Election Commission says it will ask the constitutional court to dissolve a party that in an unprecedented but ill-fated move put forward a princess to run for prime minister in the country’s upcoming general elections.
In a statement on Wednesday, the election body said the Thai Raksa Chart party violated an electoral law with its shock nomination of Princess Ubolratana Rajakanya Sirivadhana Barnavadi last week.
“The action is considered hostile to the constitutional monarchy,” the statement said.
The move came two days after the commission disqualified the 67-year-old princess from taking part in the March 24 election, the country’s first elections in eight years.
Although the electoral officials did not provide an explanation for her disqualification, it is widely believed the decision derived from a statement by King Maha Vajiralongkorn calling his elder sister’s involvement in politics unconstitutional and inappropriate, just hours after her nomination was announced on Friday.
Princess Ubolratana’s short-lived nomination broke with a long-standing tradition of members of the royal family, which wields great influence and commands the devotion of millions, staying out of politics.
What made her bid particularly notable was her alliance with a party that is part of the political machine of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was overthrown in a 2006 coup and is loathed by many royalists and others in the country’s traditional establishment.
The whirlwind events have reignited long-standing political tensions in Thailand, which is still run by a military government that seized power in a 2014 coup and ousted the government of Thaksin’s sister, Yingluck Shinawatra. Since the coup, the military government had used strict laws against protests and political activity to keep tensions from bubbling to the surface.
Late on Tuesday, the princess issued an apology for causing “problems”.
“I’m sorry that my sincere determination to work for the country and the people has caused problems that shouldn’t have happened in this day and age,” she wrote on her Instagram page.
After the king overruled its candidate, Thai Raksa Chart avowed its fealty to him and acceptance of his order, but its opponents urged its dissolution.
Before the Election Commission made its recommendation, the party leader Preechapol Pongpanit called for the body to hear its defence.
“If they don’t let us tell our side, it’d be as if we were tied by our hands and feet,” he said.
Ubolratana’s candidacy could have pitted her against the preferred candidate of the pro-royalist military, the military government leader and Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, who led the 2014 coup.
Prayuth was considered the frontrunner, largely because election laws enacted under his government skewed the odds against any party running without the support of the military and the conservative royalist establishment. Under the army-drafted constitution, the military government appoints all of the upper house, which along with the lower house gets to vote for prime minister.
The changes were the latest attempt at quashing the influence of Thaksin, whose allied parties have won every national election since 2001 and remain popular with the rural majority for policies such as universal healthcare.
Three pro-Thaksin parties running in this year’s election were seen as posing the greatest challenge to Prayuth and pro-military parties, and recruiting Princess Ubolratana to their cause was initially seen as boosting their odds.
They appear to have assumed that since she lost her formal royal titles in 1972 when she married a foreigner – a US citizen whom she has since divorced – that the strictures against royal involvement in politics would not apply to her.
Dissolving Tha Raksa Chart would almost surely cost the Thaksin side much-needed seats in the election. It would also deepen concerns about the fairness of the polls.
Those concerns were heightened on Tuesday when the country’s telecoms regulator suspended the operating license of a TV station linked to Thaksin, citing national security concerns. The National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission said two news programmes on the station spread information that caused public confusion and divisiveness.