A top Thailand court has banned an opposition party for nominating the king’s sister, Princess Ubolratana Rajakanya Sirivadhana Barnavadi, as its candidate for prime minister ahead of the March 24 election.
Disqualifying the Thai Raksa Chart party on Thursday struck a blow to the opposition parties’ chances of winning the general election and defeating parties allied to the military government that has ruled Thailand since a coup d’etat in 2014.
The Constitutional Court “has ruled to dissolve the party”, Judge Twekiat Menakanist said, banning 14 party executives from politics for a decade.
Al Jazeera’s Wayne Hay, reporting from Bangkok, said the verdict against the party by a committee of nine judges was unanimous whereas the decision on the executives was objected by three.
He also said the development was “the end of a line for 300 candidates who were going to stand for the party in the election on March 24 both in constituency seats and in the party list system”.
“They are not banned from politics going forward but they are prevented from taking part in this election,” he said.
Thai Raksa Chart is one of several parties loyal to overthrown former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra in an election that broadly pits his supporters against establishment parties, including one that has military leader Prayuth Chan-ocha as its prime ministerial candidate.
While Thai Raksa Chart is not the largest pro-Thaksin party, dissolving it is expected to weaken his supporters’ strategy of fielding several separate parties in the hope of securing more seats for Thaksin loyalists.
New electoral rules put in place by the outgoing military government benefit smaller parties at the expense of the top vote-winning parties when 150 party seats are shared out in the 500-seat House of Representatives.
The other 350 seats are directly elected.
“Dissolving Thai Raksa Chart … would lead to a kind of disenfranchisement because Thai Raksa Chart forms a large chunk of the pro-Thaksin party team,” Thitinan Pongsudhirak, a political scientist at Chulalongkorn University, told Reuters news agency.
He also said the banning of Thai Raksa Chart was unlikely to result in fewer votes for pro-Thaksin parties and more for pro-military ones.
Voters who had been aiming to support it would simply switch to another pro-Thaksin party.
“The structure of Thailand’s polarisation with Thaksin and what he stood for as the fault line remains more or less the same,” he said.
The Election Commission asked the court to dissolve the Thai Raksa Chart party after it nominated Princess Ubolratana for prime minister, which the commission described as “antagonistic towards the constitutional monarchy”.
The princess relinquished her royal titles in 1972 but is still officially treated as a senior member of the royal family, which is highly revered in Thailand.
King Maha Vajiralongkorn strongly opposed his sister’s nomination, calling it “inappropriate” and unconstitutional and her candidacy was swiftly disqualified by the Election Commission.
Princess Ubolratana is currently in Germany, according to her posts on Instagram.
She has not made a direct reference to the court ruling, but said on Thursday: “Today, I want to continue moving ahead in working for Thailand.”
Thaksin’s opponents have sought to portray his movement as insufficiently loyal to the monarchy – which the self-exiled Thaksin vehemently denies – and Thai Raksa Chart’s nomination of the king’s sister was intended to refute that assertion.