BANGKOK: Thailand’s constitutional court on Thursday (Feb 14) said it will hear a case to dissolve the political party that nominated a princess as candidate for prime minister.
The Thai Raksa Chart party had put forward Princess Ubolratana Rajakanya, the elder sister of Thai King Maha Vajiralongkorn, as its prime ministerial candidate for the country’s upcoming election.
But her nomination quickly earned a sharp rebuke from the king, who called his sister's political foray "highly inappropriate" and unconstitutional.
Thailand's monarchy is seen as being above politics, although royals have intervened in public during times of political crisis.
The princess was later disqualified as a candidate by the Election Commission, which then filed a request with the constitutional court to have the Thai Raksa Chart party disbanded for bringing a royal family member into politics.
The Election Commission said it handed its petition to the constitutional court on Wednesday, on grounds that the party had taken "action considered hostile to the constitutional monarchy".
The court said it would take up the case. "The Constitutional Court unanimously accepts the petition for consideration," it said in a statement.
It gave the party seven days to submit a written response, and scheduled an initial court session on Feb 27.
The party has close links to former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who has been in self-imposed exile since 2008.
Princess Ubolratana relinquished her royal titles in 1972 when she married American Peter Jensen, who was a fellow student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). But the palace still considers her as "part of the Chakri dynasty" and a royal family member.
"GOOD FAITH, LOYALTY AND RESPECT"
Dozens of pro-democracy activists gathered in front of the constitutional court on Thursday to protest against the dissolution of the party, which they said would risk political conflict.
Thai Raksa Chart party members fear the case is being hustled through ahead of the Mar 24 election, which is already stacked in favour of the ruling military government, whose leader Prayut Chan-O-Cha wants to return as a civilian prime minister.
"We feel the case has been irregularly expedited," Thai Raksa Chart key member Chayika Wongnapachant, who is a niece of Thaksin Shinawatra, told AFP before the court delivered its statement.
"Without Thai Raksa Chart in the play, I believe it is going to be hard for the people to win a majority in parliament," she said, adding that the loss of the party's 278 candidates could land a hammer blow to the aspirations of parties that are against the military government.
"The party acted with good faith, loyalty and respect ... and we hope the court sees that," she added.
Thai Raksa Chart aimed to add to the vote bank of the bigger Shinawatra electoral vehicle, Pheu Thai, in an election where secondary parties are targeting seats via a party list system.
After five years of military rule, Thailand remains a deeply divided kingdom.
Parties affiliated with Thaksin - who is adored by the rural poor but loathed by the Bangkok-based establishment - have won every election since 2001, but their governments have been battered by two coups and a barrage of court cases.
Thaksin and his sister Yingluck, who was toppled by a 2014 coup, both live abroad to avoid convictions they say are politically motivated.