Princess Ubol Ratana Rajakanya shocked the Thai political establishment on Friday by announcing her intention to stand for Prime Minister.
Hours later, her brother King Vajiralongkorn issued a statement forbidding her from taking part in elections.
Ubol Ratana mixes politics with royalty
On Friday Ubol Ratana, the oldest child of much-revered King Bhumibol, announced her intention to lead the Thai Raksa Chart Party into the upcoming national elections on March 24th.
The announcement was made on her private Instagram account, and broke with a longstanding tradition among members of the Thai royal family not to engage in political activity.
Following her 1972 resignation from the royal family to marry an American she met while studying at MIT, the princess argues that she is no longer a royal and should be free to be politically active.
“I want to exercise my rights and freedom as a commoner under the constitution, and I have given the Thai Raksa Chart Party consent to nominate me as its candidate for prime minister,” she wrote on an Instagram post.
“My decision to allow the Thai Raksa Chart to register my name as a candidate for prime minister demonstrates my freedom and rights, with no privileges over other people, as stated in the constitution.”
Founded in 2009 originally as the Rath Thai Party, Thai Raksa Chart has historically been a vehicle for former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra and his family. Shinawatra was deposed following a 2006 military coup. He was exiled and his previous party, Thai Rak Thai, was banned.
The military retook power in 2014 following highly a highly contentious general election, which was eventually invalidated by the Constitutional Court. The upcoming March elections are the first since the military retook power.
Princess Ubol Ratana’s decision to join Thai Raksa Chart is being interpreted as much more than just a controversial entry into politics by a royal. By siding with the Shinawatra clan she is in effect possibly siding against the Thai military junta, believed to enjoy the support of her brother King Vajiralongkorn.
King: the princess is still a royal
The king dramatically ended his sister’s political career within hours of her announcement on Friday, via a statement in the Royal Gazette.
Referring to a section of the Thai constitution, the edict read, “The king is above politics and holds a position of respect. No one may violate, accuse or file charges against him in any way. The provisions also cover the queen, heir-apparent and royal family members close to the king.”
The statement stated that although Ubol Ratana had technically resigned from the royal family, she was still a member of the royal family by tradition.
Thai Raksa Chart Party may be banned
The King’s statement was endorsed by the Thai Election Commission earlier today when it approved the candidacy of all 70 prime ministerial candidates except for Princess Ubol Ratana. The ruling is final, and cannot be appealed.
The Election Commission also stated that after nominating the princess, Thai Raksa Chart may be charged with violating the Political Parties Act. Encouraging a royal to enter politics may be seen as trying to undermine the constitutional monarchy.
If found guilty by the Constitutional Court, Thai Raksa Chart could be disbanded and its officers could be banned from voting or running for political office for life.
The push to dissolve Thai Raksa Chart is being led by the pro-military People’s Reform Party. Its leader, Paiboon Nititawan, wrote a letter to the Electoral Commission on Saturday demanding Thai Raksa Chart be prosecuted.
Despite the setback to her political career, Princess Ubol Ratana remains positive.
In a statement to her supporters on Saturday, again via Instagram, she wrote, “I would like to say once again that I want to see Thailand moving forward, being admirable and acceptable by international countries, want to see all Thais have rights, a chance, good living, happiness to all.”