Thailand’s King Maha Vajiralongkorn says his elder sister’s attempt to run for prime minister in the March general election is “inappropriate” and unconstitutional.
Princess Ubolratana Mahidol (pictured), 67, surprised many observers when she announced her candidacy yesterday (Friday) for the Thai Raksa Chart Party, which is loyal to ousted ex-premier Thaksin Shinawatra.
But the intervention from her younger brother will probably prompt the Election Commission to disqualify her.
The decision opens a minefield of potential lese majeste legal action, where the media is incapable of commenting on a member of the royal family. Thailand has the strictest such laws in the world with jail sentences of up to 15 years handed down for subtle references to the royal family or even the former king’s dog. The Thai media regularly uses the adverb “graciously” to describe any royal action.
“Involvement of a high-ranking member of the royal family in politics, in whatever way, is an act that conflicts with the country’s traditions, customs and culture, and therefore is considered extremely inappropriate,” the king’s office announced.
Ubolratana relinquished her royal titles in 1972 when she married Peter Jensen, an American who was a fellow student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
The princess lived in the US for more than 26 years before they divorced in 1998.
Ubolratana posted on Instagram; “I have accepted the Thai Raksa Chart Party nomination for prime minister to show my rights and freedom without any privileges above other fellow Thai citizens under the constitution.”
Military-appointed Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, the former army chief who seized power in the May 2014 coup, has rewritten the constitution and suppressed the opposition to minimise the chances Thaksin’s allies returning to power.
Prayuth also announced his candidacy yesterday but it was overshadowed by Ubolratana’s surprise unveiling. The 64-year-old general is a loyal royalist and may struggle to negotiate his way through the crisis.
By acting in defiance of her brother’s wishes, Ubolratana has created an open division within the royal family.
Thai politics in the 21st century has been dominated by the divide between the Bangkok-centred, royalist elite and Thaksin’s rurally based populism that has consistently won democratic general elections.
Thaksin and the numerous parties he has backed have been accused of being anti-monarchy, which they reject.
“This is a profound development that will shape the contours and dynamics of Thai politics before and after [the] election,” said Thitinan Pongsudhirak of Bangkok’s Chulalongkorn University.
Princess Ubolratana Mahidol. Picture credit: YouTube