BANGKOK - Thailand's political future is cloudier than ever, but one thing is for certain - self-exiled former premier Thaksin Shinawatra won't be coming home soon.
The chances of another round of political conflict seemed slim a few months ago as the government of Thaksin's sister, Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, entered its third year in office after a fairly smooth ride, much to do with outwardly cordial ties with her brother's enemies, among them generals, royal advisers and opposition politicians.
Having fled into exile to avoid a jail sentence for graft in 2008, Thaksin had hoped the climate was ripe for him to try to return. But now that seems less likely than ever.
Protesters have marched for weeks in Bangkok streets, clashing with riot police and vowing to overthrow the "Thaksin regime" and replace it with "good people", effectively suspending Thailand's democratic system. Yingluck's honeymoon period is over. Her government is clinging on.
The mistake for her, it seems, was her Puea Thai party's attempts to ram through the legislature a political amnesty bill that outraged opponents, who called it a blatant move whitewash the divisive Thaksin of his crimes.
The Senate rejected the bill and Yingluck shelved it, but the damage was already done. Thaksin's opponents among the royalist, military-backed establishment and the parliamentary opposition had the pretext they needed to launch the latest salvo.
"Thaksin is the ghost of Thailand's politics and people just can't get over him," said Pavin Chachavalpongpun of Kyoto University's Centre for Southeast Asian Studies.
"Through the amnesty, he tested the waters, but these were deep, deep waters and that has provided the protesters with an opportunity to remove a threat to the old establishment."
Though a ceasefire of sorts has been declared between demonstrators and the government to mark the 86th birthday of much revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej on Thursday, the battle lines have again been drawn in a long-running conflict pitting a decades-old oligarchy against a new one that has emerged under Thaksin's rule.