Enemies of former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra - and they are legion in Bangkok and among the country's middle classes - have engineered another tactical victory in their long-running campaign to rid the country of his power and influence. On Monday, after several weeks of anti-government demonstrations in Bangkok, Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra (Mr Thaksin's sister) dissolved Thailand's Parliament and called a general election - likely to be held on February 2 - two years before her government's term was due to end.
Whether her concession quells the unrest is questionable, however, since those orchestrating it made clear that their preference is not for a new election but for the appointment of an unelected ''people's council'', part of whose task will be to bring about constitutional reforms aimed at ensuring that neither Mr Thaksin, nor his supporters or proxies, wins power again.
That might seem to be a quixotic (and ridiculous) demand in a country whose institutions of government, while not particularly robust, are nonetheless solidly democratic. Yet, far from regarding themselves as wreckers of Thai democracy, those members and supporters of the oddly named Civil Movement for Democracy believe they are on a moral crusade to clean up corruption and set Thailand on the path to ''perfect democracy''.
Their contempt for Mr Thaksin - and seemingly for democracy itself - is rooted in a complex set of grievances ranging from his alleged vote-buying, the suspect nature of his extensive fortune, his less than deferential approach to Thailand's venerated royal family, and his ability to win elections by large margins, both for himself and his proxies.
Mr Thaksin's record in government from 2001-06 was far from exemplary. His approach to Thailand's drug and crime problem was draconian, and the way he dealt with separatist demands by Muslims in the country's south was harsh and in breach of human rights laws. It's also alleged he used his government influence to add to the already large fortune he'd accumulated before going into politics. Conversely, Mr Thaksin initiated economic and welfare programs instrumental in raising income levels and health standards among many of Thailand's poorest people, particularly those in the north and north-east of the country. On his watch, public sector debt was reduced, gross domestic product grew by 30 per cent, and foreign exchange reserves doubled. Thailand's rapid industrialisation and its attractiveness as a destination of foreign investment is a legacy of his policies.
While Mr Thaksin's popularity in the provinces grew, the more prosperous and better-educated citizens of Bangkok were far less enamoured of him. When the sale of a large family stake in a telecommunications business in 2006 led to allegations of corruption and tax evasion, political opposition in the capital grew rapidly. That polarisation intensified after Mr Thaksin was deposed by military coup while travelling in the United States and later charged with corruption.
But Mr Thaksin has continued to wield enormous influence in Thai politics. Indeed, every popularly elected government since his overthrow is supposed to have been under his sway or influence. It's not surprising, therefore, that the trigger for last month's demonstrations was Ms Yingluck's attempt to push an amnesty bill through Parliament that would have allowed her brother to return from exile. It would have meant amnesties for everyone implicated in the violent protests that pitted pro and anti-Thaksin forces in Bangkok in 2010, too, but such distinctions seem have been lost in the general rush to condemn.
If the first round in this renewed contest has gone to the anti-Thaksin forces, history suggests their attempts to rewrite the rules to suit themselves will not succeed. Indeed, the suggestion by protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban that an unelected people's council is the answer to Thailand's alleged democratic shortcomings is absurd. All democracies are imperfect. Their great strength, however, is that the system is open to everyone to work towards a better model. That relies on everyone abiding by the will of the people, something anti-Thaksin forces seem unwilling to acknowledge.