‘Political earthquake’ as Thai princess runs for PM against military junta

Surprise move pits Princess Ubolratana Rajakanya Sirivadhana Varnavadi against leader of 2014 coup

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.

On Friday, the Thai Raksa Chart party confirmed princess Ubolratana Rajakanya Sirivadhana Barnavadi had joined the race, a move one expert said had created a “political earthquake”.

She is the first member of the royal family to run for the office and will face coup leader and head of Thailand’s military junta, Prayut Chan-o-cha, who said on Friday he would run to “maintain peace and order”.

Ubolratana’s party, Thai Raksa Chart, is allied to former PM Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in a coup in 2006, but has led the party from exile. The party was created by Thaksin’s Peu Chart party after the military junta threatened to dissolve it. Ubolratana has openly maintained close ties with Thaksin.

The announcement was a profound and unprecedented development that had created a “political earthquake”, said Thitinan Pongsudhirak, director of the Institute of Security and International Studies at Chulalongkorn University.

Before the surprise announcement, the election had been viewed as a battle between Thaksin’s populists and their allies, and the royalist-military establishment.

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