Historic candidacy of Princess Ubolratana as prime minister of Thailand

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Princess Ubolratana (AP Photo)
Princess Ubolratana (AP Photo)

BANGKOK (AP) – A Thai political party on Friday named Princess Ubolratanaas its nominee to be the next prime minister, upending tradition that the royal palace plays no public role in politics and upsetting all predictions about what may happen in next month’s election.

The selection on Friday of the 67-year-old princess by the Thai Raksa Chart party marks a shock realignment of Thai politics and 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 PalangPracharat Party, widely considered a proxy for the military.

Leader of Thai Raksa Chart party PreechaPholphongpanich, center, holds a picture of Princess Ubolratana at election commission of Thailand in Bangkok, Thailand, Friday, Feb. 8, 2019. The political party has selected the princess as its nominee to serve as the next prime minister, upending tradition that the royal palace plays no public role in politics and upsetting all predictions about what may happen in the March election. (AP Photo)
Leader of Thai Raksa Chart party PreechaPholphongpanich, center, holds a picture of Princess Ubolratana at election commission of Thailand in Bangkok, Thailand, Friday, Feb. 8, 2019. The political party has selected the princess as its nominee to serve as the next prime minister, upending tradition that the royal palace plays no public role in politics and upsetting all predictions about what may happen in the March election. (AP Photo)

Princess Ubolratana is the first-born child of the late King Bhumibol and Queen Sirikit. She married a fellow student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and lived in the United States, where she and her husband had three children. She moved back permanently to Thailand in 2001.

Since then she has thrown herself into charity work, especially her “To Be No. 1” foundation to fight youth drug abuse. She also frequently promotes Thai tourism and movies at international forums. In general, like most of the royal family, she publicly kept herself aloof from Thailand’s recent political turmoil.

Thai politics for more than a decade has been shaken by violent street protests, coups and comebacks, but those are familiar events in Thai history. However, the death in 2016 of HM King BhumibolAdulyadej added a major element of uncertainty, as he had served as a stabilizing force since taking the throne in 1946.

The other destabilizing element in Thai politics was the 2001 election as prime minister of telecommunications tycoon ThaksinShinawatra.

His populist policies delivered him unmatchable electoral majorities, but he was resented by the traditional ruling class, including royalists and the military, and the army deposed him in a 2006 coup. Has been in exile since 2008 to avoid serving jail time on a corruption conviction he insists was politically motivated.

Thaksin’s well-funded political machine returned to power twice since and is seen as the key element in arranging for Ubolratana’s selection because she cast her lot with a Thaksin-affiliated party.