Foreign Policy Digital

Thai Politics Has a Princess but No Storybook Endings

With elections coming, the junta still fears the specter of Thaksin Shinawatra.

CHIANG MAI, Thailand—A specter is haunting Thai politics: the specter of Thaksin Shinawatra.

On Friday, the country’s political scene was upended by the shock announcement that a senior member of the royal family was running in national elections set for March 24. The candidacy of Princess Ubolratana, the eldest sister of King Maha Vajiralongkorn, was news enough: The 67-year-old actress and Instagram star is the first royal to enter party politics since the end of the absolute monarchy in 1932. Much more explosive was who she was representing: a party closely allied to Thaksin Shinawatra and his sister Yingluck, two former prime ministers who were democratically elected and then ousted in military coups (he in 2006, she in 2014).

The announcement set up an electoral showdown between the magnetic princess and Prime Minister former general who has led Thailand since the military’s seizure of power in 2014 and is running as a prime ministerial candidate. But just as Thai observers were digesting the implications of the royal candidacy—Did it violate election laws? Would opponents dare to criticize a member of the royal family?—the king intervened, that his sister’s entrance into politics was “inappropriate” and unconstitutional. The pro-Thaksin Thai Raksa Chart party quickly it would comply with the royal command, and Thailand’s Election Commission on Monday Ubolratana from running, saying that members of the royal family should be “above politics.” The bombshell candidacy had lasted barely 48 hours.

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