Thailand’s electoral officials are set to rule on the surprise and unprecedented nomination of a Thai princess as a prime ministerial candidate for the country’s upcoming elections after her brother, King Maha Vajiralongkorn, called the move “inappropriate” and unconstitutional.
The Electoral Commission on Monday will also consider a complaint seeking to ban Thai Raksa Chart party, which on Friday shocked Thailand by announcing the candidacy of Princess Ubolratana Rajakanya Sirivadhana Barnavadi in the long-delayed vote on March 24, the first since a military coup in 2014.
The nomination of the 67-year-old by the party, made up of supporters of overthrown ex-Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, broke with a long-standing tradition of members of the royal family staying above politics.
Thailand has been a constitutional monarchy since 1932, but the royal family wields great influence and commands the devotion of millions.
Ubolratana was stripped of her royal title when she married a US national in 1972. She returned to Thailand in the late 1990s after getting a divorce. Although her formal title was not restored, she is regarded and treated as royalty by people in Thailand.
In a statement read out on all television stations within hours of her candidacy, King Vajiralongkorn said it was “inappropriate” for members of the royal family to enter politics.
The Election Commission has until Friday to rule on the princess’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.
On Sunday, an activist said 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 news agency.
Thai Raksa Chart’s Executive Chairman Chaturon Chaisaeng declined to comment on Sunday on the request to disband the party. In a statement, the party said it “will 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 military government’s leader, Prayuth Chan-ocha, is also contesting the race for prime minister as the candidate of a pro-army party. Prayuth was the Thai army chief in 2014 and led the coup that overthrew a government led by Thaksin’s sister.
Parties loyal to former telecommunications tycoon Thaksin have defeated pro-establishment parties to win every election since 2001 but, since 2006, each of their governments has been removed by court rulings or coups.
The gambit of nominating 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.
If the party is dissolved, it 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, himself removed in a coup in 2006, lives in self-imposed exile after being convicted by a Thai court of corruption in absentia.