In an unprecedented move, Thailand‘s Princess Ubolratana Rajakanya Sirivadhana Barnavadi has been nominated as 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 means this is the first time in the country’s history that a member of the royal family is to become directly involved in politics and run for office.
The princess was stripped of her royal title when she married a US national in 1972. She returned to Thailand in the late 1990s after getting a divorce. Although her formal title was not restored, she is regarded and treated as royalty by people in Thailand.
Ubolratana is also known as a long-time friend of the Shinawatra family, which has an influence on the March 24 election through its proxy political parties, although they have not fielded a family member directly this time.
“The unpredictable nature of Thai politics just went up another level,” Al Jazeera’s Wayne Hay, reporting from Thailand’s capital, Bangkok, said.
“This has 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.”
Separately, Prayuth Chan-ocha, the head of Thailand’s military government, said in a statement on Friday he would also contest 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.
Princess Ubolratana is expected to be one of his main opponents.
Hay said Thaksin – who was also removed in a coup in 2006 – and Yingluck “have always been seen as being anti-establishment”.
“Their supporters and the supporters of the elite have clashed many times over the past decade, so to now come to this stage to have a member of the royal family running to be potentially the prime minister for a party backed by the Shinawatras is definitely an intriguing development for Thai politics.”
Thailand has been a constitutional monarchy since 1932 but the royal family has wielded great influence and commanded the devotion of millions.