Why Princess Ubolratana's election nomination shook Thailand

Why Princess Ubolratana's election nomination shook Thailand

The Election Commission on Monday afternoon declared that the eldest daughter of the late King Bhumibol can not compete in the upcoming election as a candidate for prime minister.

For the sister of King Maha Vajiralongkorn to enter politics was shocking enough, but what threatened to upend Thailand's political dynamic was the fact that she declared her candidacy for a populist party linked to an exiled former prime minister. The current junta leader, Prayuth Chan-ocha, has also declared candidacy for a pro-military party.

The commissioners voted to shoot down the nomination just three days after His Majesty the King barred Princess Ubolratana Mahidol, 68, from the race for the top government job on the grounds that royal family members can not get involved in politics.

Members of the royal family should be "above politics" and therefore can not "hold any political office", the commission said in a statement, echoing the wording of a public statement from the king on Friday.

Today, an activist said he would file a petition to disqualify the Thai Raksa Chart party, which nominated the princess.

The March 24 election is the first since a military coup in 2014 toppled an elected pro-Thaksin government.

Thailand has been a constitutional monarchy since 1932, but the royal family wields great influence and commands the devotion of millions.

Upon Princess Ubolratana's permanent return to Thailand after her divorce in 1998, she was "bestowed the title "Tunkramom Ying" (Daughter to the Queen Regent) title", and has since been "treated by officials as a member of the royal family".

Thailand's junta chief on Monday dismissed rumours of an impending coup as "fake news", as speculation ricocheted across a kingdom unsettled by the ill-fated political union between a princess and a party allied to the powerful Shinawatra clan.

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Before the withdrawal, Paiboon sent a letter to the Election Commission to request suspension of her nomination. The commission is likely to follow the wishes of the monarch, who holds a semi-divine place in Thai society.

Electoral law forbids parties from using the monarchy in campaigns.

Meanwhile, a chastened Thai Raksa Chart, a key pillar in Thaksin's election strategy, agreed to comply with the royal command.

Ubolratana on Saturday said in an Instagram post that she wanted the country "move forward and be admired by worldwide countries".

Andrew MacGregor Marshall, a lecturer at Edinburgh Napier University and expert in Thai politics, said that "when the military starts publicly insisting that no coup is coming, this is often a sign that they are about to seize power again".

The party was set up as an alternative to Thaksin's Pheu Thai Party, in case it were to be dissolved by election authorities ahead of the vote.

The Palace released a statement late Friday, saying "To bring a senior royal family member into the political system in any way is against royal traditions and the nation's culture. which is very inappropriate".

"Things are now more unpredictable", Titipol told Reuters.

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