BANGKOK: Thailand’s crown prince has made a surprise request to delay his succession to the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej, as millions of Thais donned black on Friday ahead of traditional Buddhist ceremonies for the revered monarch.
Bhumibol, the world’s longest-reigning monarch, passed away at 88 on Thursday after years of ill health, removing a stabilizing father figure from a country where political tensions remain raw two years after a military coup.
The leader of the Thai junta, Prayut Chan-O-Cha, appealed late Thursday for citizens to “not cause chaos” and accept the decision of Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn, 64, to delay the succession and have time to mourn.
Thais had expected Vajiralongkorn to be officially proclaimed king immediately.
A motorcade transported the monarch’s body – followed by the crown prince and other members of the royal family – from the hospital where he died.
Bhumibol’s remains were taken to the nearby Grand Palace, a complex of glittering temples and pavilions in the heart of the capital, as large crowds poured onto the streets to pay their respects.
The crown prince presided over the bathing of the king’s body, a traditional Buddhist funeral rite. His remains are expected to lie in state for months of palace rituals, including at least 100 days of chanting by monks.
United in grief
A day after distraught Thais wept in Bangkok’s streets on learning of the death of the king, the capital of 12 million people projected a somber calm. Many wore black and white, both mourning colors in Thailand.
Government offices and state-run enterprises were shut out of respect but otherwise businesses and financial markets opened as normal.
The stock exchange, which has been pressured all week as the king’s health worsened, opened 3.5 percent higher.
“I am very sad, I was born under this king,” Arunee Sahathongthai, 49, told AFP as she bought a pair of black trousers at a market in Bangkok, saying that Thais were “united in grief.”
Some said they were nervous about a future without Bhumibol.
“I really loved him,” said Arnon Sangwiman, a 54-year-old electricity company employee.
“Now I am afraid of what may happen, about the administration of the country, the type of regime in the long term.”
‘Element of ambiguity’
Most Thais have known no other monarch than Bhumibol and he was portrayed as a guiding light through decades of political turmoil and coups.
The crown prince, however, spends much of his time overseas and has yet to attain his father’s widespread popularity at home.
There was no indication of any threat to the expected succession and analysts said the pause could merely indicate a careful prince showing respect for his father.
“We maybe shouldn’t read too much into [the delay],” said David Streckfuss, an expert on the Thai monarchy.
“But we have already departed from what should have been a normal succession process. An element of ambiguity has been injected into the situation.”
Strict lese majeste laws muffle detailed discussion of the sensitive issue.
Malacañang mourned the death of King Bhumibol, calling him the “guiding hand behind the emergence of
Thailand as one of the most progressive countries in the whole of Asia.”
In a statement, presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella, on behalf of President Rodrigo Duterte, extended condolences to the Thai royal family.
“We are well aware that King Bhumibol was well-loved and held in utmost respect and veneration by the Thai people and by those whose lives he had touched during his lifetime. We extend our deepest condolences to his family and all those he left behind,” he added.