BANGKOK: The elder sister of Thailand's King Maha Vajiralongkorn, Princess Ubolratana Rajakanya, is running for prime minister in the country's upcoming election on Mar 24 - an unprecedented move in Thai political history.
The highly anticipated announcement was made by the Thai Raksa Chart Party on Friday (Feb 8) following widely circulated rumours that the 67-year-old would join politics under its banner.
Thai Raksa Chart is an off-shoot of the Pheu Thai Party, formed by loyalists of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra and the core leadership of the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD), or "red shirts" group, as a strategy to help Pheu Thai win votes.
The simmering conflict between the Bangkok-centred elites and the more rural-based populists has resulted in street protests, military coups, and violent clashes over almost 15 years.
"The party has nominated the princess as its sole candidate," Thai Raksa Chart Party leader Preechapol Pongpanich told reporters after registering his party's candidate at the Election Commission.
"She is knowledgeable and is highly suitable. I believe there will be no legal problems in terms of her qualification, but we have to wait for the Election Commission to endorse her candidacy."
The Election Commission is required to endorse all candidates by next Friday, Feb 15.
The nomination was accepted by Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, according to political website Khaosod.
Prayuth also announced on Friday that he will contest in the elections. "I am not aiming to extend my power but I am doing this for the benefit for the country and the people," he said.
Friday is the final day of registration of candidates for members of parliament and submission of names of prime ministerial contenders.
The princess is the first child of the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej and Queen Sirikit. Nicknamed “La Poupée” - French for doll - she was born on Apr 5, 1951, in Lausanne, Switzerland and has three siblings, namely King Vajiralongkorn, Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn and Princess Chulabhorn.
Princess Ubolratana graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in United States with a Bachelor of Science in mathematics. Later, she completed a master’s degree in public health at the University of California in Los Angeles.
In 1972, the princess gave up her royal title upon marrying American commoner Peter Ladd Jensen.
The couple has two children, Ploypailin Jensen and Sirikitiya Jensen; a third child, Bhumi Jensen, died in the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami.
They lived together in the United States until 1998, when Princess Ubolratana divorced Jensen and, in 2001, relocated to Thailand.
The upcoming vote in March is the first general election in Thailand since a military coup led by Prayuth ousted the administration of democratically elected former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra, Thaksin’s younger sister.
Both of them now live in self-imposed exile to avoid legal prosecution in Thailand.