Why you should care
A Thai royal’s bid for power shocked the nation, but nobles around the world are notably straining against protocol.
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WHAT TO KNOW
What happened? Thailand’s royal family, like many around the world, is known for being above politics. But all that changed last week when Princess Ubolratana Mahidol, 67, announced her plan to run for prime minister under the banner of populist party Thai Raksa Chart. Ubolratana gave up her title in 1972 to marry an American, but is now divorced and remains a part of the revered monarchy. Her bid made her the first-ever royal to try running for office in Thailand, but her campaign was short-lived: Her brother, King Maha Vajiralongkorn, blocked her from contesting the election on Monday. Still, the attempt sheds light on the complex power structure surrounding the royals, and the restrictions they face.
Why does it matter? Ubolratana is far from alone. Members of royal families the world over are beloved, wealthy and powerful, but many are restricted from taking part in politics or even being seen to take political stances. Ubolratana’s campaign was, in some ways, the story of a populist party trying to allay charges that it wasn’t supportive of the monarchy by running a royal candidate. Keep reading to learn about more rebellious royals.
HOW TO THINK ABOUT IT
The king and she. King Vajiralongkorn was quick to denounce his sister’s decision — ironically breaking custom himself by commenting on politics. He called Ubolratana’s move ”most inappropriate,” as well as unconstitutional, and she was swiftly disqualified. Now the election commission is investigating whether her party, which was founded by former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra (now exiled), should be dissolved. That could further divide voters ahead of the election next month, and discourage other parties from having anything to do with the royals in the future.
Anything for love. Last year Japan’s Princess Ayako renounced her royal title so she could marry a commoner, Kei Moriya. Unlike male heirs, who’ve been able to marry whomever they like for three generations, the law required the 28-year-old to give up her imperial credentials. Her sister Noriko did the same — marrying an appropriately high-born man would mean marrying a blood relative — but their unmarried oldest sister remains an imperial princess. Meanwhile, Dutch Prince Johan Friso of Orange-Nassau married Mabel Wisse Smit in 2004 without parliamentary approval … in fact, they didn’t even ask for permission, owing to some of her admitted unsavory ties to a crime boss. That meant he was automatically disqualified from the line of succession.
Overstepping. As the first Black woman to marry into the modern British royal family, Meghan Markle is a rebellion in herself. But the American duchess’s loose attention to protocol has also drawn fire in the British press, whether it’s by closing her own car door or by clearly stating her opinions on women’s empowerment. To some, it’s reminiscent of the late Princess Diana’s focus on activism. Prince Charles himself is known for writing ”black spider memos,” letters secretly lobbying government ministers on public policy, a habit he promises to break should he become king.
Have you seen her? Emirati princess Sheikha Latifa bint Mohammed al-Maktoum, whose father rules Dubai, caught the world’s attention last year after news broke of her mysterious disappearance. The 33-year-old disappeared during what was thought to have been a long-planned escape attempt to live abroad, and released a video statement claiming she’d been imprisoned and tortured. Her family says she’s safe at home. Neighboring Saudi Arabia saw a similar case in 2014, when the late King Abdullah’s daughters Jawaher, Sahar, Hala and Maha told a Russian network that they were living in captivity and running out of food and water. Princess Sahar explained they were being punished for being vocal about social causes and human rights.
WHAT TO READ
How a Princess Entered, Shook and Left Thai Politics in One Day, by Claudio Sopranzetti at Al Jazeera
“The princess’s short-lived candidacy revealed a rift within Bangkok conservative elites, some of whom showed that their hate for the Shinawatras may be even stronger than their adulation for the royal family.”
Royals’ Roles in Politics Vary, but Few Join Electoral Fray, by Elaine Kurtenbach in the Associated Press
“[Bhutan] transitioned from an absolute monarchy to a constitutional monarchy in 2008. The country’s fourth king introduced a concept of gross national happiness in the 1970s, embracing sustainable development, education and health over economic growth.”
WHAT TO WATCH
What Happened to Dubai’s Princess Latifa?
“If you’re watching this video it’s not such a good thing. Either I’m dead, or in a bad situation.”
Watch on BBC News on YouTube:
Meghan Markle Blows Away Royal Protocol with Powerful Speech
“Women’s suffrage is about feminism, but feminism is about fairness.”
Watch on One News New Zealand on YouTube:
WHAT TO SAY AT THE WATERCOOLER
What’s in a name? While Princess Ubolratana isn’t eligible to run for office, a record 6,400 candidates have already registered. And 15 candidates are using another tactic to boost their electoral chances: They’re adopting the names of former prime ministers to be more memorable to voters. Ten men have legally changed their name to Thaksin after former leader Thaksin Shinawatra, while five women adopted “Yingluck” after his sister, the country’s 28th prime minister.