Thai Court Dissolves Opposition Party over Controversial Nomination

The seat of the Constitutional Court was previously located in Bangkok’s central Phra Nakhon District (above) before moving to the northern Lak Si District. (Wikimedia Commons)

The seat of the Constitutional Court was previously located in Bangkok’s central Phra Nakhon District (above) before moving to the northern Lak Si District. (Wikimedia Commons)

Responding to the Electoral Commission’s request for disciplinary action, the Constitutional Court of Thailand ruled in favor of dissolving the Thai Save the Nation Party (TRC) on March 7 due to the party’s contentious decision to nominate Princess Ubolratana Rajakanya, the king’s older sister, as its candidate for prime minister, the Straits Times reported.

The princess’ nomination on February 8 roused great shock and controversy, as no senior royal has ever run for election in Thailand.

According to Reuters, Princess Ubolratana formally gave up her title in 1972 to marry an American classmate at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Following the couple’s 1998 divorce, however, the princess returned to Thailand and re-assumed some royal duties.

Traditionally, the Thai monarchy is expected to be “above politics” and “politically neutral,” AP notes. Hours after the announcement of Princess Ubolratana’s unprecedented candidacy, King Maha Vajiralongkorn issued a royal statement that indirectly reprimanded his sister’s political involvement as unconventional and “most inappropriate,” as well as a violation of the “spirit of the Constitution.”

The Straits Times reported that the TRC promised to “compl[y] with the royal command” and “carry out its duty in accordance with the regulations of the Election Commission, the election law and the Constitution” in a public statement made on February 9, effectively withdrawing the nomination.

According to the Bangkok Post, Princess Ubolratana did not explicitly bring up her brother’s royal statement or her own short-lived political campaign, but she posted on Instagram later on February 9 to thank people for their “love and kindness toward each other” as well as to express gratitude for gestures of support toward her.

On February 11, the Electoral Commission made the princess’s disqualification official, reports the Voice of America.

According to the Bangkok Post, the pro-military People Reform Party, led by Paiboon Nititawan, pressed the Electoral Commission on February 9 to “take steps to dissolve the [TRC].” Nititawan argued that the TRC directly violated the 2018 Political Party Act, which requires the Electoral Commission to ask the Constitutional Court to disband any parties whose actions have been “hostile to the constitutional monarchy rule.”

Seconding Nititawan’s claims, Srisuwan Chanya asserted that Princess Ubolratana’s nomination broke campaign law in a Facebook post on February 10.

The next day, Chanya delivered a letter calling for the TRC’s dissolution to the Electoral Commission. In addition to being a prominent Thai environmental and political activist, Chanya is the secretary-general of the Association for the Protection of the Constitution, on whose behalf he submitted the petition, said the Bangkok Post.

When Judge Taweekiet Meenakanit announced the Constitutional Court’s final ruling on March 7, the Nation reported that the court also prohibited the TRC’s 14 executive board members from participating in politics for 10 years.

Ahead of the ruling, police deployed 1,200 officers, installed closed-circuit security cameras, and set up checkpoints in and around the courthouse to curb disorder.

Founded by relatives and political allies of ousted former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, the Thai Save the Nation Party was one of several pro-Thaksin opposition parties that had hoped to challenge pro-establishment and pro-military candidates, especially incumbent prime minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, notes Reuters. A Thai political scientist, Thitinan Pongsudhirak, remarked, “It was plausible... that the Thaksin-aligned parties even had a shot at a simple majority had [Princess Ubolratana’s] nomination not been nullified.”

The general election will be held on March 24 and will be the first to take place since Chan-ocha’s military junta took power in a 2014 coup.