Published: Fri, February 08, 2019
Global News | By Blake Casey

Thai king's sister nominated for PM in March polls in unprecedented move

Thai king's sister nominated for PM in March polls in unprecedented move

"This has never happened before in Thai politics; the royal family has always been seen as being above politics even though everyone knows that it's the most powerful body in Thailand".

The move from the Thai Raksa Chart party is broadly speculated to have been engineered by former PM Thaksin in the fugitive's ongoing interference, in exile, with Thai politics.

General Prayuth Chan-ocha, the man who led the coup against a pro-Thaksin administration in 2014, is still running as a prime ministerial candidate, so Princess Ubolratana will at least face some kind of contest in parliament after the election.

"It is unprecedented if she becomes prime minister", said Puangthong Pawakapan, professor of political science at Chulalongkorn University.

The Princess is now registered as a candidate for the Thai Raksa Chart party, an off-shoot of the Thaksin-backed Pheu Thai Party which is also contesting the forthcoming election.

The nomination of Thailand's princess Ubolratana Rajakanya Sirivadhana Varnavad has sent shockwaves through the country's political landscape.

The princess relinquished her royal titles in 1972 and lived in the United States after marrying Peter Jenson, an American fellow student from their time at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

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Party leader Paiboon Nititawan has handed a letter to the Election Commission calling on it to decide whether to invalidate the princess's nomination, saying it could breach the law that prevents political parties from using the monarchy for campaigning.

"In everything we do we must devote our heart, our knowledge, every part of ourselves", she said in 2017 in a speech to mark her father's birthday.

Known to the public for lead roles in Thai films, onstage singing performances, a vibrant fashion sense and a sizeable Instagram following, Ubolratana is the first-born child of the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej.

The commission is required to endorse all candidates by next Friday. "I only want to work for the benefits of the country and the people", he added.

The simmering conflict between the Bangkok-centered, royalist elites and the more rural-based populists loyal to Thaksin has resulted in street protests, military coups and violent clashes over nearly 15 years and it is unclear whether a member of the royal family entering politics will sway loyalties.

There was no mention of the princess' nomination in Prayuth's statement.

Thailand has been a constitutional monarchy since 1932 but the royal family has wielded great influence and commands the devotion of millions. Born in 1951, she studied mathematics and biochemistry before earning a master's degree in public health, all in the US. Only after a bitter divorce did she move back permanently to Thailand in 2001. Her son, Khun Poom, died when the tsunami hit Phang nga province on December 26, 2004.

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