To observers outside the back rooms of Thai politics the tussle for the premiership has become so intense as to be virtually beyond analysis. About the only things that can clearly be seen are the political barracuda circling the Cabinet seats - making a mockery of the coalition claims that its actions are driven by widespread concern over rampant corruption and dire incompetence in government. There may not be a quick end to the confusion. Even if the outgoing Prime Minister, Banharn Silpa-archa, resigns - as he promised - by Saturday, he retains the ability to nominate his replacement. Mr Banharn insisted yesterday: 'I must choose the next premier and approve the next Cabinet.' Perhaps. But with so many rumours flying about and so much self-serving posturing by Cabinet candidates it is hard to determine who is gaining the upper hand. Until he actually resigns, Mr Banharn retains the 'nuclear' option of dissolving the house in favour of new polls. He has insisted his Chart Thai (Thai Nation) Party will be at the core of the next government. But it is deeply divided - especially since one faction leader, Sanoh Thienthong, has openly aligned himself with the ambitious Defence Minister, General Chavalit Yongchaiyudh. General Chavalit appears to have shot himself in the foot by leading a 'silent coup' against Mr Banharn last Saturday morning, rather than merely voting against him at the end of a three-day no-confidence debate. The general brutally - even by the standards of the Thai Parliament - insisted that Mr Banharn publicly agree to resign 'within seven days' as the price of supporting him during Saturday's opposition no-confidence vote. But since only the caretaker prime minister, or the house Speaker - a Banharn ally - can nominate the next premier, the embittered premier can hang around for maximum advantage. If General Chavalit was not so addicted to playing games he could have taken the moral high ground by simply leading his New Aspiration Party to vote against the Prime Minister - who after all had been blamed for leading a corrupt and incompetent government. Mr Banharn would then have lost the vote and immediately lost all his powers. The ruling coalition could then have chosen General Chavalit - the leader of the government's second-biggest party - to replace him.