A Thai princess will run for prime minister in March elections, in an unprecedented entry by a royal into frontline politics which pits her against the chief of the ruling junta, throwing into disarray his bid to stay in power.
Princess Ubolratana, the older sister of King Maha Vajiralongkorn, was put forward by a party loyal to the deposed and exiled prime minister, Thaksin Shinawatra.
She was seen at the World Cup in Russian Federation smiling with Thaksin and his sister Yingluck - also a former prime minister - and has over the junta years given a number of coded nods on social media in favour of the Shinawatras.
Ubolratana´s nomination has electrified the buildup to a March 24 election which had seemed poised to return the junta and its proxies to power in some form.
"This is a game changer", said Allen Hicken, a political scientist at the University of MI specializing in Southeast Asian studies.
The election has been viewed as a battle between Thaksin's populists and their allies, and the royalist-military establishment.
Ubolratana was not present when her name was registered with the Election Commission by the Thai Raksa Chart Party. She made no known public appearances Friday.
It was not immediately clear whether the nomination of Ubolratana, who has starred in Thai soap operas and lived in California for years, had the approval of King Vajiralongkorn. "She understands democracy", he told reporters.
"This act of mine, I have done out of sincerity and intention to sacrifice in this request to lead the country to prosperity", she said.
There was no mention of the princess' nomination in Prayuth's statement.
"Thai politics" faultline has been drawn on the monarchy.
Parliament has had members who were distant relatives of the monarch. That would breach Section 17 of the election law, which bars candidates and political parties from using the monarchy for electioneering. Several other complaints followed, mostly from conservative royalists, exposing a possible vulnerability in her plans. They settled in the United States where they had three children. She returned to Thailand in the late 1990s after getting a divorce. She has starred in movies, sung on stage with a top Thai pop group, and is flamboyantly fashionable.
"This has never happened before in Thai politics; the royal family has always been seen as being above politics even though everyone knows that it's the most powerful body in Thailand".
Prinn previously projected that the benchmark index would soar to 1,850 points by the end of this year due partly to general positive impact of Thai politics.
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Ubolratana relinquished her royal titles in 1972 after marrying an American fellow student, but she is still treated by officials and the Thai public as a member of the royal family.
Thai Raksa Chart Party chief Preechapol brushed aside questions about Thaksin. It goes against the law, " said Mr Paiboon. "I don't think it's appropriate to talk about a third person".
However, the death in 2016 of King Bhumibol Adulyadej added a major element of uncertainty, as he had served as a stabilizing force since taking the throne in 1946.
But the shock entrance of 67-year-old Ubolratana is likely to throw the military's plans into disarray.
The military under Prayut has cast itself as the protector of the monarchy.