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Princess Ubolratana disqualified as Thai PM candidate

A man walks past political parties electoral posters including that of Thai Raksa Chart Party (R), portraying Member of Parliament constituency candidate, in Bangkok, Thailand, 11 February 2019. The royal statement issued by Thai King Maha Vajiralongkorn published in the Royal Gazette stated Princess Ubolratana Mahidol is still a member of royal family and is not allowed to be involved with any political positions, although she relinquished her royal status in 1972. The King issued the statement after Princess Ubolratana decided to run as a prime minister candidate for the Thai Raksa Chart Party, a pro-Thaksin Shinawatra political party. Thailand is set to hold a general election on 24 March 2019, the first poll in five years since the May 2014 military coup. EPA-EFE/DIEGO AZUBEL

Thailand 's Election Commission has disqualified the sister of the king from running for prime minister, ending a stunning, short-lived candidacy for a populist party after King Maha Vajiralongkorn called the bid "inappropriate".

The commission released the official list of parties’ candidates for prime minister on Monday without the name of Princess Ubolratana, the older sister of the king.

Members of the royal family should be “above politics” and therefore cannot “hold any political office,” the commission said in a statement, echoing the wording of a public statement from the king on Friday.

The 67-year-old princess had accepted the nomination of Thai Raksa Chart party, made up of supporters of ousted ex-Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

Her shock nomination broke with a long-standing tradition of members of the royal family staying out of politics.

Thailand has been a constitutional monarchy since 1932, but the royal family wields great influence and commands the devotion of millions.

Ubolratana was stripped of her royal title when she married a US national in 1972.

She returned to Thailand in the late 1990s after getting a divorce. Although her formal title was not restored, she is regarded and treated as royalty by people in Thailand.

In a statement read out on all television stations within hours of her candidacy, King Vajiralongkorn said it was “inappropriate” for members of the royal family to enter politics.

The Thai Raksa Chart responded swiftly, cancelling a campaign event on Saturday and issuing a statement saying it “complies with the royal command”.

The party could be banned from the March 24 election after an activist said he would file a petition seeking its dissolution.

Thai Raksa Chart is one of several pro-Thaksin parties contesting the election. The military government’s leader, Prayuth Chan-ocha, is also contesting the race for prime minister as the candidate of a pro-army party. Prayuth was the Thai army chief in 2014 and led the coup that overthrew a government led by Thaksin’s sister.

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Parties loyal to former telecommunications tycoon Thaksin have defeated pro-establishment parties to win every election since 2001 but, since 2006, each of their governments has been removed by court rulings or coups.

The gambit of nominating a member of the royal family could backfire on Thai Raksa Chart, said Titipol Phakdeewanich, dean of the faculty of political science at Ubon Ratchathani University.

“Things are now more unpredictable,” Titipol told Reuters.

If the party is dissolved, it could give more seats to anti-Thaksin affiliated parties, he said, although there are other parties loyal to the ex-premier contesting the election.

Thaksin, himself removed in a coup in 2006, lives in self-imposed exile after being convicted by a Thai court of corruption in absentia. DM

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