Contradictory norms and practices left some wondering: Is Thailand’s latest contender for the prime minister seat a princess or not?

    The answer to the question, which is likely to hang over coming campaign and touch upon issues of fair criticism and expression, for now depends on who you ask – though some of their answers are surprising.

    Ubolratana Mahidol – daughter to the late King Bhumibol – insists she is a commoner after having surrendered her royal titles nearly five decades ago. But she is regarded as a princess by the media and much of society nonetheless.

    “I’d also like to clarify that I have already relinquished all royal titles, and I am living as a commoner,” the former princess wrote online this afternoon.

    Yet the royal palace has identified Ubolratana as a tul kramom – a royal title meaning a daughter born to the reigning king and queen – in every announcement ever since her return to Thailand in 2001. Tul kramom is often translated to be “princess” in English.

    Those mentions are always infused with rajasap, a Khmer-inspired royal court language reserved only for the royal family. Rajasap is also employed by the local media, even in the very same news quoting her as saying she’s a commoner.

    The Thai Raksa Chart Party, which nominates her as the prime minister candidate, also calls her a tul kramom in the registration document they submitted to election officials earlier this morning.

    According to a reporter for TNN24 news site, she was instructed by the Royal Household Bureau to apply rajasap and “show the same royal respect” when writing about Ubolratana.

    Participating in an online Q&A, lawyer and former Senator Kaewsan Atibodhi declared that Ubolratana is no longer a royal family member, and that fact should be made clear to the society.

    “In fact, she can be prosecuted, jailed, ousted, impeached, criticized and reproved,” Kaewsan wrote. “Therefore, in order to maintain this principle, there must be a clear line that tul kramom is really separate from the monarchy.”

    He added, “From a societal aspect, one cannot relinquish what’s in the blood.”

    However, Kaewsan continued to address Ubolratana by the royal title tul kramom and urged others to do the same.

    “We are Thai people. We are still her loyal people. If there is no explicit permission, we should not do so,” he replied to a question whether Thais can address her as “Mrs. Ubolratana.”

    Ubolratana resigned from the royal family in 1972 just as she was about to marry an American. According to the royal court law updated in 1932, a princess must ask for the king’s permission in order to marry a person outside the palace circle. She must leave the nobility if permission is granted.

    But technically Ubolratana never wrote down her marriage as the cause of resignation, preferring to cite her inability to carry various responsibilities as a royal family member.

    Above Criticism?
    A question being asked online is whether one can crack jokes or lash out at Candidate Ubolratana without fear of legal repercussion.

    “The big question now is: Will it be allowed in the future to draw the Princess in a political cartoon if she becomes PM? And as a political candidate?” longtime political cartoonist Peray Stephane wrote online.

    Although the lese majeste law only includes the king, the queen, the heir-apparent and the regent on the paper, the law has been applied to prosecute any negative comments about the monarchy in recent years.

    In 2012, historian Somsak Jeamteerasakul was charged with lese majeste after criticizing Princess Chulabhorn – the youngest sister of Ubolratana – despite his protest that the law did not cover her.

    As of Friday afternoon, many commentators were erring on the side of caution when referring to Ubolratana, but a challenge came from an unlikely source. Hardline royalist Sermsuk Kasitipradit urged his supporters to freely speak their minds about the former royal.

    “Since she is without any royal rank, her interference with political parties can be admonished and criticized,” Sermsuk wrote. “And joining hand in politics with a party in which are some members accused of insulting the monarchy is something a certain group of people cannot accept.”

    He also spoke in terms rarely heard when addressing the monarchy publicly until today: “Since she behaves like this, don’t expect any love or respect from the people of the king anymore.”


    A dear daughter who sailed with her monarch father. A rebellious princess who surrendered her titles for love. A survivor of the worst tragedy a mother can experience. Ubolratana Mahidol was all these things long before she entered politics today in a life that has never been far from the public eye.

    As her spotlight refocuses into scrutiny befitting a candidate for the highest political job – a first for a member of the immediate royal family – here’s a look at what’s known about the 67-year-old’s circuitous route to becoming the prime minister nominee of the Thai Raksa Chart party.

    Ubolratana was born in Lausanne, Switzerland on April 5, 1951, the eldest child of Rama IX and Queen Sirikit. Part of her royal name is “Ubolrat,” a name meaning “glass lotus” that was derived from her maternal grandmother, Bua Kitiyakara.

    Ubolratana’s parents nicknamed her Pay, short for poupee, the French word for doll. To her siblings, His Majesty King Rama X and Princess Sirindhorn, she is known as “P’Ying.” In the media and Thai households, she is called her Tul Kramom, a title denoting the offspring of a reigning queen.

    She attended Bangkok’s Chitralada School, one of the most exclusive schools in the country that was founded for royal enrollment. After graduating, she went to study at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the same city where her father, King Bhumibol, was born in 1927.

    By all accounts she was dear to Rama IX, and her decision to renounce her title to marry a student she met there strained their relationship.

    On Aug. 19, 1972, Ubolratana married Peter Jensen at All Souls Episcopal Church in San Diego, California. Both were 21. As a student, she had gone by Julie Mahidol, and after her wedding used the name Julie Jensen.

    In an announcement of their wedding, she told the New York Times back then:

    “I just couldn’t be a person. But now, am no longer royalty and am free.”

    She went on to graduate in 1973 with bachelor’s degrees in biochemistry and mathematics. She would later complete a master’s degree in public health at UCLA.

    Ubolrat became a mother in 1981 upon the birth of Ploypailin Jensen. Over the next few years, she and Jensen had two more children, Poom Jensen and Sirikitiya “Mai” Jensen.

    The couple divorced in 1998 after 26 years of marriage. She returned to Thailand in 2001 and enthusiastically re-embraced royal life. She soon became a household name for her colorful fashion sense and the launch of an anti-drug foundation she maintains to this day. She also acted in various soap operas, films, hosted TV shows and kept everyone up to date with her life on Instagram.

    Read: Top Moments of Ubolratana: Singing, Acting, Instagramming

    Other than her well-known To Be Number One foundation, she has also launched the Cheewit Sodsai Foundation, a community center foundation in the Deep South, and the Miracle of Life Foundation, which promotes welfare and education through youth development programs.

    Tragedy struck her family three years after her return. While on a family vacation in Phang Nga province in 2004, a massive tsunami struck. Poom, who was autistic, was among the thousands to be killed.

    “It was the most heartbreaking incident, but I had to move on,” she would later say in a televised interview. “And if I had to live, I had to live a good life. I had to succeed and live a prosperous life.”

    Following his death, his mother founded the Khun Poom Foundation, a royal charity to help children with autism and disabilities.

    Her oldest daughter, Ploypailin, followed her into entertainment and appeared in a television drama. A pianist and soprano singer, she married David Wheeler in 2009. She lives in Thailand and the pair and have three children; Maximus Wheeler, Leonardo Wheeler and Airy Wheeler.

    Sirikitiya, 33, holds a degree in history and occasionally attends functions with her mother or aunt Princess Sirindhorn.

    Athletically, Ubolratana enjoys sailing and raced with her father on many occasions while at their Klai Kangwon Palace. At the 1967 Southeast Asian Peninsular Games, she and her father sailed across the finish line in first place, even after a wind change forced them to take a roundabout route, with Rama IX’s dinghy overturning many times during the race. They earned the gold medal for Thailand in OK dinghy class, he in a TH27 and she in a TH18.

    Queen Sirikit awarded them the gold medal on Dec.16, 1967. Since then, Dec. 16 is Thailand’s National Sport Day.


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