With his poker hand of passports and his forays to increasingly exotic locales, from Liberia to Fiji, ousted Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra has long looked like the political version of a busted flush. When his call back in April for a people's uprising fell decidedly flat, it looked the stuff of political desperation - and a predicament difficult to crawl back from. More recent moves by his supporters to petition the Thai king for a pardon is something else entirely, however - a classically cunning Thaksin manoeuvre to create a knot of problems for the government and royalist establishment not easily undone. On August 17, his red-shirted United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship supporters claim they will present at least six million signatures - they have five million - to King Bhumibol Adulyadej's principal private secretary. The three-page petition requests the king's pardon of Thaksin's conviction last October on abuse of power charges relating to a property deal during his five years in power. Any such pardon would allow him to return from his self-imposed exile without the threat of two years' jail hanging over him. A return to the political arena, his supporters hope, would soon follow. But few in Thailand - fans or detractors - have ever taken the billionaire telecoms tycoon at his word when he insists he wants no future part in politics. It is certainly not something Thailand's military, old money and royalist elites could ever countenance. For them, Thaksin was a brash anti-monarchist bent on ruling for decades and reshaping Thailand in his own image. The proposition of a populist Thaksin staying in power through any transition after the reign of the revered King Bhumibol, now in its 63rd year, was unthinkable. The military coup that ousted him three years ago next month solved the Thaksin question - but exposed divisions across society that have yet to be bridged. The problem is, then, how the king and his advisers can handle this petition without further exposing and deepening those splits. Thailand's official narrative is that the king is a constitutional monarch who reigns but cannot rule; that he sits above politics, holding only the power to advise, to warn and to be consulted. Thaksin has always denied that he is anti-monarchy yet his strategists seemed to have created a scenario that carries risks for the king whatever he decides, forcing him to publicly take sides in a split that has defined modern Thailand. An earlier version of this strategy was evident in Thaksin's final months in office when he would promise to resign if the king 'whispered in his ear' - an offer apparently studiously ignored. The government realises the risks. While his other antics have been happily ignored as self-harming, this one is getting a lot more dignity from the shaky coalition led by Democrat Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva. Mr Abhisit has warned that the monarchy could not be put at risk from mere politics. With such a large petition, it will not be an easy sell. He said names would be vetted and organisers would be held responsible for any signature found to be falsely obtained. Quite how the government is going to review six million signatures is far from clear. Other officials are pointing to technicalities, such as the fact a pardon cannot by law be issued when a sentence is not being served and no penitence is being shown. Mr Abhisit's party leadership predecessor, Chuan Leekpai, made a rare public foray from retirement to warn his government not to fall into the trap by over-reacting. For months, it has been clear that time, money and options are running out for Thaksin as the establishment get its way. This petition may not be enough to turn things around, but it is a reminder of the divisions Mr Abhisit is still so far from healing. Unlike Thaksin, he has yet to win an election.