BANGKOK • Thailand's Election Commission said yesterday it is seeking the disqualification of a party that nominated a princess for prime minister, in what would be a setback for the opposition loyal to ousted former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.
Thailand will hold a general election on March 24, its first since a military coup in 2014. The contest looks set to be a showdown between the military-backed, royalist Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha and Thaksin supporters.
Last week, a party allied with Thaksin said its candidate for prime minister, if it won the election, would be Princess Ubolratana Rajakanya, the Thai King's older sister.
The announcement caused a sensation in a country where the royal family has traditionally remained above politics.
Hours later, King Maha Vajiralongkorn made clear his opposition to his older sister's political foray, calling it "inappropriate" and unconstitutional.
Thailand has been a constitutional monarchy since 1932, but the royal family wields great influence and commands widespread devotion, with the king considered to be semi-divine.
The Election Commission disqualified the Princess on Monday and yesterday said it also aimed to dissolve the Thai Raksa Chart Party, which nominated her.
I am sorry my genuine intention to work for the country and Thai people has caused such problems that shouldn't have happened in this era.
PRINCESS UBOLRATANA RAJAKANYA, posting on Instagram.
The party was one of several set up by Thaksin loyalists to add to the vote bank of his main Pheu Thai Party in an election where secondary parties are targeting seats via the party list system.
The commission said Thai Raksa Chart had violated an electoral law with its nomination of the King's sister, which was "antagonistic towards the constitutional monarchy".
It added: "Therefore, it is agreed that a petition will be submitted to the Constitutional Court to consider dissolving Thai Raksa Chart Party."
Thai Raksa Chart officials told reporters the party did not violate the electoral law and it would ask the Constitutional Court to be "merciful".
The court said it would decide today whether or not to accept the case. If found guilty, the party would be dissolved and its board members banned from standing for political office.
Thai Raksa Chart yesterday submitted a letter to the Election Commission, asking to give its version of the events surrounding the nomination.
Princess Ubolratana apologised on Tuesday for causing "problems" for the people.
"I am sorry my genuine intention to work for the country and Thai people has caused such problems that shouldn't have happened in this era," she said on Instagram.
She relinquished her royal titles in 1972 when she married Mr Peter Jensen, an American and a fellow student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She lived in the United States for more than 26 years before they divorced in 1998.
The poll next month is shaping up to be the latest confrontation in nearly 15 years of political conflict between the mostly Bangkok-based, royalist-military elite and the largely rural-based, populist movement backed by Thaksin - marked by street protests, violent clashes and military coups.
Parties affiliated with Thaksin, an ex-telecommunications tycoon, have won every election since 2001, but their governments have been battered by two coups and a barrage of court cases. Thaksin and his sister, Yingluck Shinawatra, live abroad to avoid convictions they say are politically motivated.
To offset their electoral dominance, the ruling junta scripted a new Constitution, making the Upper House entirely appointed while limiting the number of constituency seats available at next month's poll.
If Thai Raksa Chart is banned, it will "reduce the opportunity of the Shinawatra party to have big numbers in Parliament", said Dr Titipol Phakdeewanich, a political scientist at Ubon Ratchathani University.
That would benefit the army-linked Palang Pracharath Party and increase the likelihood of Mr Prayut, its prime ministerial candidate, returning to power as a civilian leader.
Yesterday, the Supreme Court upheld eight-month jail sentences for six pro-establishment activists who led an occupation of the prime minister's offices in 2008, during months-long protests against a pro-Thaksin government.
The six leaders of the People's Alliance for Democracy, including media mogul Sondhi Limthongkul and retired general and former Bangkok governor Chamlong Srimuang, had appealed against the two-year prison terms issued by a lower court in 2015.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, THE NATION/ASIA NEWS NETWORK