The application of candidate for prime pinister, Thailand’s Princess Ubolratana Rajakanya Sirivadhana Barnavadi, at the election commission office in Bangkok, Thailand on February 8 2019. Picture: REUTERS/ATHIT PERAWONGMETHA
The application of candidate for prime pinister, Thailand’s Princess Ubolratana Rajakanya Sirivadhana Barnavadi, at the election commission office in Bangkok, Thailand on February 8 2019. Picture: REUTERS/ATHIT PERAWONGMETHA

Bangkok — She is one of the most high profile members of Thailand’s royal family.

Now Princess Ubolratana Rajakanya — the sister of current monarch King Maha Vajiralongkorn and eldest child of former King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who died in 2016 — is stepping into the country’s political fray, announcing, on Friday, her candidacy for prime minister in the upcoming election.

She has been named the candidate for a party linked to former premier Thaksin Shinawatra in a significant shake-up before the March 24 poll. Thaksin was ousted in a coup in 2006, and his sister Yingluck — also a former prime minister — was overthrown by the military in 2014.

The princess’s social media profile shows she agreed with a Thaksin tweet that appeared to be a veiled criticism of the junta after Yingluck was forced to flee the country in 2017. When Thaksin’s youngest daughter Paetongtarn reposted his tweet on her Instagram page, Princess Ubolratana wrote: ‘I agree!!! Su Su’. (Su means “fight” in Thai).”

Princess Ubolratana relinquished her royal title on July 25 1972 when she married American Peter Jensen, who she met while studying at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). She received her bachelor of science from MIT and went on to receive her masters in public health at the University of California.

She’s one of several royals to famously give up their title for love, from Britain’s King Edward, who abdicated to marry American Wallis Simpson in 1936, to Japan’s Princess Mako, who’s announced her intention to give up up her royal title to marry Kei Komuro, a lawyer.

Princess Ubolratana lived in the US for 26 years until 1998, when she divorced Jensen and returned to Thailand. She and Jensen had three children, Ploypailin Mahidol Jensen, Bhumi Jensen — her son who died in the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami at the age of 21 — and Sirikitiya Mai Jensen.

When she permanently returned to Thailand she was bestowed the title “Tunkramom Ying”, or “Princess”. Born in 1951 in Lausanne, Switzerland, her full name is Ubolratana Rajakanya Sirivadhana Barnavadi.

Instagram hit

Princess Ubolratana chairs four non-profit foundations championing anti-drug campaigns, support for autism and the poor, as well as other charitable foundations, according to the Thai ministry of culture.

“In everything we do we must devote our heart, our knowledge, every part of ourselves,” she said in 2017 in a speech to mark her father’s birthday. “Working with youth and with drugs, there are so many complexities behind it, but we have to work hard to help.”

Unlike her royal siblings, she has a significant presence in mainstream media through her roles in Thai films including Where The Miracle Happens, and My Best Bodyguard. A long time ambassador of the Thai film industry, she is often seen at film premiers and festivals, such as Cannes.

The princess is also actively involved in palace duties and can be seen from time-to-time in royal household footage broadcast on national television.

Beyond her royal appearances at charities and events, Princess Ubolratana is an avid social media user who has close to 100,000 followers on her personal Instagram account. The Thai princess, who is also a singer, periodically posts videos of herself singing and dancing during the Christmas holidays, and organises youth concerts.

Thaksin’s daughter, Paetongtarn, sent her a message of support on Instagram on Friday: “I offer all my support in everything to you my Princess.”

Bloomberg