Thai princess' bid for PM scuttled as party obeys royal command

Thai princess' bid for PM scuttled as party obeys royal command

The Thai Raksa Chart party, which nominated Ubolratana as its candidate for prime minister, said it "graciously accepts" the king's statement and would abide by election regulations and royal tradition.

One of her leading opponents will be Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, the leader of the military junta.

Thai Princess Ubolratana Rajakanya is running to be her country's next prime minister, throwing Thailand's political scene into a new state of uncertainty ahead of elections next month.

The March 24 election in Thailand is significant because it is the first since a successful coup against Yingluck Shinawatra's government in 2014.

The party thanked the 67-year-old princess for her efforts, and said it would abide by election regulations and "tradition and royal customs" under Thailand's constitutional monarchy.

Thailand's King Vajiralongkorn has denounced as "inappropriate" his sister's unprecedented bid to run for prime minister in March's election. Though Ubolratana does not have any royal titles and is not covered under lese majeste laws as of now - she relinquished her royal status back in 1972 - it is hard to imagine that her status would not affect how polls would be conducted.

It was not immediately clear if Ubolratana would be covered by the kingdom's widely interpreted royal defamation law - which carries up to 15 years in jail per charge - or how that could impact debate and criticism in the run up to elections.

Just eight years after ousting Thaksin, the military stepped in again to remove his sister's government.

On Friday, one of the parties supporting Prayut had filed a petition opposing Ubolratana's candidacy, arguing it could breach a law that prohibits the use of the monarchy in campaigning.

The sense that it's payback time for Prayut is increased by the prospect of Ubolratana gaining support from supporters of the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship, the predominantly rural, working-class "red shirt" populist movement that propelled Thaksin and his sister to power.

A Thai political party will obey a command from the king blocking the candidacy of a princess for prime minister, it said in a statement Saturday, in a dramatic reversal only a day after putting her forward for the position.

A spokesman for Thai Raksa Chart, the political party that nominated Ubolratana, didn't have an immediate comment when reached on Friday night.

Ubolratana is the lone candidate put forth by the Thai Raksa Chart party, whose members include Thaksin loyalists.

Thailand's current prime minister is Prayuth Chan-o-cha.

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

Ubolratana, a colourful, public-facing royal in contrast to her more restrained brother King Maha Vajiralongkorn, relinquished her royal titles after marrying the American Peter Jensen in 1972. Violent street protests and two military coups have marked the years since.

When King Maha Vajiralongkorn, who has lacked the same level of devotion most Thais had for his father, ascended to the throne, conventional wisdom saw him as tightening his grip on power by allying himself closely with the military.

The princess's candidacy landed like a bombshell when her name was submitted to the Election Commission on Friday.

For the princess, coming out on the side of the Shinawatras will further complicate Thailand's troubled politics, said Pavin Chachavalpongpun, associate professor at the Center for Southeast Asian Studies at Kyoto University.

The princess has a heavier media presence than any of her siblings, ranging from appearances in Thai movies and television to an Instagram page with about 100,000 followers.

Friday was the last day for parties to declare candidates.

Ubolratana is the first-born of former king Bhumibol Adulyadej.

Following her divorce in 1998, she returned to Thailand permanently in 2001 and became active in royal life. She is referred to as "Tunkramom Ying", which means "Daughter to the Queen Regent", and is treated by officials as a member of the royal family.

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