Legal doubts raised after Thai King's sister confirms PM bid

Princess Ubolratana Mahidol of Thailand waves to people during her visit to the Expo Zaragoza 2008, in Zaragoza, Aragon, Spain. Photograph:( Agencia EFE )

Agencia EFE Bangkok, Thailand Feb 08, 2019, 07.39 PM (IST)

Legal doubts have been raised over the announcement on Friday that Princess Ubolratana, the elder sister of the King of Thailand, will run for prime minister, an unprecedented move in a country where the monarchy has traditionally avoided direct involvement in politics. 

While legal experts consider Ubolratana's candidacy to be valid, at least one political party has already filed an appeal with the Election Commission urging it to reject her nomination.

An announcement over her candidacy's legality is due on February 15, when the official list of candidates for the March 24 elections - the first since the coup in 2014 - is set to be released, an EC official told EFE.

A group of representatives of the Thai Raksa Chart party, opposed to the military junta and linked to ousted former president Thaksin Shinawatra, on Friday named Ubolratana as their only candidate to head the government if the party wins the elections.

It was an unprecedented decision, marking the first time that a direct relative of a Thai monarch will take part in the polls.

Paiboon Nititawan, a leader of the People's Reform party, close to the current military regime, has publicly opposed the former princess' candidacy.

In a complaint to the EC, Paiboon alleged that it violates the ban on using the monarchy as a part of an electoral campaign. He said that her name could be used to benefit the electoral campaign of Thai Raksa Chart.

Ubolratana, the 67-year-old first-born of late King Bhumibol, relinquished her royal titles in 1972 when she married American Peter Jensen, whom she divorced in 1998 and returned to Thailand shortly after with her three children.

Despite losing her titles, Ubolratana still enjoys the recognition associated with her lineage and continues to be considered a princess by the population.

Paiboon said that Ubolratana, as the first offspring of late King Bhumibol and the sister of King Vajiralongkorn, remains a part of the Royal Family.

A number of legal experts have rejected this argument. Anon Chawalawan, a lawyer working for nonprofit ILaw, told EFE that Ubolratana could legally file her candidacy for the post of prime minister as she had renounced her royal title and met all the requirements.

Manit Jumpa, a professor at the faculty of law of the Chulalaongkorn university agreed, saying people continued to call the King's daughter a princess since they did not know how else to address her. She is a member of the Royal Family only by blood, and is thus eligible to run.

The unexpected announcement has jolted Thai politics less than two months before the long-awaited election, in which current prime minister and leader of the military junta Prayut Chan-ocha is also in the fray.

In a message on her Instagram account - where she promotes "building happiness" in Thailand - Ubolratana confirmed that she had renounced all her royal titles and lived as a "commoner".

"I'd like to exercise my rights and freedom as a commoner under the constitution and the law, and I consent to Thai Raksa Chart Party's nomination," she said, according to an unofficial translation of her original message in Thai.

Parties linked to former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra - who has been living in self-imposed exile as a fugitive of the Thai judicial system. which has charged him with corruption - have won all elections held since 2001 but have been ousted from power by the military or controversial legal rulings.

Story highlights

Legal doubts have been raised over the announcement on Friday that Princess Ubolratana, the elder sister of the King of Thailand, will run for prime minister, an unprecedented move in a country where the monarchy has traditionally avoided direct involvement in politics.