Sunday 24 February 2019

Princess banned from being prime minister by king

Royal move: Princess Ubolratana lived in the US for more than 26 years. Image: AP Photo/Kin Cheung, File
Royal move: Princess Ubolratana lived in the US for more than 26 years. Image: AP Photo/Kin Cheung, File

Panarat Thepgumpanat

Thailand's King Maha Vajiralongkorn has moved to block his elder sister's surprise bid to run for prime minister in March, calling her candidacy for a populist opposition party unconstitutional.

Princess Ubolratana Rajakanya Sirivadhana Barnavadi (67) stunned the nation when she announced yesterday she would be the sole prime ministerial candidate for the party, which is loyal to ousted ex-premier Thaksin Shinawatra, in the March election.

Her candidacy threatened to upend the first national ballot since a military coup in 2014 that ousted a government loyal to Thaksin, who has been at the centre of years of political turbulence and rival street protests.

But her foray into politics looked to be short-lived after public opposition from King Vajiralongkorn, which is likely to lead to the Election Commission disqualifying her or the princess dropping out of the race.

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

"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 considered highly inappropriate," the king said in a statement.

The statement was issued by the palace and later read on air by a television announcer.

King Vajiralongkorn also cited a provision in the constitution that states the monarch stays above politics and maintains political neutrality.

"All royal family members adhere to the same principles ... and cannot take any political office, because it contradicts the intention of the constitution," he said.

The Election Commission declined to comment, with an official saying members will hold a meeting on Monday.

The princess was nominated by the Thai Raksa Chart, an offshoot of the larger pro-Thaksin party ousted from power in the 2014 coup.

Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, who was army chief when he led the 2014 coup and now heads the ruling junta, also announced his candidacy yesterday.

Ubolratana, who has starred in Thai soap operas and a movie, relinquished most of her royal titles in 1972 when she married an American, a fellow student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Peter Jensen.

She lived in the United States for more than 26 years before they divorced in 1998.

She had thanked her supporters in an Instagram post.

"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," she said.

Her Instagram account was silent immediately after the king's statement.

Nominating a member of the royal family had seemed a game-changer for Thaksin loyalist parties, accused by their enemies of being opposed to the monarchy - charges they have always rejected.

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

Ubolratana's announcement followed a long period of mourning for King Bhumibol, who died in October 2016, and as her brother establishes himself on the throne in preparation for an official coronation in May.

Irish Independent

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