A Thai political party has nominated the King’s sister as its candidate for prime minister in March elections — an unprecedented move that could upend the political landscape and give the revered monarchy an overt role in politics.
Princess Ubolratana Rajakanya, the 67-year-old elder sister of King Vajiralongkorn, will run for the Thai Raksa Chart Party (Thai Save The Nation) aligned with populist former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted by the military in a 2005 coup.
One of her leading opponents will be the military-backed current Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-Cha, who announced his own candidacy Friday.
Thai Raksa Chart Party chief Lt. Preechapon Pongpanich confirmed the announcement in a statement on Friday. “After the meeting among our executives, we have concluded to send Princess Ubolratana as our PM candidate. She is knowledgeable and capable person,” he said. “After the meeting we reached out to her, and she has been gracefully kind and accepted our invitation.”
Thai Raksa Chart is an offshoot of Pheu Thai, the latest incarnation of Thaksin’s party that has won every election since 2001.
The candidacy of a close member of the royal family is unprecedented in Thailand since the era of absolute monarchy ended 86 years ago. Analysts said the move would have been backed by the new king, whose coronation takes place on May 4-6.
“This is historical,” Paul Chambers, politics expert at Thailand’s Naresuan University, told CNN. “I think that it’s part of a plan by the current sovereign to increase his personal power across the country.
“For him to place his own sister in a position like this … She’s not doing it by herself. This would signify that royalty is increasingly intervening in Thai politics today.”
For the past five years, Thailand has been ruled by a military junta headed by coup leader turned prime minister Prayut. The March 24 poll is widely considered to be a vote between a form of democracy and legitimized authoritarian rule.