Thai junta chief decries coup conjecture as ‘fake news’

BANGKOK (AFP) – Thailand’s junta Chief yesterday dismissed rumours of an impending coup as “fake news”, as speculation ricocheted across a kingdom unsettled by the ill-fated political union between a princess and a party allied to the powerful Shinawatra clan.

Conjecture has coursed through Thailand since Friday when the Thai Raksa Chart party proposed Princess Ubolratana, King Maha Vajiralongkorn’s elder sister, as a candidate for Premier after the March 24 election.

Hours later, a royal command from the king appeared to put a pin in her unprecedented political aspirations.

It said the monarchy was above politics and described his sister’s candidacy as “highly inappropriate”.

The slapdown by an unassailable monarch – protected by some of the world’s harshest royal defamation laws – who has never addressed the public in such strong terms, set off a chain reaction.

A chastened Thai Raksa Chart, a key pillar in the election strategy of billionaire ex-premier Thaksin Shinawatra, swiftly agreed to comply with the command.

Election authorities meeting yesterday are expected to discuss whether the use of the princess’s name was unconstitutional, a first step towards dissolving the party.

Adding to the uncertainty, chatter of an impending coup against the ruling junta leader Prayuth Chan-ocha and a major change in army top brass has billowed out, with the hashtag #coup trending in the top 10 in Thai Twitter.

But yesterday the gruff former general, who masterminded a putsch against the government of Yingluck Shinawatra, Thaksin’s sister, in 2014, tried to stop it short.

“Rumours…? We’re investigating. Fake news,” he told reporters at Government House about the merits of the speculation.

Thailand’s generals have a penchant for coups, backroom plotting and factional struggles.