As Thai Elections Approach, a Princess and a 'Game Changer'

Royals aren't supposed to run for prime minister, but Ubolratana Mahidol is changing that
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Feb 8, 2019 6:07 AM CST
In this March 24, 2010, photo, Princess Ubolratana poses for a photo during her visit to promote Thailand's film industry at the Entertainment Expo Hong Kong Filmart.   (AP Photo/Vincent Yu)
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(Newser) – A Thai political party on Friday named a princess as its nominee to be the next prime minister, upending a tradition of the palace eschewing politics and upsetting all predictions about what might happen in next month's elections. The selection of Princess Ubolratana Mahidol by the Thai Raksa Chart Party marks a shock realignment of Thai politics by tying the king's eldest sister to the political machine of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, which hard-core royalists have long dismissed as opposed in spirit to the monarchy, per the AP. It pits her against the preferred candidate of the military, which is considered one of Thailand's most royalist institutions: Current Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, who led the 2014 coup that ousted Thailand's last elected government, on Friday accepted his selection as candidate to lead the next government by the Palang Pracharat Party.

Because Thailand is a constitutional monarchy, the king and his immediate circle aren't supposed to involve themselves directly in politics. Ubolratana, 67, falls into a gray area, as she's called and treated as a princess, but her highest royal titles were taken away when she married American Peter Jensen more than 40 years ago, settled in the US, and had three children; only after a divorce did she move back to Thailand in 2001. Prayuth had been seen as the front-runner for the March 24 polls, but Ubolratana's de facto alliance with the forces of the exiled Thaksin—whose comeback the military has made every effort to block—puts Prayuth's supporters in an awkward position. Because she'll be seen as a representative of the monarchy, the nation's most revered institution, it will be difficult to block her political rise. "This is a game changer," says a University of Michigan political scientist. (Read more Thailand stories.)

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