Thailand's king condemns bid by sister to become PM

Thailand's king condemns bid by sister to become PM

For the princess, coming out on the side of the Shinawatras will further complicate Thailand's troubled politics, said Pavin Chachavalpongpun, associate professor at the Center for Southeast Asian Studies at Kyoto University.

It also pitted her against the military candidate and could have wide-ranging implications under Thailand's lese majeste laws, which make it a crime to insult the monarchy.

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.

While the monarchy, which is vastly wealthy and protected from criticism by a harsh royal defamation law, has been seen as above the political fray, royals have intervened in moments of political crisis.

If she does remain as a candidate, there are other question that remain, chief among them being how the competitive dynamics of the election would be affected.

Thailand became a constitutional monarchy in 1932 but the royal family wields great influence and commands the devotion of millions of Thais. Co-opting a popular princess looks like a masterstroke.

Ubolratana has yet to make any comment on the nomination.

1992: She founded the Ubolratana Foundation, which supports children orphaned by HIV-related illnesses.

Her entry into politics has come as a shock to many, but in recent years there had been signs of closeness to exiled ex-prime minister Thaksin, who was deposed in a 2006 coup and whose sister, Yingluck Shinawatra, served as an elected prime minister until the latest coup in 2014.

As I have observed before in these pages, common references to Thailand as a democracy and a focus on contemporary developments including the May 2014 coup that brought the junta-led government under Prayut Chan-o-cha to power and the March 2019 expected election date can obscure more complex realities in the country's politics.

"Royalists who had been appalled by the prospect of a political deal with Thaksin are now rejoicing, while Thais who believed the deal heralded an end to political conflict are now heartbroken", he said in a statement. "The country faces significant chaos and uncertainty in the run-up to elections on March 24 and the coronation in May".

Ubolratana's candidacy had electrified the build-up to the election, which has long seemed poised to return the ruling junta and its proxies to power, in a straightforward battle against Thaksin's populists and their allies. Has been in exile since 2008 to avoid serving jail time on a corruption conviction he insists was politically motivated.

"I've been bored with politics for so long, but the princess has made me happy about the election again", one fan wrote on a web forum. It is also likely to complicate any analysis or media coverage of the Thai election, as well.

The coup Prayuth led unseated a Pheu Thai Party-led administration headed by Yingluck Shinawatra, Thaksin's sister.

In theory, the royal protection laws only cover the king, queen and heir to throne.

Thailand's King Vajiralongkorn has denounced as "inappropriate" his sister's unprecedented bid to run for prime minister.

The princess, seen as somewhat of a rebel for rescinding her privileges after her marriage to an American commoner, has earned somewhat of a celebrity status in Thailand. She later settled in southern California taking the name Julie Jensen. They settled in the United States, where they had three children.

Tragedy struck in 2004 when her autistic 21-year-old son Bhumi died in the Indian Ocean tsunami.

"All royal family members adhere to the same principles. and can not take any political office, because it contradicts the intention of the constitution".

Ubolratana's political leanings, however, have been less clear.

She was seen at the World Cup in Russian Federation smiling with Thaksin and his sister Yingluck - also a former prime minister - and has over the junta years given a number of coded nods on social media in favour of the Shinawatras.

Her Instagram account, though private, has over 100,000 followers.

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