Tensions rise with Thai election commission to rule on princess running for PM
12 February, 2019, 5:25 am
BANGKOK (Reuters) – Thailand’s Election Commission will consider on Monday the surprise nomination of a Thai princess as a prime ministerial candidate in March elections after her brother, King Maha Vajiralongkorn, called it “inappropriate” and unconstitutional.
The commission will also consider a complaint seeking to ban the populist party that stunned the Southeast Asian nation by nominating Princess Ubolratana Rajakanya Sirivadhana Barnavadi, 67, for the prime ministership.
The March 24 election will be the first since a military coup in 2014.
Thailand has been a constitutional monarchy since 1932, but the royal family wields great influence and commands the devotion of millions of Thais.
Ubolratana’s shock nomination last week by the Thai Raksa Chart party, which is made up of supporters of ousted ex-premier Thaksin Shinawatra, broke with a longstanding tradition of members of the royal family staying above politics.
She gave up her royal titles after marrying an American in the 1970s and has starred in soap operas and an action movie.
However, King Vajiralongkorn said in a statement read out on all Thai television stations within hours of her candidacy being announced that it was “inappropriate” for members of the royal family to enter politics.
The dramatic events of the past three days have put Thais on edge. Riot police units were on high alert in Pichit province, north of Bangkok, where the princess was due to visit later this week, according to Matichon newspaper.
The hashtag #coup was trending on Thai-language Twitter on Monday and a document also circulated online claiming that the junta had sacked commanders in the army, navy and air force.
The government’s assistant spokeswoman, Colonel Taksada Sangkhachan, said the document was fake and the government had filed a report with police.
The Election Commission has until Friday to rule on Ubolratana’s candidacy. Its members are unlikely to disregard the wishes of the king who, while a constitutional monarch, is considered semi-divine in Thai society.
A pro-royal activist said on Sunday he would file a petition to disqualify the Thai Raksa Chart party.
“The royal announcement made it clear that the party violated electoral law,” Srisuwan Janya, secretary-general of the Association for the Protection of the Constitution, told Reuters.
Thai Raksa Chart’s Executive Chairman Chaturon Chaisaeng declined to comment on Sunday on the request to disband the party. The party said in a statement it would “move forward into the election arena to solve problems for the country”.
Electoral law forbids parties from using the monarchy in campaigns.
Thai Raksa Chart is one of several pro-Thaksin parties contesting the election.
The junta leader, Prayuth Chan-ocha, is also running for the prime ministership as the candidate of a pro-military party. Prayuth was the Thai army chief in 2014 and led the coup that ousted a government led by Thaksin’s sister.
Parties loyal to Thaksin, a former telecommunications tycoon, have defeated pro-establishment parties to win every election since 2001. Each of their governments have been removed by court rulings or coups since 2006.
The gambit to nominate a member of the royal family could backfire on Thai Raksa Chart, said Titipol Phakdeewanich, dean of the faculty of political science at Ubon Ratchathani University.
“Things are now more unpredictable,” Titipol told Reuters.
Dissolving the party could give more seats to anti-Thaksin affiliated parties, he said, although there are other parties loyal to the ex-premier contesting the election.
Thaksin, ousted in a coup in 2006, lives in self-imposed exile after being convicted in absentia by a Thai court on corruption charges he denies.