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Thai king says sister's candidacy for PM 'inappropriate'

09 February, 2019, 13:13 | Author: Taylor George
  • Princess Ubolratana Rajakanya was the sole prime minister candidate nominated by the Thai Raksa Chart Party on Feb 8 2019

Prayuth also accepted on Friday the nomination as a candidate for prime minister from his military-backed party.

Next month's vote is being closely watched as the first chance for Thailand to return to democracy after five years under military rule.

Thailand is a constitutional monarchy and has not had a royal run for frontline office since 1932.

Thailand woke up to more questions than answers on Saturday to the unfolding drama surrounding Princess Ubolratana Rajakanya's audacious bid to be prime minister, after her brother King Maha Vajiralongkorn stunned the kingdom with a late night rebuke of his elder sister's political foray.

"The king and royal family exist in a status above politics", said the statement, published in the Royal Gazette and given blanket television coverage.

King Vajiralongkorn, 66, issued his message late on Friday, saying his elder sister's candidacy was "inappropriate" and it was against the spirit of the constitution for royalty to be involved in politics.

It said that in all constitutions - including the current - "the king stays above politics", which also means the queen, the heir apparent and the king's immediate family must remain "politically neutral" and "cannot hold any political positions, as it's a violation of the constitution and the tradition of constitutional monarchy". "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".

The March 24 election has been viewed as a straightforward battle between Thaksin's populists and their allies, on the one hand, and the royalist-military establishment on the other.

Thailand is now led by the military, which ousted Thaksin in a coup in 2006 and later helped remove his sister, Yingluck Shinawatra, from the role of prime minister in 2014. "I believe there will be no legal problems in terms of her qualification, but we have to wait for the Election Commission to endorse her candidacy", Mr Preechapol said.

Most political observers agree that Thaksin aggressively pursued good relations with the current king and friendship with the princess herself.

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Thai Raksa Chart is politically aligned with Yingluck Shinawatra, who was removed from office in 2014 by junta chief Prayut Chan-Ocha, who has also announced he would run for office. They settled in the United States where she and her husband, Peter Jensen, had three children.

"Thai Raksa Chart party complies with the royal command", the party said in a statement sent out to reporters. While Thais typically refer to her as a princess, Ubolratana in her Instagram post said she would be taking part in the election as a commoner.

The decision by a party linked to former premier Thaksin Shinawatra to nominate her marks a monumental shift for Thailand, where the royal family is officially treated as semi-divine and apolitical.

Thaksin's well-funded political machine returned to power twice since and is seen as the key element in arranging for Ubolratana's selection because she cast her lot with a Thaksin-affiliated party. "If this does not turn out well, it will pose alarming risk and even greater risk for Thailand's political future".

Rivalry between the Bangkok-centred, royalist elites and Thaksin and his rural-based supporters has brought street protests, military coups, and violent clashes over nearly 15 years.

It may well be that Ubolratana, a former actress, singer and activist, was encouraged to enter politics by her brother, who is using her as a weapon in consolidating his formidable power in the country, but it is nearly certain that Thaksin played a major role in the decision.

The monarchy is revered in Thailand, and is protected by some of the harshest lese majeste laws in the world. But she is still regarded in the public mind as a member of the royal family, and her entry into politics sets an unprecedented quandary for her opponents in the March elections. 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.

Her 21-year-old son was killed in the Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004 while vacationing on a Thai island.

And it pits her against the preferred candidate of the military, which is considered one of Thailand's most royalist institutions.

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