiate terms. The call was too late - he was perceived as having no credibility left.
Thaksin apparently fanned the anger of top military commanders by trying to orchestrate a counter-coup after securing the safe passage out of Bangkok for his wife Khunying Pojaman and other family members.
Sending his messages via Chidchai and Prommin, he tried to convince Ruengroj to foil the coup on his behalf, but the Supreme Commander had already sided with his troops.
Chidchai and Prommin were detained at the Supreme Command Headquarters before checking in as "guests" of the Army.
While the two were trying to woo Ruengroj's support, Sonthi had installed his 1,000 loyal troops from Lop Buri at Army headquarters three hours earlier.
The military had secured the seat of government by early evening and then fumbled for hours to locate and secure all the nerve centres of communications. Provincial soldiers are unfamiliar with Bangkok roads, apparently.