A court in Thailand has voted unanimously to dissolve an opposition political party that nominated a princess as its sole candidate for prime minister, raising concerns about the fairness and legitimacy of the country's elections on March 24.
Judges in the Constitutional Court said the Thai Raksa Chart political party broke the law by bringing Princess Ubolratana Mahidol into politics. The court also banned the party's executive members from participating in politics for 10 years.
Hours after her candidacy was announced, her brother, King Maha Vajiralongkorn, denounced the nomination as inappropriate and unconstitutional. The Election Commission disqualified her from the campaign.
The party then attempted to bat away the accusation that it had breached Thai law, which prohibits members of the royal family from directly participating in politics. The party said Ubolratana was not covered by the law because she renounced her royal title when she married an American in 1972. The couple has since divorced.
Thai Raksa Chart officials also contended that the complaint against Ubolratana's candidacy, filed by Thailand's Election Commission, was unlawful since the agency failed to conduct a probe as part of its due process.
The nine-judge panel rebuked the arguments, saying that despite relinquishing her title, Ubolratana "still retains her status and position as a member of the Chakri dynasty," referring to the current royal line, The Associated Press reported.
In considering the fate of the political party, the Constitutional Court did not have a full trial and Thai Raksa Chart could not call witnesses in its defense, according to The Bangkok Post.
Preechapol Pongpanich, the opposition party's leader, spoke to reporters outside the court after the announcement came and as supporters cried. "No matter what status we're in, we'll do something good for the country," he said.
The political party includes members who have remained loyal to former Prime Ministers Thaksin Shinawatra and his sister, Yingluck Shinawatra. Both were deposed in military coups and faced corruption charges before fleeing the country to avoid prison sentences, insisting that the proceedings were politically motivated.
The army said that Thaksin's disrespect for the throne, in addition to his abuse of power, led to his ouster.
The Constitutional Court is one of Thailand's most conservative institutions and has frequently ruled in favor of the country's generals and against Thaksin and his allies, the AP notes.
In a message posted Thursday on Instagram, the princess reportedly called the dissolution of Thai Raksa Chart "sad and depressing."
Pongpanich had introduced her as a compassionate candidate who "devoted herself to working for the society all along," a person who was "willing to make sacrifices for the people."
Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, who led the military junta that deposed Shinawatra, seeks to retain his post. He has accepted the pro-military Palang Pracharat Party nomination as its sole candidate.