Military vehicles have appeared on the streets of Thailand after the country’s junta chief dismissed coup rumours and the king slapped down his princess sister’s bid to become PM.
Prime Minister, army general Prayut Chan-o-cha, – who is preparing for the first elections since he took power in a 2014 military coup – dismissed the rumours as ‘fake news.’
Princess Ubolratana, the glamorous older sister of King Maha Vajiralongkorn, announced last week her unprecedented decision to run for the top job in March.
But this was quashed by the furious king who said his sister’s bid to go up against Prayut was ‘very inappropriate.’
Tanks were pictured rolling through the streets of Thailand on Sunday as social media erupted with fears the country’s elections in March were in jeopardy
Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-O-Cha presiding over a meeting at the Government House in Bangkok – he dismissed coup rumours as ‘fake news’
The princess was put forward by the Thai Raksa Chart party, steered by the divisive Shinawatra political clan, backed by Taskin Shinawatra – the former owner of Manchester City football club.
But the king issued a statement which said: ‘To bring a senior royal family member into the political system in any way is against royal traditions and the nation’s culture… which is very inappropriate.’
Shinawatra – who is friends with Princess Ubolratana – had hoped to pave the way for his return to his homeland, which has been under the grip of military power.
Mr Prayut overthrew the democratic government of Yingluck Shinawatra, the younger sister of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.
Fears of the third military coup since 2006 – just weeks from a planned election on March 24 – were reignited after tanks appeared and army chiefs were dispatched to Munich, in Germany, where the king resides.
The hashtag ‘ThaiCoup’ was trending on Twitter with thousands of the country’s young liberals fearing a brutal crackdown.
Thailand’s King Maha Vajiralongkorn condemned his sister’s decision to run against Mr Prayut as ‘very inappropriate’ and unconstirutional
Princess Ubolratana of Thailand attends a press conference held at the Carlton Hotel during the 61st Cannes International Film Festival in 2008
Thailand’s electoral commission formally disqualified Princess Ubolratana on Monday, ending her brief and ill-fated political union with a party allied to the powerful Shinawatra clan.
Andrew MacGregor Marshall, a lecturer at Edinburgh Napier University and expert in Thai politics, said that ‘when the military starts publicly insisting that no coup is coming, this is often a sign that they are about to seize power again’.
Speaking of the former Manchester City owner’s attempt to return to an active role in politics, MacGregor said: ‘This was an extraordinary strategic blunder by Thaksin, who once again has wildly miscalculated, due to his eagerness to defeat his political enemies and return to Thailand.
‘Thaksin and Ubolratana meet regularly when they are both in London, and the princess was also photographed with Thaksin and Yingluck Shinawatra at the World Cup in Russia in 2018.
‘According to several sources, relations between Ubolratana and Vajiralongkorn cooled since the death of their father King Bhumibol in 2016.
‘[The King] also berated her after the photographs from the World Cup with Thaksin and Yingluck circulated online.
‘By taking it for granted that Ubolratana had get Vajiralongkorn on board, and that nobody would dare block her standing for prime minister, Thaksin made a disastrous mistake.’
Thai Raksa Chart party leader Preechapol Pongpanich, holds up application of candidate for Prime Minister, Thailand’s Princess Ubolratana on February 8
Thai Princess Ubolratana (pictured in 2017) has entered the political fray and is seeking to run for Prime Minister in March despite the royal family traditionally remaining above politics
Thailand has not had a royal as premier since becoming a constitutional monarchy in 1932.
The Thai royal family, a revered institution shielded from criticism by a tough defamation law, has traditionally been seen as above the political fray, although royals have intervened in moments of political crisis.
Ubolratana’s involvement for a party allied to Shinawatra – a billionaire self-exiled former premier, who stands at the heart of Thailand’s bitter political schism – gives a royal sheen to his political machine, which has won every election since 2001.
It potentially builds a bridge between Thaksin’s ‘Red’ shirted supporters and the ‘Yellow’ shirts who are arch royalists.
Deadly violence and disruption linked to the two groups has defined Thailand’s turbulent last decade.
‘The board agrees that the name of Princess Ubolratana, an educated and skilled person, is the most suitable choice,’ Thai Raksa Chart party leader Preechapol Pongpanich told reporters.