Thai princess to run for prime minister against ruling military junta

Princess Ubolratana Rajakanya Sirivadhana Varnavadi declared a candidate for party loyal to ousted former PM

The sister of Thailand’s King Maha Vajiralongkorn has been unveiled as a prime ministerial candidate in next month’s elections in a country where strict lèse-majesté laws make criticism of the royal family in effect illegal.

The candidacy of Princess Ubolratana Rajakanya Sirivadhana Varnavadi – the king’s eldest sister – was declared in registration papers filed by a party loyal to ousted prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

Also on Friday, the head of Thailand’s military junta, Prayuth Chan-ocha, said he will contest elections on 24 March as a candidate for prime minister.

Thailand’s lèse-majesté laws

Strict lèse-majesté laws make it a crime to criticise, defame or insult members of the royal family.

In practice, this means open discussion or critical reporting about the royal family is considered illegal.

The military junta, which seized power in 2014, has been criticised for using the law – which can see people jailed for up to 15 years on each count – to stifle opposition. 

In 2015, a man was jailed for 30 years over six Facebook posts and the local printer of the New York Times refused to publish an edition with a story on the king.

Prayuth, the army chief who seized power from a democratic government in a 2014 coup and made himself prime minister, said in a statement he would run for the pro-military Palang Pracharat party.

The nomination of the princess, 67, breaks the long-standing tradition of Thai royalty staying out of politics.

Thailand has been a constitutional monarchy since 1932 but the royal family has wielded great influence and commanded the devotion of millions.

The princess registered as a candidate for the Thai Raksa Chart party, an offshoot of the Thaksin-backed Pheu Thai party.

The election hashitherto been seen as a battle between Thaksin’s populists and allies and the royalist-military establishment.

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