Thailand has sought to dispel any concern about a royal succession after Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn said he would delay his ascension to the throne while he mourns his father, and the government stressed on Sunday its was working as normal. King Bhumibol Adulyadej died on Thursday after seven decades on the throne. He was 88. The prospect of complications in the succession in the politically divided country could alarm financial markets, but the military government has been quick to quash any such speculation.
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The crown prince has requested that his succession be delayed for an unspecified period, so he can grieve with the people, Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha has said. The government has not set a date for the royal cremation but a deputy prime minister said the prince had asked that it be held after a year of mourning, and the coronation would take place after the cremation. The formal procedure for him to become king, which involves the president of the legislature inviting him to ascend the throne, can happen at any time before his coronation.
In the meantime, the head of the royal advisory council, a 96-year-old former army chief and prime minister, Prem Tinsulanonda, is standing in as regent. The prince held an audience with Prem and Prayuth on Saturday evening and asked them to pass on his reassurance to the people, Prayuth said. “He asked the people not to be confused or worry about the country’s administration or even about the succession,” Prayuth said in a televised address. “He said at this time everyone is sad, he is still sad, so every side should wait until we pass this sad time … When the religious ceremony and funeral have passed for a while, then it will be an appropriate time to proceed,” Prayuth said.
King Bhumibol, who was the world’s longest-reigning monarch, has long been revered as a father figure and symbol of unity in a country riven by political crises over the years, most recently by a power struggle between the military-led establishment and populist political forces. Many Thais worry about a future without him. Thailand’s strict lese-majeste laws, which have been applied rigorously since a military government took power in a 2014 coup, have left little room for public discussion about the succession.
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Mourners dressed in black from across Thailand have flocked to Bangkok’s gilded Grand Palace to pay homage to the only king most of them have ever known. Buddhist monks have been chanting prayers beside his coffin in an imposing throne hall, and they will chant for 100 days as part of the funeral rites. Though the mood is sombre, and almost everyone is dressed in black, shopping malls, markets, cinemas and even some bars have been open. Thailand’s battered stocks recovered ground on Friday on hope for a smooth transition and shares were likely to rise again on Monday, said Kasem Prunratanamala, head of research at CIMB Securities.
“The market should continue to rebound,” he said. “Nobody would dare do anything that causes problems for the country.” Prince Vajiralongkorn does not enjoy the same adoration his father earned over a lifetime on the throne. He has married and divorced three times, and has spent much of his life outside Thailand, often in Germany. Though the king designated his only son crown prince in 1972, shortly afterwards he also raised the possibility of the eligibility of a princess becoming the monarch.
Government spokesman Sansern Kaewkamnerd told reporters the prime minister wanted to reassure the public about the government’s work and a cabinet meeting would go ahead as normal on Tuesday so administration “can continue seamlessly”. The government has issued guidelines to media saying programmes and advertising should not show “improper scenes such as entertaining, dancing” or violence. Information related to the king’s death must be approved by authorised bodies, while criticism or analysis would not be allowed, the government has said, the Nation newspaper reported.
Thailand’s three main mobile service providers said customers should report “inappropriate content on the royal institution” on social media. Sentences for convictions for lese-majeste, or royal insult, have become increasingly harsh with one offender jailed for 30 years in 2015. Prayuth, a former army chief who overthrew a populist government in 2014, has promised an election next year. He has not said if it might be postponed because of the mourning. The military has for decades invoked its duty to defend the monarchy to justify its intervention in politics. It recently pushed through a new constitution that grants it oversight of civilian governments.