BANGKOK (XFN-ASIA) - The king's top adviser and respected former premier General Prem Tinsulanonda was key to this week's military coup and is likely to play a vital role in any new political order, analysts said.
Prem was photographed with coup leaders during an audience with King Bhumibol Adulyadej hours after tanks rumbled through the streets of the capital Bangkok on Tuesday.
Sources close to the coup said Prem, the former commander-in-chief of the Royal Thai Army backed the military takeover and helped convince the king to give his approval, seen as vital in keeping the country calm.
'I understand he was a senior figure ... even though all you could see was his white hair from the back,' a defence analyst said of the photograph.
Prem is the key link between the military and the monarch, but the extent of any role he played remains hazy.
'General Prem has been put in the invidious position of being the key mover and shaker,' said the analyst, who declined to be named.
King Bhumibol has few official powers but wields a great degree of influence in the Buddhist country.
The king gave his formal blessing to the coup with a royal decree recognising its leader, General Sonthi Boonyaratglin.
'Prem will continue to be the senior-most figure behind the scenes,' the analyst said.
Prem is seen as being firmly anti-Thaksin and the rumblings of a coup began when he addressed troops twice in July, saying their first loyalty was to the king.
'Individuals who have no ethics and morals are bad people who are full of greed ... But if they have acquired wealth through illegal or unethical means, they no longer deserve to be in this country,' Prem said, according to his website.
'We soldiers belong to the country and to the king.'
Analysts said Prem's experience of bringing together feuding factions during his eight-year premiership from 1980 will be vital in the coming months.
Panitan Wattanayagorn, a security expert at Bangkok's Chulalongkorn University, said it is important to have people like Prem aboard because they represent institutions like the monarchy and had been able to unite the country during his premiership.
'A lot of people think that he (Prem) could be a real player if all else fails. Thaksin's support doesn't vanish overnight and they need a highly capable man. We have many good people but not many that capable,' he said.
The coup leaders have vowed to install a civilian prime minister within two weeks and hold elections in a year.