For the elders of Thai public life, the first snows of a political ice age are falling. A whole raft of characters who have dominated Thai money-politics for decades stand to find themselves out of a job as Democrat Party leader Chuan Leekpai sweeps back to power as prime minister with a stronger-than-expected mandate. Surprisingly, his party numbers-men managed to cobble together a new ruling coalition without relying on many of Thailand's most rough-hewn and discredited political figures. Mr Chuan has long battled for a clean and honest reputation. Such efforts have never been deemed necessary by many other Thai politicians. Out-going premier Chavalit Yongchaiyudh, former prime minister Chatichai Choonhavan, Interior Minister Snoh Thiengtong and his deputy, political knuckle-man Chalerm Ubumrung, are set to be shut out. All four men have long typified the coalition money-go-round in which second chances - a political rarity elsewhere - are the norm. Take Mr Snoh, a tough-talking representative from the poor northeast where a third of Thailand's voters live, he has never been tempered by then need to please Bangkok elites. In classic style, his actions were devoted to forging power rather than formulating clear policy. He played a key role under disgraced Premier Banharn Silpa-archa then joined General Chavalit's New Aspiration Party, a move which allowed him to take office following elections last December. He became interior minister once again and warned that a 'communist plot' lay behind a radical new constitution set to erode his powers as an election organiser. As Thailand's economic outlook clouded, he expressed his own ideas on how to stimulate commerce. On one occasion he tried to create a legal framework for cock-fighting. On another he sought to liberalise weight restrictions on trucks - an interesting move given he owns an extensive rural trucking business. A formidable rural henchman for General Chavalit, Mr Snoh cut a striking figure across Bangkok last week in the heady scenes that followed the premier's vow last Monday to resign. Using police escorts to cut through traffic, Mr Snoh battled virtually without sleep to keep his party, headed by General Chatichai of the Chart Pattana Party, together. In the hours that followed the farcical scenes of Thursday when both Mr Chuan's supporters and General Chatichai both claimed they had the numbers to form governments, he became frantic. Even over the weekend, he and General Chatichai continued to lean on defectors and refused to concede as parliamentary officials examined lists to be handed to the king. If Mr Snoh had succeeded, political sources believe, General Chavalit would have still had a place in the cabinet such is the frequency of the second chance. That has long been the nature of the game - a fact best typified by General Chavalit himself. As an army commander he played a key role under the autocratic administration of General Prem Tinsulanonda during the 1980s. General Chavalit went on to serve under General Chatichai as defence minister and even under Mr Chuan as an interior minister - a coalition he rocked by his early departure. He was a key player in driving Mr Banharn from office, and then re-emerged as prime minister of a fractious six-party coalition. 'It really is hard to believe, but Mr Chuan may finally have the chance to break the cycle,' said one veteran Thai civil servant. 'Things are really coming together and have suddenly swung in his favour. He can shut these old men out once and for all. The problem is that they won't go easily . . . and they are still in parliament.' When General Chavalit finally announced his resignation, Mr Chuan was always expected to be forced to form a grouping with the remains of the previous coalition. A string of minor party defections and demands from General Chatichai that he become prime minister allowed Mr Chuan instead to form a group dominated by the Democrat Party. The Democrats return to power just as the new pro-democracy constitution must be implemented, seen by analysts as considerable good fortune. A sweeping document, it seeks to create an independent electoral commission and outlaw political corruption and vote-buying. It is loaded with electoral nuances that could parlay into considerable political advantage for whoever sets it in motion. An election could be held in three months. Despite wide-spread support, Mr Chuan faces his toughest political test in 30 years - to restore faith in the economy in time for any polls. He must deal with Thailand's worst economic situation since World War II and meet strict International Monetary Fund austerity requirements while shoring up the image of a system geared more to political infighting than solid economic management. Slowing growth, further financial shocks, widespread job losses and poverty are feared before the crisis hits bottom. But he already seems to have the support of foreign and domestic financial sectors. This became rapidly apparent on Friday as the baht strengthened from 40 to the US dollar to 37.95 and the stock market soared. Before Mr Chuan can tackle the economy head-on he has to form a new cabinet - the fourth in less than a year. Given his party strength, the Democrats are expected to fill the key economic posts with figures who earned praise during their last term in power from 1992 to 1995. There remain, however, some more minor figures who must be dealt with. While Mr Chuan has toppled an array of notorious characters, one or two pop-up down the rungs of the coalition. Mr Banharn is there but will not make the cabinet, sources say. There is also the figure of Montri Pongpanich, who led a key group of defectors from General Chavalit's coalition under his Social Action Party banner. Mr Montri had his assets seized in a military coup in 1991 along with General Chatichai and other cronies on charges they had grown 'unusually rich' while in power. The charges were later withdrawn but the stigma of involvement in the 'buffet cabinet' remains. Mr Montri is unpopular in Bangkok but has vowed that his defection was unconditional - a claim many veteran observers doubt.