Surprise move pits Princess against leader of 2014 coup
Fri 8 Feb 2019
Thai princess Ubolratana Rajakanya Sirivadhana Varnavadi has broken the tradition of the royal family keeping out of politics. Photograph: Wikimedia
The sister of Thailand’s King Maha Vajiralongkorn has been unveiled as a prime ministerial candidate in next month’s elections in a country where strict lèse-majesté laws make criticism of the royal family in effect illegal.
On Friday, the Thai Raksa Chart party confirmed princess Ubolratana Rajakanya Sirivadhana Barnavadi had joined the race, a move one expert said had created a “political earthquake”.
She is the first member of the royal family to run for the office and will face coup leader and head of Thailand’s military junta, Prayut Chan-o-cha, who said on Friday he would run to “maintain peace and order”.
Ubolratana’s party, Thai Raksa Chart, is allied to former PM Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in a coup in 2006, but has led the party from exile. The party was created by Thaksin’s Peu Chart party after the military junta threatened to dissolve it. Ubolratana has openly maintained close ties with Thaksin.
The announcement was a profound and unprecedented development that had created a “political earthquake”, said Thitinan Pongsudhirak, director of the Institute of Security and International Studies at Chulalongkorn University.
Before the surprise announcement, the election had been viewed as a battle between Thaksin’s populists and their allies, and the royalist-military establishment.
Thitinan said the move had catapulted the previously small Thai Raksa Chart into the spotlight. “It is the leading contender for the election now,” he said.
Ubolratana, 67, is the older sister of King Vajiralongkorn and eldest child of late King Bhumibol Adulyadej, although she relinquished her official royal title when she married a foreigner in 1972. She is still considered part of the royal family, which is traditionally seen as being above politics, although highly influential.