BANGKOK, Thailand -- Thailand's junta-appointed Election Commission
disqualified a princess from running for prime minister in next
month's polls, after her surprise candidacy displeased her powerful
brother King Maha Vajiralongkorn and dangerously divided this country.

"All members of the royal family must abide by the king's principle of
staying above politics, maintaining political impartiality, and they
cannot take up political office," the commission said February 11.

The coup-installed military government meanwhile was investigating an
allegedly forged official document which appeared on social media
claiming Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha fired Army Chief Gen. Apirat
Kongsompong and other armed forces officers.

"Rumors. We are investigating. Fake news," Mr. Prayuth told reporters
February 11, referring to the alleged document which sparked Twitter
to trend #coup February 10 night.

Tanks rumbling through Lopburi city's streets tried to calm the public
by pasting pieces of paper saying "For Training" on the tanks' metal

Princess Ubolratana Mahidol's failed election attempt would have
challenged Mr. Prayuth who is trying to extend his prime ministry in
the House of Representatives election March 24, after nearly five
years in power.

The commission approved Mr. Prayuth February 11 and all other prime
ministerial candidates.

The fate of the new Thai Raksa Chart party which had nominated the
princess remains to be decided. The party said it was "accepting the
royal command with loyalty toward His Majesty," after the king
expressed displeasure.

Princess Ubolratana's anti-junta supporters experienced only one day
of euphoria February 8 when she shocked the public by announcing her

They were convinced she would defeat Mr. Prayuth, but their dreams
ended near midnight the same day.

King Vajiralongkorn announced on all Thai TV networks that his
sister's involvement in politics "breaches time-honored royal
traditions, customs and national culture. Such action must be deemed a
transgression and most inappropriate.

"Despite the fact that Princess Ubolratana had relinquished her title
in writing, in compliance with Palace Laws, she has been maintaining
her status as a member of the Chakri Royal Family," the king said
according to a Foreign Ministry translation.

"The monarch and senior members of the Royal Family always hold
themselves above politics."

The unprecedented developments triggered many Thais.

People for and against Princess Ubolratana expressed devotional
support or harsh condemnation about her on social media and in private

Lined up against Princess Ubolratana were Mr. Prayuth's supporters,
royalists, Thailand's so-called "old money" elite, troops and officers
in the U.S.-trained military, and Bangkok's middle-class.

Her one-day campaign attracted Thailand's large pro-democracy movement
including northeast voters, lower-classes, and a new generation
demanding free speech and other human rights which vanished after Mr.
Prayuth's 2014 coup.

Before the coup, periodic street clashes in Bangkok for and against
elections killed more than 100 people, mostly pro-democracy civilians.

As a result of the latest political turmoil, Thailand is suffering a
"complete reigniting of the smoldering volcano of political hatred on
both sides," said Pravit Rojanaphruk, a senior columnist at Khaosod
English news.

The princess was perceived as a way for former Prime Minister Thaksin
Shinawatra to lead his candidates to victory after the military
overthrew him in a 2006 coup.

The princess had no political experience. Mr. Thaksin helped set up
her Thai Raksa Chart party.

"Ubolratana represented perhaps the only person who could clearly
upstage Prayuth in the polls, especially since the junta controls the
election machinery," said Paul Chambers, Paul Chambers an
international affairs advisor at Naresuan University.

Mr. Thaksin and his sister, former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra,
are international fugitives avoiding prison sentences for corruption
committed during their administrations. Mr. Prayuth toppled Ms.
Yingluck's government in his 2014 putsch.

Princess Ubolratana's election attempt "brought back to the surface
the bitter enmity between the pro- and anti-Thaksin camps like nothing
else since the May 2014 coup," Mr. Pravit said.

Mr. Thaksin still has candidates in his popular Pheu Thai party,
including three possible prime ministers.

If Pheu Thai forms a coalition with other parties, they could dominate
the House.

Against them, after the election, will be a junta-appointed Senate.

Mr. Prayuth and his new pro-military Palang Pracharath party could
extend his prime ministry, boosted by the entire Senate and
pro-military parties in the House.

The House and Senate decide who becomes prime minister.

If he wins, Mr. Prayuth may be politically crippled by a frustrated
pro-Thaksin electorate and dissent within the House.

"Chin up and keep moving forward!" Mr. Thaksin tweeted after the
king's announcement.

"We learn from past experiences but live for today and the future.
Cheer up! Life must go on!" Mr. Thaksin said from an undisclosed

Princess Ubolratana is the glamorous, extroverted, eldest daughter of
widely revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej who died in 2017.

After the royal succession, her younger brother is now king.

Born in 1951, she studied at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology
before completing a master's degree in public health at the University
of California, Los Angeles.

She relinquished her royal status in 1972 when she married American
Peter Jensen and lived in the U.S.

They divorced in 1998. The princess returned to Thailand with her
three children in 2001, including a son who drowned in the 2004 Indian
Ocean tsunami.

"I would like to exercise my right and my freedom as a commoner under
the constitution," the princess wrote on Instagram February 8 before
the king disapproved of her candidacy.

Thailand is a constitutional monarchy. Thais and foreigners critical
of the royal family suffer arrest, expensive and debilitating legal
cases, and often lengthy imprisonment.