'Inappropriate'

Thai king denounces sister after party names the popular former princess as candidate for PM

Princess Ubolratana of Thailand (MARTIN BUREAU/AFP/Getty Images)

An opposition party in Thailand has named a princess as their nominee for prime minister, a bold move that threatens to upend the ruling military party’s close ties with the country’s popular royal family.

Customarily under the Thai constitutional monarchy system, royals recuse themselves from politics. But the status of Princess Ubolratana Rajakanya Sirivadhana Barnavadi, 67, falls into a gray area since she had her highest royal titles taken from her by her father in 1972 after she married a fellow student, American Peter Ladd Jensen, who she met while at school at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Ubolratana, who returned to Thailand following her divorce from Jensen in 1998, will represent the Thai Raksa Chart Party in next month’s elections. The party is associated with former P.M. Thaksin Shinawatra, a populist who went into exile in 2008 after being convicted on a corruption charge that he claimed was fabricated by royalist enemies and the military.

Current Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, the leader of a 2014 coup that ousted the country’s previous elected government, will serve as the nominee for the Palang Pracharat Party, which is widely perceived as being controlled by the military. Prayuth had been expected to be a runaway winner ahead of the March 24 polls due to legal changes that made it impractical to become prime minister without the support of the military.

But the selection by the opposition party of the popular member of the royal family, experts say, will make it hard for the military to block her should she win the vote — and raises questions about the king’s allegiances with the military.

Just hours after Ubolratana’s nomination was announced, the king made a televised statement suggesting he had been caught by surprise. “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.

It is thought the king’s opposition will result in Ubolratana’s disqualification by the election commission.

Since her return to Thailand, Ubolratana has found success as an actress, TV hostess, and anti-drug campaigner. A savvy social media user, the princess’s posts went viral in 2017 with videos featuring her singing holiday songs such as We Wish You a Merry Christmas and Santa Claus is Coming to Town.

“I have relinquished my royal titles and lived as a commoner,” she said in an Instagram post announcing her decision to run.

Read the full story at The Guardian.

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