In 2006, he was sent a strong signal to step down to relieve the political tension in the aftermath of his family's sale of Shin Corp to Temasek Holdings of Singapore. A civil war seemed inevitable. But Thaksin would not budge. The whole country was grounded. Eventually, the military staged a coup to remove Thaksin from power.
In 1973, Field Marshal Thanom Kittikachorn, then prime minister, was also given a similar signal to resign after students were killed on Rajdamnoen Avenue. The student uprising during that period pushed Thailand into a new era of hard-fought democracy. After the bloodshed, Thanom lost his legitimacy to rule. Thanom concurred. He left his office in disgrace and slipped out of the country, but with the understanding that he would be allowed to return home once the political situation improved. Thanom did return home, retired from politics and died in Thailand.
In the May 1992 tragedy, street demonstrations were held against the Suchinda regime. The government made a blatant error by using force to subdue the crowd. Again, with the bloodshed, Suchinda lost his legitimacy to serve as prime minister. The country could not move forward. Suchinda got a signal to step down. In return, Suchinda got a deal that he and his people would not receive any punishment. Suchinda resigned from his brief premiership, washed his hands off politics and saved the country from further turmoil. He recently celebrated his 75 birthday.
Thaksin was in the same situation as Thanom and Suchinda. A big difference was that Thanom and Suchinda faced a civil war and bloodshed, while the street demonstrations against Thaksin had not yet reached the point of civil war, although they almost had. With his strong political mandate, Thaksin thought that he could overwhelm any forces against him, even though he had lost his legitimacy to rule following the sale of Shin Corp.
The military under General Sonthi Boonyaratglin staged a coup before the bloodshed took place. It was a "polite coup", costly and with the sole objective of removing Thaksin from power. If Thaksin had decided to stay away from politics, he would have been able to return home afterward. The court cases against him would have been watered down or dropped along the way.
The long history of Thai politics has shown a conspicuous absence of political assassination of the country's leaders. There is a famous Thai saying that "one must never hit a cornered dog". Field Marshal Plaek Pibulsongkram was allowed to leave the country after losing out in the political game. If he had decided to fight back, the country would have faced a costly civil war. He died in Japan. Police Chief Pao Sriyanonda also died in exile, as did Pridi Phanomyong, the statesman.
So there is nothing unusual about Thaksin's losing his power from a military coup and being forced to live in exile. But Thaksin went on to commit another grave mistake: hoping to return to power. It was a big, big mistake.
In London, he was still very influential and pulled the strings behind the scenes. He would never give in. The country was still bitterly divided between those who loved him and those who hated him.
In December 2007, the People Power Party won the election, with little resistance from either the military or the Surayud government. This increased Thaksin's confidence that he would be able to subdue all of his opponents so that he could win back his premiership and change the course of Thai politics forever.
It proved to be a trap. The only way to catch a big fish was to use the judicial net.
Thaksin hoped to get protection from his nominee prime minister, Samak Sundaravej. Samak immediately crossed the line to forge an alliance with the military. Samak made only two promises to Thaksin. First, he said he would provide Thaksin with security upon his return to Thailand. Second, he said he would ensure that Thaksin went smoothly through the justice system to defend himself in the graft cases against him.
Samak did deliver on his promises, after which no further gratitude was exchanged between him and Thaksin. That's why Samak said in Parliament during a recent no-confidence debate that it was Thaksin who owed him the gratitude.
Once Thaksin returned home to restore his political power, he was immediately caught in the judicial system. Only the court could render the verdict and influence the public opinion as to whether Thaksin was innocent or was guilty for all of his past dealings.
The graft cases against Thaksin and his wife Khunying Pojaman began to develop at an earnest pace. One by one, his top lieutenants, guys like Yongyuth Tiyapairat and Jakrapob Penkair, were brought down in the judicial system. When Khunying Pojaman lost her tax case and was punished with a three-year prison term last week, Thaksin realised that he and his family were caught in a deadly trap. But it was a realisation that came too late.
The court gave Thaksin and his family a narrow window of opportunity to leave the country - living up to the saying about never hitting a cornered dog. Thaksin and his family, once again, had to leave the country in disgrace. They jumped bail and complicated their legal situation with a looming extradition case, which will be half-heartedly pursued so that he can be allowed to live in exile forever.
Again, how could Thaksin have committed these two mistakes without any regard for Thai political history?