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King blocks Thai princess' prime minister bid; pressure mounts to dissolve party

By Sommer Brokaw
King blocks Thai princess' prime minister bid; pressure mounts to dissolve party
Thailand Princess Ubolratana Mahidol withdraws from the prime minister race after being nominated by the Thai Raksa Chart political party under the king's command. File photo by Jorge Zapata/EPA-EFE

Feb. 9 (UPI) -- The Thailand princess' party faces pressure to dissolve even though it has obeyed the king's command to withdraw her nomination as prime ministerial candidate.

Princess Ubolratana Mahidol's declaration to run for prime minister in the populist party, Thai Raksa Chart, for the March elections, at age 67, could have shaken up a military junta that has ruled the country since a 2014 coup. But that came to an end Friday night after her younger brother, King Maha Vajuralongkorn, challenged her nomination.

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The Thai Raksa Party is aligned with the country's exiled former leader, Thaksin Shinawatra. Ubolratana was nominated by the party in an unprecedented move, marking the first time in the 86-year history of Thailand's constitutional monarchy that a royal family member has sought the prime minister seat.

Still, Paiboon Nititawan, the pro-military People Reform Party leader, has called on the Election Commission to meet Monday to consider dissolving the Thai Raksa Party for nominating the princess despite withdrawing her nomination.

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On Saturday, Paiboon said that although the princess has relinquished her royal title by law to become a commoner decades ago, she is still a royal family member by tradition, and members of the monarchy could not be involved in politics.

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"The EC must therefore take steps to dissolve the party," Paiboon said, citing Section 92 of the 2018 Political Party Act's stipulation on dissolution of the party when it has obtained credible evidence that it has committed an act deemed hostile to constitutional monarchy rule. "As for myself, I don't need to do anything because the royal announcement is very clear and people understand it."

Before the withdrawal, Paiboon sent a letter to the Election Commission to request suspension of her nomination. He said that the princess' name could be used for election campaigning, which breaches Section 17 of the election law barring candidates and political parties from using the monarchy for that.

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The king similarly criticized his older sister's bid, calling it "highly inappropriate," and against tradition.

Thai Raksa Chart, said it "complies with the royal command," and canceled a campaign event Saturday.

But the decision leaves the party without a prime ministerial candidate. Before the unexpected announcement that it had chosen the princess for the seat, Chaturon Chaisang, a chief strategist, was widely believed to be the leading figure for the party in the March elections.

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Princess Ubolratan did not comment on her prime ministerial candidacy, but thanked her supporters and said she wants Thailand to be "moving forward."

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