Thai party leader contrite after king’s rebuke


BANGKOK • A Thai political party leader expressed public contrition yesterday for selecting a princess as a candidate for prime minister (PM), days after the move provoked a rebuke from her brother, King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

Thai Raksa Chart, a party linked to the powerful Shinawatra clan, last Friday proposed Princess Ubolratana as its PM candidate for March polls, an unprecedented bid in Thailand where the royal family is seen as above the political fray.

But Thai monarchs have intervened in times of political crisis since 1932 when the country became a constitutional monarchy.

King Vajiralongkorn quashed the candidacy the same day it was filed in a royal command calling it “highly inappropriate”, prompting an immediate reversal from the party.

Thailand’s wealthy and powerful monarchy is revered by Thais and protected by a draconian lese majeste law, and the king’s word is seen as final. The princess was disqualified on Monday by the Election Commission, which is currently discussing whether it should recommend that Thai Raksa Chart be disbanded.

A contrite party leader Preechaphol Pongpanit reiterated yesterday his party’s compliance with the royal command and said it did everything “sincerely with good intentions”.

“Above us is His Majesty and the monarchy,” he told reporters at the party’s headquarters, bowing his head and pressing his palms together in a gesture of respect.

“We are ready to be investigated.” If Thai Raksa Chart is disbanded, it will amount to a crippling setback for Pheu Thai — the country’s most popular party affiliated with ex-PM Thaksin Shinawatra — which had hoped to secure a large number of seats in the lower house to offset the junta-appointed senate.

Junta leader Prayut Chan-o-cha has agreed to stand for PM again under a military-aligned party.

The events of recent days have seeded unease in a country known for behind the scenes plotting. After rumours swirled of a fresh coup, Prayut dismissed it as “fake news”.

Meanwhile, another organisation affiliated with the Shinawatras was in the crosshairs yesterday.

Voice TV, owned by Thaksin’s son Ponthongtae, was ordered by the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC) to go off-air for 15 days. The NBTC said the channel had aired content that caused “confusion and provocation”.

Voice TV CEO Mekin Petplai said the move was unfair and “affects freedom of the press” in the run-up towards the election. He said Voice TV has been suspended three times since the 2014 coup, and they will fight this latest decision in court. — Bloomberg