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Away from the finger-pointing, all sides agreed that this Buddhist-majority Southeast Asian nation needs “reconciliation” so the military will not stage yet another coup, after 18 successful and attempted coups since 1932.

But Sunday’s election was mostly about Thaksin’s fate.

“I like both Mr. Thaksin and Mr. Abhisit,” said a hotel manager who declined to reveal her final choice.

Mr. Thaksin was very good for the economy. Now with him gone, we are having high prices and other problems. Mr. Abhisit was good with the foreign community and investors because, I think, international people accepted him more.”

All parties offered similar, populist, tax-funded policies including cheap health care, easy loans, commodity price supports, educational assistance, huge infrastructure projects and other spending.

After the 2006 coup, Thaksin fled a two-year prison sentence for allowing his ex-wife to purchase real estate in Bangkok at a low price while he was prime minister.

In a separate stock-market corruption case, the government seized $1.2 billion of Thaksin’s assets, which he hopes his sister can refund.

“The government stole my money,” he claimed, calling his trial politically motivated.

A confrontation over whether or not to exonerate Thaksin and refund his cash could spark fresh violence if Mrs. Yingluck and the Red Shirts push an amnesty plan, Thai analysts and politicians warned.