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Thai junta chief says coup conjecture is ‘fake news’

Speculation mounts of yet another putsch as kingdom counts down to March election

BANGKOK Thailand's junta chief dismissed rumours of an impending coup as "fake news", as speculation mounted across a kingdom unsettled by the ill-fated political union between a princess and a party allied to the powerful Shinawatra clan.

Conjecture has coursed through Thailand since Friday when the Thai Raksa Chart party proposed Princess Ubolratana, King Maha Vajiralongkorn's elder sister, as a candidate for premier after the March 24 election.

Hours later, a royal command from the king appeared to put a pin in her unprecedented political aspirations.

It said the monarchy was above politics and described his sister's candidacy as "highly inappropriate".

A chastened Thai Raksa Chart, a key pillar in the election strategy of billionaire ex-premier Thaksin Shinawatra, swiftly agreed to comply with the command.

Yesterday, the Election Commission (EC) formally scratched her candidacy.

"The EC today has announced the name of candidates excluding Princess Ubolratana proposed by the Thai Raksa Chart party," it said, explaining that "all royal family members are above politics".

Despite its brevity, the princess's foray into politics has electrified the political landscape of the country, as speculation over who wins and loses from her tilt ricochets across the kingdom.

Adding to the uncertainty, chatter has sparked of an impending coup against the ruling junta leader Prayut Chan-O-Cha and a major change in army top brass, with the hashtag #coup trending in the top 10 in Thai Twitter.

But yesterday the gruff former general, who masterminded a putsch against the government of Yingluck Shinawatra, Mr Thaksin's sister, in 2014, tried to stop it short.

FAKE NEWS

"Rumours...? We're investigating. Fake news," he told reporters at Government House about the merits of the speculation.

Thailand's generals have a penchant for coups, backroom plotting and factional struggles.

They have grabbed power 12 times since the end of absolute monarchy in 1932, including against existing juntas seen to have over-stepped their mark.

Mr Prayutis a candidate for prime minister and is aided by an army-scripted constitution.

But critics say he has personalised power and outstayed his welcome with a public wearied by his finger-jabbing style.

The king appointed new army chief Apirat Kongsompong from a rival faction of the army to Mr Prayut and his junta allies last year.

"Pls#NoMoreCoup..." said one Twitter user, while another said "I wish we have only #election2019".

Meanwhile, the fate of Thai Raksa Chart hangs in the balance.

The party, a second to the Thaksin political powerhouse Pheu Thai, was expected to help the Shinawatra machine secure a majority in the 350-seat lower house.

But it is under intense pressure following its bid to bring in the princess.- AFP

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