Thai Princess Ubolratana disqualified from election next month

Princess Ubolratana is the older sister of the Thai king. The Election Commission said that members of the royal family should be "above politics" and therefore cannot "hold any political office".
Princess Ubolratana is the older sister of the Thai king. The Election Commission said that members of the royal family should be "above politics" and therefore cannot "hold any political office".PHOTO: AFP

Thailand’s Election Commission has ruled a princess out of next month’s election as uncertainty hangs over the fate of the political party which tried to nominate her as its candidate for prime minister.

The name of Princess Ubolratana Rajakanya, King Maha Vajiralongkorn’s elder sister, was left out of a list prime minister nominees released by the commission on Monday (Feb 11). There are 69 names, including that of current Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, on the list.

“All members of the royal family have to abide by the principle of being above politics and politically neutral,” it said in a statement.

Under new election laws put in place after a 2014 military coup, political parties have to submit the names of candidates they want to propose for prime minister. 

Thais were stunned last Friday after the 67-year-old princess was unveiled as the candidate for the Thai Raksa Chart Party, a three-month- old party linked to fugitive former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra. Thai Raksa Chart is a splinter party of Pheu Thai Party, which won the last election in 2011 but was ousted by the military in 2014.

Although she relinquished her title in 1972, and sometimes refers to herself as a “commoner”, Princess Ubolratana “has been maintaining her status as a member of the Chakri royal family”, a statement by King Maha Vajiralongkorn, released last Friday (Feb 8) night, stressed. 

“Any attempt to involve a high-level member of the royal family in the political process, by whatever means, would be tantamount to breaching time-honoured royal traditions, customs and national culture. Such action must be deemed transgression and most inappropriate,” it added.

Political activist Srisuwan Janya, who heads the Association for the Protection of the Constitution, on Monday filed a petition with the Election Commission to dissolve Thai Raksa Chart, saying that its actions have violated electoral laws.

If found to have violated the law, the party can be dissolved and its executives banned from politics. This will upset its strategy to help Pheu Thai scoop up as many parliamentary seats as possible and get around a post-coup system meant to cap the number of seats that big parties like Pheu Thai can win.

It will also put former army chief Prayut – running on the Palang Pracharath Party’s ticket – in a better position to return as premier after the election.

Meanwhile, Thailand maintains a lese majeste law that prescribes up to 15 years’ jail for any act deemed to have defamed or insulted the king, queen, heir-apparent or regent.

Thai Raksa Chart, which had kept a low profile all weekend, cancelled a meeting and press conference on Monday. Many of its key executive members were not present at its party headquarters in Bangkok.

Ms Sutisa Prathumkul, a member of the party’s candidate screening committee, told The Straits Times: “It was a last-minute notice and so many executives could not come in time. So we postponed the meeting until further notice.”

Last Saturday (Feb 9), the party issued a statement stating that it would comply with the King’s wishes. That day, Princess Ubolratana thanked people for their support in an Instagram message, writing: “I wish to see Thailand move forward to be admired and accepted by the international community.”

The country has been deeply divided for over a decade, wracked by bitter rivalry between royalist pro-military factions and groups linked to Thaksin, a billionaire tycoon who upended traditional patronage politics when he came to power in 2001.