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Divided, Thailand eyes ruling party's first steps

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Military leaders are now on guard for any vengeful move by the incoming administration. Some analysts say there may be an unofficial truce between the two camps that includes a compromise choice as defense minister and no change of the top brass. Weakened by political blunders, the generals and their royal backers are beating a tactical retreat, but that doesn't mean they're out of the game.

"The pendulum has swung back. It makes sense for Thaksin's antagonists to retreat and take care of their own interests.… [But] I don't think it's a lasting deal that both sides can live with. It's strategic," says Michael Montesano, a professor of Southeast Asian studies at the National University of Singapore.

The flashpoint could be the return of Mr. Thaksin, whose influential wife appeared in court Jan. 23 on corruption charges that have been filed against Thaksin and her over a 2003 land deal. She said Thaksin would come back in May to defend himself in the case, which is the only prosecution that the junta managed to bring against him, despite its accusations of widespread corruption during his five-year administration.

Mr. Samak, a political warhorse, brings his own baggage to the table. He served in right-wing military governments during bloody repressions of students and street protestors in 1976 and 1992. More recently he has sparred with the local media, earning him the epithet "Dog Mouth." Samak has also locked horns with Prem Tinsulanonda, the chief adviser to King Bhumibol Adulyadej and a prime mover behind the coup, according to pro-Thaksin politicians. After the election win, he claimed that a "hidden hand" was trying to stop his party from taking office, a comment seen as a rebuke to Mr. Prem.

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