Thai Princess Registers As A 'Commoner' Candidate To Be Prime Minister

Thai Raksa Chart party leader Preechapol Pongpanich holds up application of candidate for Prime Minister Thailand's Princess Ubolratana Rajakanya Sirivadhana Varnavadi at the election commission office in Bangkok Thailand on Feb 8 2019

The main opponent of the princess, if her nomination were to stand, would be Prayuth, who also announced his candidacy on Friday, as the candidate for a new pro-military party, set up by his loyalists.

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.

As I have observed before in these pages, common references to Thailand as a democracy and a focus on contemporary developments including the May 2014 coup that brought the junta-led government under Prayut Chan-o-cha to power and the March 2019 expected election date can obscure more complex realities in the country's 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.

While Ubolratana has relinquished royal titles except for the right to be called princess, Maha Vajiralongkorn said she remained part of the reigning Chakri dynasty.

"Who would dare criticize a royal prime minister?" said Puangthong Pawakapan, professor of political science at Chulalongkorn University.

Analysts said she is not technically covered by the kingdom's royal defamation law - which carries heavy jail sentences - but given the culture of deference to royalty, she is unlikely to face the scrutiny given to most politicians.

Ubolratana, who on Friday wrote on Instagram that she was a "commoner" who does not enjoy royal privilege, on Saturday uploaded another post that appeared to ignore her brother's rebuke.

"The board agrees that the name of Princess Ubolratana, an educated and skilled person, is the most suitable choice", Thai Raksa Chart party leader Preechapol Pongpanich told reporters.

Ubolratana will run as a candidate for a party loyal to ousted premier Thaksin Shinawatra.

Given the royals have traditionally stayed out of politics, the move took the region by surprise.

The princess and the Thai Raksa Chart had not responded to the king's statement but the party did cancel a campaign event scheduled for Saturday.

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

Prayut, in sharp contrast, is a domineering, splenetic character - an autocratic former general who since he seized power has repressed the naturally rambunctious instincts of Thai politics and society in the self-serving cause of stability.

The Thai princess formally rescinded her royal titles in 1972, when she married American Peter Jensen, a fellow student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology - her first break with royal protocol.

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.

But swift and public opposition from her younger brother, King Maha Vajiralongkorn, is likely to lead to her disqualification by the Election Commission.

The Thai Raksa Chart Party was launched in November by relatives and supporters of the Shinawatras.

If she does remain as a candidate, there are other question that remain, chief among them being how the competitive dynamics of the election would be affected.

Friday was the last day for parties to declare candidates.

Ubolratana, the eldest child of King Bhumibol Adulyadej, was born in Lausanne, Switzerland in 1951. She returned to Thailand in the late 1990s after getting a divorce.

Ubolratana, a movie star with a large social media following, thanked the Thai people for their "love and support during the past day" in an Instagram post on Saturday (Feb 9).

Thailand has among the world's toughest lese-majeste laws, which make it illegal to defame, insult or threaten the king, queen, heir apparent or regent.

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