Barely 24 hours after she shocked the country by announcing she was running for prime minister, Thailand’s former Princess Ubolratana Mahidol dropped out of the race on Saturday following the objection of her brother, the king.
A statement from Ubolratana’s party, Thai Raksa Chart, said it had accepted King Maha Vajiralongkorn’s royal command prohibiting his elder sister from running.
“The Thai Raksa Chart party would like to comply with the royal command, with full loyalty to His Majesty and all royal members,” the statement read.
The party thanked Ubolratana, 67, for “her mercy to the party.” It also canceled a campaign event scheduled for Saturday in Bangkok, raising questions about whether the party would continue to field candidates in the March 24 vote.
Ubolratana would have been the first member of the royal family to seek high elected office since Thailand’s constitutional monarchy was established in 1932, and the first to break with the monarchy’s view that it is above politics.
When her candidacy was announced Friday morning, it suggested a possible easing of the political rivalry that has divided the Southeast Asian kingdom over the past decade and a half — between the monarchy and exiled former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, the patron of Thai Raksa Chart.
Late Friday, Vajiralongkorn called Ubolratana’s move “extremely inappropriate,” signaling that there had been no such deal with Thaksin, or that any agreement had collapsed.
Thaksin on Saturday acknowledged the setback. He issued his first statement since the princess’ nomination, tweeting: “Chin up and keep moving forward! We learn from past experiences but live for today and the future. Cheer up! Life must go on!”
Either way, the king’s intervention in the election — the first since a 2014 military coup ousted the Thaksin family’s party from power — deeply dismayed those who had hoped the vote would herald the start of a return to democratic rule.
With Ubolratana out of the running, the junta leader, former army chief Prayuth Chan-ocha, becomes the front-runner, thanks to a new army-backed constitution that tilts the electoral playing field toward pro-military candidates.
Ubolratana, who studied at MIT and earned a master’s in biostatistics from UCLA in 1977, relinquished her royal title after she married an American fellow student. She returned to Thailand after they divorced in 1998, winning popularity as an actress and social media star, and is regarded by Thais as a down-to-earth member of the royal family.
On Saturday she posted an Instagram message “to thank all Thais for their love and kindness over the past day.”
“I wish to see Thailand move forward to be admired and accepted by the international community,” she wrote.