Thailand's royalty makes an unprecedented move into politics

Thailand's royalty makes an unprecedented move into politics

Thailand's royalty makes an unprecedented move into politics

Princess Ubolratana, 67, the older sister of Thai King Maha Vajiralongkorn, was announced as a candidate for the Thai Raksa Chart party steered by the divisive Shinawatra political clan.

Thai Raksa Chart party on Friday nominated Princess Ubolratana Mahidol as their prime ministerial candidate.

Traditionally the Thai royal family stays out of politics, so this is an unprecedented move.

Her selection to lead the government after the March 24 general election also pits her against the preferred candidate of the military, which is considered one of Thailand's most royalist institutions.

Thailand became a constitutional monarchy in 1932 but the royal family wields great influence and commands the devotion of millions of Thais.

"It is unprecedented if she becomes prime minister", said Puangthong Pawakapan, professor of political science at Chulalongkorn University.

The Thai Raksa Chart party dropped the political bombshell this morning.

She has disregarded royal tradition before - most notably by marrying an American fellow student, Peter Jensen, while studying at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) when she was 21 years old. She lived in the United States for more than 26 years before they divorced in 1998. She's on Instagram, where she often posts photos of her lifestyle along with un-royal casual comments for her nearly 100,000 followers. The Thai princess will stand for a party allied to controversial ex-prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, according to registration papers.

The simmering conflict between the Bangkok-centered elites and the more rural-based populists has resulted in street protests, military coups, and violent clashes over nearly 15 years.

Thaksin and his party have been accused by their enemies of being opposed to the monarchy, which they have always rejected.

Provided that nomination still holds and continues on to the election date, Ubolratana's chief opponent will be Prayut, who also confirmed his expected candidacy for the Palang Pracharat Party set up by loyalists.

"Previous assumptions and scenarios have to be reconsidered", Dr Thitinan said. "If this turns out well, it will be a process of reconciliation and unity".

"Assuming that this is proceeding with the blessing of the king, this suggests that the crown is trying to chart its own course through Thailand's turbulent political waters, placing some distance between itself and the military", Hicken said. However, the death in 2016 of HM King BhumibolAdulyadej added a major element of uncertainty, as he had served as a stabilizing force since taking the throne in 1946.

The sense that it's payback time for Prayut is increased by the prospect of Ubolratana gaining support from supporters of the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship, the predominantly rural, working-class "red shirt" populist movement that propelled Thaksin and his sister to power.

"She is knowledgeable and is highly suitable. 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.

Her brother, King Maha Vajiralongkorn, late on Friday moved to block her candidacy, saying her involvement in politics was "inappropriate" and unconstitutional.

"I think that it's part of a plan by the current sovereign to increase his personal power across the country".

The princess is the first-born child of the late King Bhumibol and Queen Sirikit.

1975: She received a master's degree in public health at the University of California, Los Angeles.

She returned permanently to Thailand in 2001, performing royal duties but never regaining her full royal titles.

Ubolratana is well-known among the Thai public, having appeared in movies, stage performances and maintaining an active, vibrant social media presence.

Her son was killed in the Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004.

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.

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