Thailand’s political landscape was gripped by uncertainty on Monday after King Maha Vajiralongkorn intervened in his elder sister Princess Ubolratana Mahidol’s bid to run for Prime Minister, leading the Election Commission to reject her candidacy.
The Commission said on Monday that it had accepted 45 prime ministerial candidates nominated by different parties, but had not yet decided whether to dissolve the party that nominated the King’s sister, Efe news reported.
Princess Ubolratana has been excluded from the list because “members of the royal family should hold themselves above politics”, the Commission said in a statement. “They should remain politically neutral and should not hold any political office”.
The statement followed a late night announcement by the King on February 8, in which he called her bid to run in the election on March 24 “inappropriate”, saying it would “defy the culture of the nation”.
The Thai Raksa Chart party could also be dissolved or banned for filing the nomination of the Princess as its sole candidate, as the Election Commission studied a petition that was filed on Monday to ban the party.
Meanwhile, a member of the Thai Raksa Chart retaliated with another petition to the poll body to reject the candidacy of current Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha, the head of the military junta who led a coup in 2014 to overthrow the democratically-elected government.
His nomination was accepted by the Commission on Monday.
Princess Ubolratana’s nomination last week as a candidate for Prime Minister caused a huge stir in Thailand, a country where the monarch is revered but whose members traditionally have stayed out of politics.
After the King called her candidacy “extremely inappropriate”, the Thai Raksa Chart party announced that it would adhere to the royal order and withdrew the Princess’ nomination, leaving them without a prime ministerial candidate for the elections scheduled for next month.
Ubolratana’s candidacy had initially been accepted by the Commission because she had formally relinquished her royal titles in 1972 following her marriage to an American, technically leaving her free to run in the election.
The events of the last few days generated such political uncertainty that social media in Thailand on Sunday were rife with rumours of an imminent coup after several tanks were reportedly seen in a province to the north of Bangkok.
However, military officials said the tanks were being moved amid preparations for the Asia-Pacific “Cobra Gold” defence exercises that are held annually in Thailand.
Rungrueng Pittayasiri, an executive member of the Thai Raksa Chart party, on Monday submitted his resignation to the Election Commission, claiming he had nothing to do with the nomination of the Princess.
Thai Raksa Chart party is linked to former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, whose Puea Thai party has won every election that has been held since 2001. Shinawatra’s sister Yingluck was Prime Minister when the government was overthrown in a coup in 2014.