Thai princess enters election as shock move upends royal tradition of staying out of politics

09-Feb-2019 Intellasia | The Telegraph | 6:00 AM Print This Post

Politics in Thailand are set to undergo one of the biggest shake-ups in the nation’s history as a member of the royal family has announced she will take on the ruling military junta and run for prime minister.

Princess Ubolratana Mahidol, the daughter of the late king Bhumibol, is the first royal to take part in an election in a country where lese majeste laws make criticism of the monarchy close to impossible.

The shock intervention upsets the traditional form of politics in the country of 70 million people, where royalist and military elites, known as “yellow shirts”, have competed with ‘red shirt’ supporters of former prime minister and billionaire Thaksin Shinawatra.

“The princess vs. the general is something completely new for Thai politics, which makes it both fascinating and unpredictable,” said Herve Lemahieu, director of Asian Power and Diplomacy Programme at the Lowy Institute a think-tank based in Sydney.

The princess has registered under the Thai Raksa Chart party, a party linked to Thaksin’s own, in a blow to Junta hopes to maintain control of the country after the general election on March 24.

The election is the first since the military seized power in 2014, unseating Thaksin’s sister Yingluck Shinawatra.

Yingluck is currently on the run having been convicted of abuse of power by the Constitutional Court of Thailand in absentia for the 2011 removal of Thawil Pliensri as national security chief.

The Shinawatra siblings are as adored by the rural poor as they loathed by the junta and Bangkok elite. The coup in 2014 was brought about after an attempt to pass a bill that would pave the way for Thaksin’s return.

“The latest developments suggest there are still real divisions between the new king, the military and the old network monarchy, represented by members of the Privy Council who were very loyal to the late King Bhumibol,” said Lemahieu.

“Although this move is clearly antagonistic towards the moneyed establishment, it will be very difficult for them to criticise,” said Alex Bookbinder a research analyst with security consulting firm Aktis Strategy Ltd on Twitter.

Thailand’s lese majeste laws forbid any criticism of the widely-revered royal family and related institutions.

Prosecutions under lese-majeste laws have doubled since 2014 with one man sentenced to 70 years in prison for posting online videos and photos seen as defamatory of the royal family.

Such restrictions will likely hamper the re-election campaign of the incumbent prime minister, 64-year-old former general Prayut Chan-O-Cha.

For almost five years Prayut 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.

Princess Ubolratana, 67-year-old, is the eldest is sister of the current King Maha Vajiralongkorn. She relinquished her royal titles when she married an American, a fellow student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). She divorced him after 26 years in 1998 and moved back to Thailand three years later.

Her run for office is not guaranteed to permanently set the royal family against the military. “I wouldn’t rule out the possibility of a unity deal after March’s vote,” said Lemahieu.


Category: Thailand

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