Thailand's King Maha Vajiralongkorn ruled on Friday that involvement of royal family members in politics contradicts the constitution, in a rare decree that essentially crushed his elder sister’s unprecedented bid to become prime minister.
The king issued his ruling hours after Princess Ubolratana Rajakanya Sirivadhana Barnavadi stunned the nation with a tweet that she had allowed the Thai Raksa Chart party to nominate her as their prime ministerial pick if they triumphed in next month’s elections.
“All royal family members are above and neutral in politics. They must not bear political position,” the king said in a statement released by the palace and read on national television. “Otherwise, it is deemed breaching constitution and tradition of constitutional monarchy.”
Ubolratana, 67, said in her tweet that she had become a commoner, having relinquished her official royal title in 1972 when she married Peter Jensen, an American who was her fellow student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
“I have accepted the Thai Raksa Chart party nomination for prime minister to show my rights and freedom without any privileges above other fellow Thai citizens under the constitution,” she wrote.
But the king’s statement in the Royal Gazette said that Ubolratana, being the eldest child of the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej and senior to other royal family members, was still considered a member of the royal family.
“To bring senior royal family members to politics contradicts tradition, norm and the culture of the country,” the king said. “It is deemed extremely inappropriate.”
Ubolratana’s foray into politics threatened to pose an unexpected challenge to Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha, who also announced his candidacy Friday for parliamentary elections, and until her announcement was the frontrunner in the much-delayed polls.
Her nomination by Thai Raksa Chart Party, which was allied with fugitive former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and his sister Yingluck Shinawatra, was unprecedented, as Thai royals have never been openly involved in Thai politics.
“Party executives agreed that Princess Ubolratana is knowledgeable, capable and most suitable,” Preechapol Pongpanit, the leader of the Thai Raksa Chart Party, told reporters after submitting her name to the election commission.
Ubolratana moved back to Bangkok after her divorce with Jensen, with whom she has three children. She is popular among youngsters and has posted photos regularly on social media. She also carried out charity work, took acting roles and led an anti-drugs campaign.
Prayuth, who seized power when he led the coup that deposed Yingluck in May 2014, earlier told reporters that he had accepted an invitation to be a premier nominee for the Palang Pracharat Party, which was formed by his cabinet ministers.
“I affirm I have no intention to hold on to my power,” Prayuth he said.
Nearly 10,000 candidates from 104 political parties have registered for the March 24 general elections this week, and parties nominated their choices for prime minister.