Thai Princess Ubolratana’s unprecedented attempt to become the country’s next prime minister was abruptly shut off last night/SAT after her party caved into a command from the king blocking her move into politics.
The monarchy was tipped into turmoil on Friday after a princess’s unexpected bid for power prompted a swift challenge from her younger brother, King Maha Vajiralongkorn.
Her declaration to run for Thai Raksa Chart, a populist party, looked to represent one of the biggest political shake-ups in Thailand’s history, threatening the ambitions of a military junta that has ruled the country since it toppled the previous administration in a 2014 coup.
Thailand is a constitutional monarchy and no members of the royal family have run for frontline office. The country’s strict lese-majeste laws, which make it a criminal offense to insult the monarchy, mean such political bids by the family are close to impossible.
But the Thai king stunned observers – who had assumed her candidacy had already received royal approval – when he quickly torpedoed the bid in an extraordinary rebuke, saying it was “highly inappropriate” and against tradition to bring senior royal family members into politics in a sharply-worded statement.
Thai Raksa Chart responded swiftly, saying it “complies with the royal command,” and cancelling a campaign event for Saturday.
The party’s stunning reversal effectively blocks Princess Ubolratana’s bid for the premiership. She has not commented on the row, only thanking supporters Saturday on her widely-followed Instagram account, saying she wanted Thailand to “move forward.”
While Thailand’s election commission, which is overseeing the first polls since the coup, has the final say on candidates, it seems unlikely its members would oppose the king’s powerful influence. The commission said it would issue a ruling on Monday.
In a kingdom where the royal family usually rises above the tumult of politics, the palace intrigue over the last two days instead could now help the military junta consolidate its power ahead of the March elections and tilt the odds in favour of coup leader Prayut Chan-O-Cha, 64.
The military has "gained the upper hand,” said Anusorn Unno a professor from Thammasat University, adding that it is poised to perform well in the upcoming vote.
Prayut, is standing as premier for the Phalang Pracharat party, a political group aligned with the regime. For five years, he has led the junta, which has been scripting a new constitution in a bid to ensure the army retains power after the elections in March.
Thai Raksa Chart is aligned with Yingluck Shinawatra, the prime minister forced to step down in 2014, and her brother Thaksin, who was ousted by the army in 2006.
Ms Ubolratana gave up her royal titles when she married an American decades ago, but they divorced and she moved back to Thailand.