Pro-military party questions legality of princess's nomination

Frederick Owens
February 8, 2019

A Thai princess will run for prime minister in upcoming elections, in a stunning twist that pits the high-profile royal against the chief of the ruling junta who had hoped to maintain his grip on politics.

The selection of 67-year-old Princess Ubolratana Mahidol by the Thai Raksa Chart Party marks a shock realignment of Thai politics, as she is now affiliated with a political machine that had been dismissed by hardcore royalists as opposed in spirit to the monarchy.

Party leader Paiboon Nititawan has handed a letter to the Election Commission calling on it to decide whether to invalidate the princess's nomination, saying it could breach the law that prevents political parties from using the monarchy for campaigning. It is popular among the rural poor, but it is loathed by the military and the elite, including hardcore royalists.

The sister of Thailand's King Maha Bajiralongkorn has been declared as a leading prime ministerial candidate for a party loyal to ousted prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra in March 24 elections.

The surprise entry of the princess into politics - assumed to be with her brother, current King Maha Vajiralongkorn's blessing - raises questions about whether the long-lasting partnership of the palace with the army is in jeopardy.

The royal family is highly regarded in Thailand and carries great influence - especially in the case of recently deceased and longstanding King Bhumibol Adulyadej.

"After returning to reside in Thailand, she established the To Be Number One project to encourage Thai youth to stay away from drugs".

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The princess´s move deals a heavy blow to the aspirations of Prayut Chan-O-Cha, the junta head, who has spent almost five years trying to recast the political system to limit the power of elected governments and prepare his own return as a civilian leader.

He was toppled in a 2006 coup, while his sister Yingluck was booted from power in a 2014 military takeover and forced into exile to avoid a jail term.

He said: "I am not aiming to extend my power but I am doing this for the benefit for the country and the people".

"I agree to accept the invitation by Phalang Pracharat to nominate me to be appointed as premier", he said in an unusually conciliatory statement released to media.

In an online post titled "Thank you", the former royalty said she is exercising her political rights as a commoner by contending atop Thai Raksa Chart Party's ticket. The fact is, Princess Ubolratana is respected and treated as part of the royal institution.

There was no mention of the princess' nomination in Prayuth's statement. Born in 1951, she studied mathematics and biochemistry before earning a master's degree in public health, all in the US.

She later divorced and returned to Thailand for permanent residence in 2001 after spending about 26 years in the US.

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