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Turbulent Thailand

Thai party accepts king's edict barring princess as PM candidate

Monarch calls nomination by pro-Thaksin group 'inappropriate'

King Maha Vajiralongkorn issued a palace statement calling her nomination "inappropriate."    © AP

BANGKOK -- The Thai Raksa Chart Party said Saturday that it will comply with King Vajiralongkorn Bodindradebayavarangkun's order to keep members of the royal family from directly participating in the country's politics, dashing his sister Princess Ubolratana's hopes to run as a prime ministerial candidate for the party in the March general election.

"The Thai Raksa Chart Party humbly accepts the royal command with loyalty and reverence for the king and all royal family members," said a statement released by the party on Saturday. "Thai Raksa Chart would like to proceed in accordance with the regulations of the Election Commission, the election law and the constitution with respect to royal custom and tradition."

Thailand became a constitutional monarchy in 1932, but the royal family has remained politically influential.

The 67-year-old princess was registered on Friday as the prime ministerial candidate for the Thai Raksa Chart Party in the general election to be held on March 24. The party is linked to ousted former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and his sister, Yingluck, who also served as prime minister. The move was seen as a game-changer, as it put the junta and the prime minister, Prayuth Chan-ocha in the awkward position of challenging a member of Thailand's revered royal family.

But less than a day later the tide had turned, after the king issued a televised royal edict on Friday night, calling Princess Ubolratana's candidacy "inappropriate." His statement said the royal family "cannot take any political position, in order to keep the constitution true to its intention, and [to maintain] the democratic regime, with a king as the head of state."

Princess Ubolratana renounced her royal status when she married an American. She returned to Thailand in 2001 after getting a divorce. The king's statement said, however, that "she is still a beloved family member for my father and my mother," suggesting that she should be considered royalty.

The princess responded to the edict with a post on Instagram, which was seen by Thais as bowing to her brother's wishes. "I would like to thank all my fellow Thais for their love and kindness toward me throughout [Friday]," the post said.

"However, I would like to see Thailand move forward and become admired and accepted by the international community. I would like to see all Thais enjoy rights and opportunities, and have well-being and happiness throughout the country." The message ended by saying, "I wish you all good luck and happiness."

The pro-junta parties had criticized Thai Raksa Chart's decision to involve the royal family in politics. Paiboon Nititawan, the leader of the minor pro-junta People’s Reform Party, urged the Election Commission to recommend the dissolution of Thai Raksa Chart to the Constitutional Court.

The electoral authority’s campaign guidelines prohibit involving the monarchy in party campaigns. If the commission finds evidence that a party has willfully violated the rules, it could be disbanded.

The Thai Raksa Chart Party, which is allied to another Thaksin-linked party,  Pheu Thai, has fielded nearly 300 candidates for the lower house vote. It would be a major blow to the alliance if the Thai Raksa Chart Party were disbanded.

The king's declaration that Princess's candidacy is inappropriate and perhaps unconstitutional is likely to make the Election Commission more careful in assessing the qualifications of other nominees and parties. The electoral authority will announce the official list of candidates for the premiership and the lower chamber on Feb. 15.

The Thai Raska Chart Party canceled a campaign event on Saturday in Bangkok in response to the king's edict. The princess had not been scheduled to appear at the event.

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