The political soap opera around a princess’s brief candidacy has further exposed the dangerous rifts within the country. Until they are addressed, the cycle of elections, unrest and coups is likely to continue
Thailand is due to go to the polls next month, but after a short-lived political earthquake it looks likelier than ever that the military will entrench its hold. The country has been waiting for this election since general Prayuth Chan-ocha took power five years ago, via the 13th successful coup since 1932, and promised an election within months. Despite the military’s unpopularity – it pledged to “return happiness”, tackle corruption and reconcile the country, and has failed on all counts – it has formed a party and its man is standing as a candidate. Rigged rules introduced by the junta require a prime minister to have a majority of the combined houses of parliament: having appointed the 250-seat senate, it need only cobble together a coalition of 126 seats in the 500-seat elected lower house.
The plan was thrown into doubt this month by the seismic announcement that a member of the revered royal family, Princess Ubolratana Mahidol, would stand as a potential prime minister, as the candidate for a party loathed by Thailand’s royalist elites because it is aligned with its controversial exiled former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra. The aftershock was equally powerful: within hours her brother the king announced that her decision was “inappropriate” since the monarchy is “above politics”. Although his sister relinquished her title when she married an American in 1972, she has been treated as a royal since returning to Thailand on her divorce.