In a shocking move, Thailand’s Princess Ubolratana Rajakanya Sirivadhana Barnavadi has been nominated a prime minister for the country’s long-delayed general elections by Thai Raksa Chart, a party founded by allies of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.
The registration of the 67-year-old, the elder sister of King Maha Vajiralongkorn, as a candidate on Friday (8 February) means this is the first time in the country’s history that a royal family member has directly become involved in politics and run for office.
The princess was stripped of her royal title when she married an American man in 1972 but she returned to Thailand in the late 1990s after getting a divorce. Although her royal title was not restored, she is still seen and treated as royalty by people in Thailand.
It was not known yet whether the nomination of Ubolratana had the approval of her brother, King Vajiralongkorn.
The princess is also known as a long-time friend of the Shinawatra family, which has an influence in the upcoming election through its proxy political parties, although they have not fielded a family member directly this time.
“This had never happened before in Thai politics; the royal family has always been seen as being above politics even though everyone knows that it’s the most powerful body in Thailand,” said Al Jazeera’s Wayne Hay, who is reporting from Bangkok.
On the other hand, Prayuth Chan-ocha, the head of Thailand’s military government, said in a statement on Friday, that he would also be contesting in the elections as a prime ministerial candidate for the pro-army Palang Pracharat party.
Prayuth is the army chief who seized power after the military toppled the administration of Yingluck Shinawatra, Thaksin’s sister, in a 2014 coup and made himself prime minister.
With him contesting in the election, this means that he is expected to be one of Princess Ubolratana’s main opponents.
Thailand has been a constitutional monarchy since 1932 but the royal family has wielded great influence and commands the devotion of millions.