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Thai princess to run for PM -- against junta chief

AFP  |  Bangkok 

A Thai will run for in upcoming elections, in a stunning twist that pits the high-profile royal against the of the ruling junta who had hoped to maintain his grip on

Ubolratana, the older sister of Thai Maha Vajiralongkorn, emerged as a candidate for the steered by the divisive Shinawatra political clan.

"The board agrees that the name of Ubolratana, an educated and skilled person, is the most suitable choice," told reporters.

The party falls under the tutelage of Thaksin Shinawatra, a billionaire self-exiled former premier, who stands at the heart of Thailand's bitter decade-long political schism -- loathed by the and elite, yet adored by the rural poor.

The announcement means a royal-fronted party tied to the Shinawatras will directly take on the military party, whose own candidate was also announced Friday as junta Prayut Chan-O-Cha.

Prayut has headed the junta for nearly five years, scripting a new constitution in a bid to recast the entire political system to ensure the has a foothold on power after elections on March 24.

But the shock entrance of 67-year-old is likely to throw the military's plans into disarray.

In a day of high political drama, Prayut declared his candidacy for moments after the princess.

"I agree to accept the invitation by Phalang Pracharat to nominate me to be appointed as premier," he said in an unusually conciliatory statement released to media.

"I want to reassure that I do not intend to hang on to power. It is not easy for me to make my decision... it is a crucial moment for the country." -

The military under Prayut has cast itself as the protector of the monarchy.

But Ubolratana's sudden entrance into politics, aligned with the junta's nemesis -- the Shinawatra family -- undercuts those claims.

It also potentially bridges the political divide between the "Red" shirted loyalists to Thaksin and the "Yellow" shirted royalist supporters, whose violent clashes have scarred Thailand's recent history.

Ubolratana, a colourful, public-facing royal in contrast to her more restrained brother Maha Vajiralongkorn, relinquished her royal titles after marrying an American decades ago.

But the couple divorced and she moved back to where she is still considered part of the royal family.

has not had a royal as since becoming a constitutional monarchy in 1932.

It was not immediately clear if would be covered by the kingdom's -- which carries up to 15 years in jail per charge -- or how that could impact debate and criticism in the run up to elections.

"It is unprecedented if she becomes prime minister," said Puangthong Pawakapan, at

"Can people treat her like a commoner? Who would dare criticise a royal " Known to the public for lead roles in Thai films, onstage singing performances, vibrant fashion sense and a prolific following, is the first-born child of the late

She was seen at in smiling with Thaksin and his sister -- also a former -- and has over the junta years given a number of coded nods on in favour of the Shinawatras. Since ascending the throne in 2016 King has reorganised palace affairs.

The vastly wealthy is now under his personal stewardship, he has appointed several new privy counsellors and established a highly trained

Crucially he has appointed a new from a different faction of the military to the ruling junta.

(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

First Published: Fri, February 08 2019. 10:30 IST