Thai election commission moves to dissolve party linked to princess

Thai Raksa Chart party leader Preechapol Pongpanich holds up application of candidate for Prime Minister, Thailand's Princess Ubolratana Rajakanya Sirivadhana Barnavadi, at the election commission office in Bangkok February 8, 2019. — Reuters pic
Thai Raksa Chart party leader Preechapol Pongpanich holds up application of candidate for Prime Minister, Thailand's Princess Ubolratana Rajakanya Sirivadhana Barnavadi, at the election commission office in Bangkok February 8, 2019. — Reuters pic

BANGKOK, Feb 13 — Thailand's election commission today asked the constitutional court to dissolve a political party that put forward a princess as candidate for prime minister, days after the move earned a royal rebuke from her brother, the king.

Thailand has been mired in political drama since Friday, when Princess Ubolratana's name was submitted by Thai Raksa Chart, a party allied with the powerful Shinawatra clan.

Ubolratana's unprecedented bid to enter frontline politics unravelled within hours after King Maha Vajiralongkorn decried the entry of a royal into the political fray as "highly inappropriate."

Thailand's monarchy is seen as above politics, although royals have intervened in public during times of political crisis.

The princess was disqualified as a candidate by the Election Commission, which then filed a request with the constitutional court to have Thai Raksa Chart disbanded for bringing a royal family member into politics.

“That action is considered hostile to the constitutional monarchy,” it said.

The monarchy in Thailand is considered sacred and revered by its people, and is under the protection of draconian lese majeste laws. The king's word is considered final.

The scuttling of her candidacy and potential moves to dissolve the Thai Raksa Chart party is a blow to the political machine of former premier Thaksin Shinawatra.

The party was set to add to the vote bank of the bigger Shinawatra electoral vehicle, Pheu Thai, in an election where secondary parties are targeting seats via the party list system.

Parties overseen by Thaksin have won all elections since 2001.

Thaksin and his sister Yingluck — who was overthrown in the 2014 coup — live abroad to avoid convictions they say are politically motivated.

'I'm sorry'

In an Instagram post late Tuesday the 67-year-old princess apologised for her role in the drama, which has sent jitters across the politically febrile country just weeks before elections.

“I'm sorry that my genuine intention to help work for the country and fellow Thai people has created a problem that shouldn't happen in this era,” she wrote.

It was tagged with a hashtag: “#howcomeitsthewayitis.”

Ubolratana is the first-born of former king Bhumibol Adulyadej, but she gave up her royal titles when she married an American in 1972.

After her divorce, she moved back to Thailand where she is regarded by the Thai public as a part of the royal family.

While she said she was exercising her rights as a commoner to stand for premier, the palace statement last week said she is “still a member of the House of Chakri,” referring to the name of the dynasty.

Junta chief Prayut Chan-O-Cha, who toppled Yingluck's government, is running for prime minister in the March 24 poll.

Analysts say the blocking of the princess's candidacy could benefit Prayut, who has portrayed himself as a defender of the monarchy.

Party executives from Thai Raksa Chart have expressed contrition after the upheaval, but said they would challenge any attempt to disband it.

A media organisation affiliated with the Shinawatras was also in the crosshairs this week.

Voice TV, owned by Thaksin's son Ponthongtae, was ordered Tuesday by the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC) to go off-air for 15 days after two of its programmes caused “confusion and provocation.” — AFP

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