Thai Princess Ubolratana officially nominated as PM candidate

Thai Princess Ubolratana officially nominated as PM candidate

The nomination of a member of the royal family by the pro-Thaksin Thai Raksa Chart Party could transform an election that had 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.

Junta leader Prayuth accepted his nomination from the Palang Pracharat Party, a new party set up by his loyalists, in an official statement.

Her candidacy instantly threatened to upend the first national ballot since a military coup in 2014 that ousted a government loyal to Thaksin, the figure at the centre of years of political turbulence and rival street protests that have riven Thai society.

Thai Raksa Chart responded swiftly, cancelling a campaign event Saturday and issuing a statement saying it "complies with the royal command".

Shortly after the king's statement she posted again without addressing the issue directly, simply thanking Thais for their support and saying that she wanted Thailand to "move forward and become admired and accepted by the worldwide community".

Friday's unfolding drama is a major surprise for investors, said Jitra Amornthum, head of research at Finansia Syrus Securities Pcl in Bangkok. Thailand's currency weakened 0.7 per cent against the dollar, while the country's stock market was little changed.

James Buchanan, another Thai politics watcher, wondered aloud whether the exiled former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra had been left in the lurch by Ubolratana's candidacy.

A telecom tycoon who entered politics in the 1990s, Thaksin won the support of millions of rural Thais with expanded welfare programs, but opponents accused him of graft and challenging the power of the monarchy.

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

Thaksin, who went into exile in 2008 to avoid serving prison time on a conflict of interest conviction he insists was political, was generally believed to have been involved in setting up Ubolratana's candidacy. Prayuth prioritized stability but curbed freedom of speech and assembly.

Observers assumed Mr Thaksin and the party would not have taken the princess on board without royal approval.


The royal order from King Maha Vajiralongkorn was read on national television late Friday night, effectively scuttling the move by his older sister, Princess Ubolratana Mahidol, to become a candidate for the prime minister's office after parliamentary elections scheduled for March 24.

"It'll be hard for parties to run against the princess", said Paul Chambers, a lecturer at Naresuan University's College of ASEAN Community Studies in the country's north. "Voters would find it hard to choose someone that's not part of her party, because Thai ideology puts the royals at the top".

The king's word is rarely ignored in Thailand.

She was seen at the 2018 World Cup in Russian Federation smiling with Thaksin and Yingluck and has over the junta years given a number of coded nods on social media in favour of the Shinawatras.

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.

But the opposition from Princess Ubolratana's younger brother, a constitutional monarch, is likely to lead to the Election Commission disqualifying her.

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.

"I would like to say once again that I want to see Thailand moving forward, being admirable and acceptable by worldwide countries, want to see all Thais have rights, a chance, good living, happiness to all", she said, concluding with "#ILoveYou".

Thai Raksa Chart, a Pheu Thai offshoot, relaunched itself late previous year.

The Election Commission is required to endorse all candidates by next Friday. The commission will check and validate the nominations by February 15.

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