A moment of shock for Thailand's military

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Princess Ubolratana’s candidacy would have put this strategy into question. The princess’ fame and the influence of the Shinwatras, who are favored in Thailand’s poorer north and northeastern regions, would have been enough to gain a coalition majority in parliament. Furthermore, an election campaign against a member of the royal family would have been very arduous, because traditionally, and according to law, she would have to be respected.

The big puzzle

Despite rumors to that effect in Bangkok, the announcement came as a big surprise, so much so that many international experts and Thai journalists did not know what to make of it. In fact, the deputy prime minister of the military junta refused to publicly take a stand following news of the princess’ political ambitions.

The step was also confusing because it represented a break with the royal Buddhist tradition. The Theravada Buddhism in Thailand stipulates a strict separation of the worldly from the spiritual. Politics, and especially party politics, with its power struggles and machinations, is considered dirty by many believers. Every good Buddhist thus avoids politics. The king, who is also seen as the highest protector of Buddhism, keeps himself out of politics despite the fact that he is an influential factor politically, albeit in the background.

Read more: Thailand king foils sister’s political bid

Position of the royal house

The central questions therefore were: how could one reconcile the princess’ candidacy with the monarchy, and what did King Maha Vajiralongkorn think of it?

The answer to the first question was that the princess, who married an American in 1972 and had to forego her royal status as a result, was not subordinate to the traditional standards of the royal family. With regards to the second question, almost all observes assumed that that kind of step would have had to be discussed with the King. But then on the same evening (Friday), the second bombshell was dropped: at night, a decree from the King said that the engagement of a high-ranking member of the royal family in politics, regardless of type, could not be reconciled with the traditions, customs and culture of their country and were therefore inappropriate.

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