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Thai princess running for prime minister in historic first

By
Nicholas Sakelaris
Princess Ubolratana Mahidol was nominated to run for prime minister of Thailand, the first time a member of the royal family has run for office. Photo by Jorge Zapata/EPA-EFE
Princess Ubolratana Mahidol was nominated to run for prime minister of Thailand, the first time a member of the royal family has run for office. Photo by Jorge Zapata/EPA-EFE

Feb. 8 (UPI) -- For the first time in the 86-year history of Thailand's constitutional monarchy, a member of the nation's royal family has run for prime minister.

Ubolratana Mahidol, the oldest child of the late King Bhumibol, was nominated by the Thai Raksa Chart Party, which is aligned with the country's exiled former leader, Thaksin Shinawatra.

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Ubolratana, 67, completed her undergraduate and graduate degrees from the the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of California, Los Angeles, respectively.

Thailand's royal family is seen as semi-divine, but Ubolratana resigned her royal title of princess in 1972 when she went to college in the United States. She reacquired the title upon her divorce with husband Peter Ladd Jensen in 1998.

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"The Thai Raksa Chart Party is deeply honored to have received Ubolratana Mahidol's kindness in accepting the party's nomination to be prime minister," the party said in a statement. "

The election is set for March 24. Friday was the last day for hopefuls to declare their candidacy.

"I am deeply touched," Ubolratana posted on Instagram. "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."

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Thaksin is a Thai businessman and former politician who was prime minister from 2001 to 2006. He's lived in self-imposed exile since leaving office, when his party was overthrown by a military coup. He's also a fugitive, having been sentenced to two years in jail for abuse of power.

Ubolratana's brother, King Vajiralongkorn, does not support her bid for prime minister, calling it "inappropriate" in a televised address.

"Involvement of a high-ranking member of the royal family in politics, in whatever way, is an act that conflicts with the country's traditions, customs, and culture, and therefore is considered extremely inappropriate," he said.

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The surprise nomination sent shock waves through the country's political landscape as a crowded field of candidates prepared to run for the same post. Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha, who's ruled Thailand since a 2014 coup, also announced he would run.

Thailand's lese majeste law makes it a crime to criticize the royal family, which could make it difficult for opponents to campaign against Ubolratana.

Ubolratana was born in Lausanne, Switzerland, while her father was attending college there. She and her father won a gold medal in sailing in the 1967 Southeast Asian Games. She has three children, one of whom died in the 2004 tsunami that killed more than 225,000 people in southern Asia.

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