Thai election commission moves to dissolve party linked to princess

BANGKOK (AFP) – Thailand’s election commission yesterday asked the constitutional court to dissolve a party that proposed a princess as candidate for prime minister, a potentially serious blow to the political aspirations of the kingdom’s Shinawatra clan.

Junta-ruled Thailand has sunk into political chaos since last Friday, when Princess Ubolratana’s name was submitted by Thai Raksa Chart, a party allied with the divisive billionaire ex-premier Thaksin Shinawatra.

Her unprecedented bid to enter frontline politics unravelled within hours after King Maha Vajiralongkorn, the 67-year-old Ubolratana’s younger brother, decried the entry of a royal into the political fray as “highly inappropriate”.

Thailand’s powerful and vastly wealthy monarchy is seen as above politics, although royals have intervened before during times of political crisis.

The commission brought a premature end to the princess’s political career by disqualifying her as a candidate for premier.

Yesterday the commission filed a request with the constitutional court to disband Thai Raksa Chart for breaching the political parties law by bringing a royal family member into politics.

“That action is considered hostile to the constitutional monarchy,” it said.

It was not immediately clear if the court could rule on Thai Raksa Chart’s dissolution before the March 24 election.

If dissolved, the party’s executives – including Shinawatra family members – could face a long political ban, while its candidates would be unable to run in the poll.

The party said it will contest the move.

“Our party will go ahead (with campaigning) we are the hope of … our people,” party leader Preechaphol Pongpanit said, adding that they were “stunned” by how swiftly events had unfolded over the past few days.

Thai Raksa Chart was set to add to the vote bank of the bigger Shinawatra electoral vehicle, Pheu Thai, in an election where secondary parties are targetting seats via the party list system.

Thailand remains a deeply divided kingdom.

Parties affiliated with Thaksin have won every election since 2001, but their governments have been battered by two coups and a barrage of court cases driven through by an arch-royalist Bangkok-based elite.

Thaksin and his sister Yingluck both live abroad to avoid convictions they say are politically motivated.

To off-set their dominance, the ruling junta scripted a new constitution making the upper house entirely appointed, while limiting the number of constituency seats available at the March poll – the first election since 2011.

If Thai Raksa Chart is banned it will “reduce the opportunity of the Shinawatra party to have big numbers in parliament”, said Titipol Phakdeewanich, a political scientist at Ubon Ratchathani University.

That would benefit the army-linked party Phalang Pracharat and increase the likelihood of its prime ministerial candidate, junta chief Prayut Chan-O-Cha, of returning to power as a civilian leader.

Thais have struggled to digest what Princess Ubolratana’s short-lived foray into politics means for the kingdom, with analysts left open-jawed by the rare sight of palace intrigue playing out in public.