The boyish, almost innocent looks of new Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva mask a certain inner steel. Consider his move to lead the Democrat Party into an unprecedented boycott of snap elections in April, 2006. Given all the events that have followed in Thailand's political meltdown - a military coup to oust a prime minister, Thaksin Shinawatra, Thaksin's flight into exile as a fugitive from justice and protests that shut down Bangkok's airports - Mr Abhisit's decision is sometimes overlooked. Yet it triggered a constitutional crisis and put the very existence of his party - Thailand's oldest political grouping - at risk. If Thaksin, a billionaire telecoms tycoon, had somehow pulled it off and stemmed the mounting criticism of the corrupt and authoritarian excesses of his five-year rule as Thailand's strongest-ever elected leader, the Democrats could have found themselves in the wilderness. They would have had no seats in parliament and would have lost their voice as Thailand's largest opposition party. Instead, the turnout was so low in Democrat strongholds, such as Bangkok, that seats could not be filled and a new parliament could not be formed. Amid the constitutional confusion, Thailand's revered monarch, King Bhumibol Adulyadej, staged a rare intervention to urge the courts to solve the crisis. It was an act that has continued to resonate in the two years since, leading some analysts to describe the more recent legal moves against Thaksin, his family and his cronies as a 'judicial coup'. When Mr Abhisit made his gamble, he had to convince even his closest allies within his party. Intense internal debate raged, but Mr Abhisit won out with moving rhetoric. His deputy Korn Chatikavanij, Thailand's new finance minister, said at the time that he was one who initially didn't agree. 'But [Mr Abhisit] swayed me with his explanation,' Mr Korn told the South China Morning Post. 'He said that if we competed in the election, it simply wouldn't stand the test of time. We had to think of how the public would think of us if we became party to such a politically corrupt system. We had to take a step back. We were all aware we had reached a historic moment.' Mr Abhisit was well aware of how a boycott could thwart Thaksin's ability to form a government even after a landslide victory. 'He will be taking ever more risks as they try to cross all the hurdles needed to form a government,' Mr Abhisit said at the time. '[It] will expose just how corrupt the supposedly independent institutions of the state have become. It will be seen as unacceptable by the nation.' Despite conventional wisdom suggesting the courts and other bodies would eventually bend with the pro-Thaksin winds, those institutions have found some anti-Thaksin backbone - and Mr Abhisit and the Democrats have been the ultimate beneficiaries. Last month the Constitutional Court voted to disband the ruling People Power Party. The PPP was an unabashed proxy for Thaksin and, by promoting his free-spending rural policies, romped to victory in elections a year ago, the first since the coup. Mr Abhisit pounced, luring coalition partners away from the PPP grasp to get the numbers to form a government. With 235 seats in his favour compared to the opposition's 198, it is hardly a landslide position. If he is going to make a fist of the next few months, the mettle and appetite for risk he showed two years ago will be tested once again in considerably more difficult circumstances. He takes power at a moment of unusual division and complexity - a situation with no clear solutions. Recent protests have exposed the deepening urban-rural divide. Neither the anti-Thaksin establishment elite of Bangkok nor the rural pro-Thaksin poor are able to stomach either side in power. King Bhumibol, now 81, is ailing and will not be around forever to use his moral authority to guide Thailand through times of crisis. The royalist, old money and military establishment, meanwhile, is determined to keep Thaksin as far away from power as possible during a royal succession, fearing he could set himself up as a dictator bent on ruling Thailand for decades. Mr Abhisit is among them. The widening sense of chaos is having a significant economic impact, too, as growth slows just as a regional downturn demands resolute economic management. 'The government has come into office at a time of conflict,' Mr Abhisit said during his hastily rescheduled inauguration speech this week. 'This conflict has become the weakness of the country,' he said. To some of his opponents, that weakness is reflected in the ironies that lace Mr Abhisit's rise to power. An avowed democrat who sits at the helm of a party considered relatively untarnished by Thailand's often venal political standards, Mr Abhisit has taken office in a decidedly undemocratic fashion. He has acknowledged the need for fresh elections yet insists the economic crisis must first be dealt with. While that may be hard to deny, it may also be politically convenient. Given the residual popularity of Thaksin in the rural north and northeast of Thailand, where most voters live, it is highly likely the Democrats would struggle to win if an election was held tomorrow. Healing those divisions and putting his nation back on a firmer democratic footing loom as the challenge of his political life. His is scheduled to spell out specific plans on Wednesday when he delivers his first key policy speech. It is almost certain he will use economic stimulus measures to reach out to the rural heartland so cleverly courted through the Thaksin years and long ignored by the Democrats. Again, his political pin-up image detracts from the reality: he has spent years at the forefront of the rough and tumble of Thai politics. Aged 44, he's been politically active since his early 20s, winning a parliamentary seat representing Bangkok in 1992. Before securing the party leadership three years ago, he served in a string of senior party and government posts and was particularly prominent during the Democrat-led government that steered Thailand out of the regional economic crisis a decade ago. Then he invested considerable political capital in pushing through a landmark constitution that promised to place Thailand on a more sustainable course. Geared to ending the vote-buying and shaky coalitions that had hampered development for years, it carried the promise of stronger political parties that could actually find the political space to take the fast-growing nation to the next stage of economic and social development. Within a few years, however, the Thaksin juggernaut had appeared to stamp its own mark on the concept of stronger government. Political corruption, military coups and social division have seen the hope evident in Thailand just a decade ago evaporate. Whether Mr Abhisit can rise to the challenge of uniting his nation remains to be seen. Widely respected for his clean image, he is nonetheless cut from the cloth of Bangkok elitism. Hailing from an old and well-connected Thai-Chinese family, Mr Abhisit is the son of politically active doctors. Married with two children, he was born in Newcastle, England. He was educated at Eton, then Oxford, where he earned a first class bachelor's degree in philosophy, politics and economics before returning to complete a masters in economics. It may not be a background that allows him to relate to Thais working the hardscrabble farmland of the northeast, but it is hardly an unusual upbringing for Bangkok's privileged. For decades, wealthy Thais have been sending their children to Britain, the US and Europe for top-drawer educations. While at Oxford, Mr Abhisit and Mr Korn, his classmate, used to sit up late with other Thai students, debating Thailand's hard-won democratic development and its transition from habitual rule. What was once fevered student discussion is now the stuff of reality. After years of promise, the next few months will tell if Mr Abhisit really does have the right stuff.