It will not be a matter of months, but years. That is the message across a range of political elites in Thailand as they take stock of the challenges confronting the country after the era of billionaire leader Thaksin Shinawatra and the coup that drove him from power. Talking to politicians, government officials, scholars and foreign diplomatic analysts this week makes it clear many are bracing for a more complex future. Many old certainties fell under the tanks that rolled into Bangkok to oust Thaksin last September, not least the view that the military was no longer a political force. On paper, the next few months appear straightforward as the military-installed interim government fulfils its promises, ushering in a new constitution and holding elections for a return to civilian rule. Having staged a bloodless coup in the name of strengthening democracy, the junta has attempted to appear benign and apparently wants as clean a transition as possible, despite continuing protests. At the same time, the government is pushing ahead with prosecutions against what it describes as the corrupt and dictatorial rule of Thaksin and his Thai Rak Thai political juggernaut. But larger questions loom. To some analysts, the coup represents the reassertion of a military and bureaucratic elite over democratic government and it is highly unlikely this will be completely removed. In practical terms, this means any new government may be expected to make accommodations, either in watering down controversial policies in the name of stability or appointing key figures from the elites. Few believe that this will be Thailand's last coup. And not only does the new constitution outline a dilution of government power, to curb Thaksin-era excesses, it also provides intriguing outlets for public involvement. These represent a check on the power of an elected government and could prove difficult to manage for anyone in power. While lawyers and activists have joined lingering pro-Thaksin elements in warning of the power of the 'aristocracy', these public provisions have drawn less fire. Public petition campaigns can be used to sponsor draft laws, force impeachment motions, and in the case of 100,000 signatures, drive an amendment to the constitution. Public hearings are also required before the government enters into any international agreement. Compensation is possible for anyone who could be adversely affected. This point could have been thorny for Thaksin, who pushed through a free-trade deal with Beijing without parliamentary debate. The producers of several local agricultural staples have warned of price collapses since. In the broader picture lie other imponderables. Thailand's revered monarch, King Bhumibol Adulyadej, turns 80 later this year and at some point succession issues will emerge. As a constitutional monarch, the king reigns, but does not rule. Any intervention, such as formally recognising the post-coup government, is borne of a considerable moral authority built up over 61 years on the throne. Royal insiders stress that such moral authority is not simply transferred with the throne, but must be forged anew by a successor, which is expected to be his eldest son, Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn. While the palace sits far above daily political life, the king's chief adviser, former prime minister Prem Tinsulanonda, has proved a target of protest, which turned violent this week. While many different voices have risen in opposition to the government, the clashes on Sunday have served to highlight the involvement of several key Thaksin cronies. When asked about the prospect of a lively few months ahead of elections, a senior Democrat simply shrugged: 'A few months are nothing. We are talking about years of excitement.'