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      Turbulent Thailand

      Thai party faces breakup for naming princess as PM candidate

      Election body petitions dissolution of Pro-Thaksin allies to Constitutional Court

      Princess Ubolratana has been blocked by King Vajiralongkorn Bodindradebayavarangkun, her younger brother, from participating in the upcoming election.   ? Getty Images

      BANGKOK -- Thailand's election watchdog on Wednesday filed a motion to dissolve Thai Raksa Chart after the party, which has close ties with former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, nominated Princess Ubolratana as its candidate for the premiership in the March poll, violating election rules.

      A ruling to dissolve the party would ban its leaders from politics and, in effect, prohibit the rest of its candidates from running in next month's election, the first since a 2014 military coup that overthrew the elected government of Thaksin's sister Yingluck Shinawatra.

      The Election Commission voted to file the petition after a day's consideration, based on a 2017 law under which the body must seek to disband any political party deemed to have carried out an act harmful to Thailand's constitutional monarchy.

      Thai Raksa Chart, allied with the Shinawatras, registered Princess Ubolratana as its only candidate for prime minister on Friday. But King Vajiralongkorn Bodindradebayavarangkun intervened on the same day to stop his elder sister from entering politics by criticizing the move as "most inappropriate."

      Thai parties are allowed to register up to three prime ministerial candidates in the election slated for March 24. The princess has maintained ties with the Shinawatras, who live in self-imposed exile abroad to escape criminal convictions they say were politically motivated.

      Although the princess regards herself as a "commoner" as she had relinquished her titles when she married an American decades ago, the king still considers her a member of the royal family.

      Preechapol Pongpanich, center, leads the Thai Raksa Chart Party, which has ties to the Shinawatra family and nominated Princess Ubolratana as its only candidate for Thailand's prime minister.   © Reuters

      "Every said member of the royal family would come within the application of the same rule requiring the monarch to be above politics and to be politically neutral," according to a statement issued by the king. "Nor would they be permitted to hold any political office because this would violate not only the spirit of the constitution but also the established conventions of government under the rubric of constitutional monarchy." 

      If the Constitutional Court decides to disband the party at the commission's petition, Thai Raksa Chart executives will be barred from politics for at least 10 years and, possibly, for life.

      The other roughly 300 candidates registered under Thai Raksa Chart can continue in politics, but they will not be able to stand in the upcoming election. Thai law lets candidates run only if they have been in a party for at least 90 days before an election. Thai Raksa Chart candidates will not have time to switch parties before the vote.

      Thais venerate the royal family, and the poll bid by the princess was briefly thought to be a game-changer that would swing votes in favor of Thaksin allies. That move has now become a major blow to the populist forces.

      The junta led by Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha is capitalizing on the chaos and adding to the opposition's woes. The National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission on Tuesday suspended broadcasts by Voice TV, a digital channel owned by Thaksin's children, for 15 days. The commission alleged that the channel aired programs causing confusion and social division.

      The TV station responded vociferously. "Voice TV is of the view that it has repeatedly been treated unfairly," executive Mekin Petplai said in a statement. "It is time for the station to stand up to protect its liberty and to use legal procedures to set the standard for the NBTC's use of power." 

      The station said that it would file a petition to the Administrative Court to seek compensation for damages caused by the suspension.

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