Outsider PM unacceptable in Thailand

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Thai Princess Ubolratana Rajakanya poses during a news conference for the presentation of the film ‘Where the Miracle Happens’ at the 61st Cannes Film Festival in 2008. Princess Ubolratana stars in the film which is based on her book, Rueng San Tee Chan Kit. Reuters

The short-lived entry of Princess Ubolratana is over, but the fallout should be careful but extensive. The immediate question concerns the fate of the Thai Raksa Chart Party, and it looks bleak. Beyond that, however, are many issues of politics and of ethics quite separate from the matter of royalty.

The fugitive ex-prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra leapt upon the subject. He tweeted last Saturday that, “We learn from past experiences” and, “Life must go on”. From anyone else, such advice would be merely shallow and forgettable commentary. But Mr Thaksin was at least an indirect player and possibly an instigator of the Princess Ubolratana affair.

The ties to Thai Raksa Chart (TRC) of both Mr Thaksin and his sister and fellow fugitive Yingluck are known. They were the subject of media reports and comments before the party shocked everyone with its nominee for prime minister. TRC, like Pheu Thai and at least two other parties, are direct descendants of Mr Thaksin’s original Thai Rak Thai. The Election Commission this week must delve into these ties and probably send them to the Constitutional Court for consideration. TRC certainly faces possible dissolution, and all its illegal actions must be exposed before the EC, public opinion and the court system render final decisions.

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Beyond this was the political motive behind the shock decision of presenting the princess as the party’s nominee for prime minister. Even in the 12 hours she was a political nominee, it was clear to all that Princess Ubolratana could never be a politician in any traditional sense. It is thus suspected that Thai Raksa Chart and its controllers planned to use her as a figurehead, in order to create a so-called national government.

This was the first thought of Future Forward Party (FFP) leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit. He declared within an hour of Princess Ubolratana’s nomination that he was against any such move. Were it to happen, he stated, FFP would sit in the opposition in parliament.

The concept of a national government is not new, but nothing has occurred to make it attractive. As Mr Thanathorn said on Friday, it is elitist in planning and in practice. Such a regime would directly subvert the will of voters in the same manner as a coup, becoming a conclave of self-appointed “senior people” more qualified to govern than an accountable regime.

The Princess Ubolratana affair temporarily covered over a separately troubling nomination. Palang Pracharath Party (PPRP), formed specifically to extend the military regime’s power, named Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha as its sole candidate as prime minister after the election. The problem is that no one gets to vote for or against him. An outsider prime minister is a blow against democracy, no matter how legal a carefully biased constitution makes it.

The removal of Princess Ubolratana from the political process is a positive step. In no way is an outsider prime minister any help, if the nation is to resume the faltering path to democracy. The unrelenting campaign by PPRP for Gen Prayut to remain in power without asking voters is as unhelpful as it is anti-democratic.

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