BANGKOK -- The Election Commission of Thailand on Monday released a list of 69 prime ministerial candidates approved for next month's general election, dealing the opposition a blow by disqualifying Princess Ubolratana as a contender.
The entire royal family must remain above politics, the commission said of its decision, which followed a statement by the king opposing his sister's candidacy.
The announcement comes after a weekend of political uncertainty as Thailand heads into its first election since a bloodless military coup in 2014. A key question has been who the opposition will put forward to challenge Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, the junta leader preparing to enter electoral politics for the first time.
The opposition Thai Raksa Chart Party, which draws on supporters of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, shocked the political establishment on Friday by registering Princess Ubolratana as its sole candidate for prime minister.
Her brother, King Vajiralongkorn Bodindradebayavarangkun, quickly stepped in to call her candidacy "most inappropriate" in a statement declaring all members of the royal family "to be above politics and to be politically neutral."
Prayuth is among the 69 names on the election commission's list, having been nominated by the pro-junta Palang Pracharat Party.
The election authority did not touch on the consequences of the Thai Raksa Chart Party's failed attempt to put forward Princess Ubolratana as its candidate. An activist group submitted a petition to the commission Monday, asking to dissolve the party for nominating the princess. The Election Commission said it will soon set up a fact-finding panel to evaluate whether dissolution is warranted.
Former Public Health Minister Sudarat Keyuraphan and former Transport Minister Chadchart Sittipunt are the main pro-Thaksin Pheu Thai Party's picks for prime minister, with both of their names making the Election Commission's list. Democrat Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva, a former prime minister, is also a candidate.
In the election scheduled for March 24, Thai political parties can each put forward up to three candidates for prime minister. A candidate who obtains a majority of votes from the 500-member lower house and the 250-seat upper house combined will become the next prime minister.