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Some fear the rift could spark new violence as the country — a Buddhist-majority, non-NATO U.S. military ally — heads toward July 3 elections.

The vote will be fiercely contested and closely watched by an anxious military that has staged 18 coups in the past century.

The election pits Mr. Abhisit’s Democratic Party and coalition partners in a tight race against Thaksin’s opposition Puea Thai Party, or Party for Thais.

Thaksin is unable to run as a candidate because he is an international fugitive dodging a two-year prison sentence for a corrupt real estate deal during his five-year administration.

He recently appointed his younger sister, Yingluck Shinawatra, as his party’s leader to attempt to become Thailand’s first female prime minister, even though she has no political experience.

Born in 1967, Mrs. Yingluck was a chief executive in the family’s telecommunications and real estate businesses, and earned a master’s degree in public administration from Kentucky State University.

Critics of her appointment said Thaksin was concerned only with arranging his return to Thailand and reclaiming $2 billion in seized assets.

The Puea Thai Party indicated that it would try to arrange an “amnesty” for Thaksin if his sister forms a new coalition government.

That move could result in future confrontation by Thaksin’s opponents within the military and other sectors of society.

Thaksin described his sister as his obedient “clone” and said if they form a government, they would not take revenge against their opponents and instead would muzzle Reds who demand a systematic revolution.

Thaksin said his party would create megaprojects, including land reclamation, flood management and improved rail service.

His critics, however, want him to stand trial for his presumed role in the killing of more than 2,000 people during his administration’s “war on drugs.”

The Oxford-educated Mr. Abhisit, meanwhile, is trying to shake a widespread perception that he is a puppet of the military which has staged 18 coups and attempted coups since the 1930s, though its generals now deny plotting another putsch.

The military supports Mr. Abhisit, who is allowing generals a relatively free hand in procuring expensive and controversial weapons contracts.

Some Thai analysts expressed fear that the military may step in before the election to block a possible victory by Thaksin’s candidates, or intervene after the polls if his party succeeds in forming a government.

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