Thai princess, junta chief to run for prime minister

10 February, 2019, 11:14 | Author: Trevor Moore
  • Princess Ubolratana Rajakanya was the sole prime minister candidate nominated by the Thai Raksa Chart Party on Feb 8 2019

"Involvement of a high-ranking member of the royal family in politics, in whatever way, is an act that conflicts with the country's traditions, customs, and culture, and therefore considered extremely inappropriate", the king said in a statement on Friday.

But the statement late Friday from the palace condemned the move "to bring" Ubolratana into politics as "highly inappropriate" and "unconstitutional", dimming the prospects of her running. Her candidacy would have pitted her against the junta leader and current Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, the preferred choice for premier of the pro-royalist military.

Thailand's March 24 election will be the country's first since a 2014 military coup put in place a junta determined to reshape the political system to eradicate the influence of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, whose allies have won every national election since 2001.

Thai Raksa Chart announced the princess as their candidate Friday morning in a move that looked to rattle the status quo and threaten the ambitions of the junta that has ruled Thailand since it toppled the administration of Yingluck Shinawatra in a 2014 coup.

Thailand has some of the most severe lese majeste laws in the world and the king's word is considered final.

"It is unprecedented if she becomes prime minister", said Puangthong Pawakapan, professor of political science at Chulalongkorn University.

Despite his grim record, Prayut had been widely expected to win next month's election, if only due to the lack of a credible challenger. "In the event Thaksin-aligned parties win the election, it makes it very hard for the military and royalists to contest, protest, or seek to overturn the result", Hicken said.

It remains possible Prayut's backers could mount a legal challenge to Ubolratana's candidacy by claiming she is violating laws created to keep the monarchy out of politics. As the Bangkok Post reports, "the pro-military People's Reform Party asked the Election Commission to rule if the Thai Raksa Chart Party violated the election law" by making the nomination.

The party falls under the tutelage of Thaksin, a billionaire self-exiled former premier, who stands at the heart of Thailand's bitter political schism - loathed by the army and Bangkok elite, yet adored by the rural poor.

According to some analysts, royal family members of her "rank" are not barred from politics but have opted to stay neutral in the past, a long-standing protocol in most modern constitutional monarchies.

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The King's intervention has cast Thaksin's future role in politics into doubt.

The conflict between the Bangkok-centered, royalist elites and Thaksin and his more rural-based supporters has resulted in street protests, military coups, and violent clashes over nearly 15 years.

The post did not explicitly state that she was withdrawing her candidacy, and neither did the Thai Raksa Chart party's statement.

The announcement effectively blocks Princess Ubolratana's unprecedented bid for the premiership and comes after an extraordinary rebuke of the candidacy by her younger brother, King Maha Vajiralongkorn. Thailand's Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha later accepted the nomination.

Ubolratana, a colourful, public-facing royal in contrast to her more restrained brother King Maha Vajiralongkorn, relinquished her royal titles after marrying an American decades ago.

"This makes Thai Raksa Chart, in a matter of seconds, the front-runner". She studied mathematics and bio-chemistry at MIT and earned a master's degree in public health from the University of California at Los Angeles.

FILE PHOTO: Thai Princess Ubolratana Rajakanya poses during a news conference at the 61st Cannes Film Festival May 15, 2008.

Friday was the last day for parties to declare candidates.

Ubolratana, 67, is the first born of four children of the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej and Queen Sirikit, with the current king the second born.

But after their divorce she returned home to Thailand, where officials treat her as a member of the royal family.

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