BANGKOK: Thailand’s King Bhumibol Adulyadej, the world’s longest-serving monarch, has died at the age of 88, the palace announced Thursday, leaving a divided nation bereft of a rare figure of unity.
“Although the team of doctors treated him to the best of their ability, his condition deteriorated,” the Royal Household Bureau said in a statement.
“At 15:52 (0852 GMT) he died at Siriraj Hospital peacefully,” it said as large crowds kept vigil outside the hospital where the monarch spent most of the last two years Thai television stations switched to a special announcement that began with black and white photographs of the king, before a formally dressed presenter read out the palace statement.
Bhumibol’s death, which will lead to a one-year mourning period, ends a remarkable seven-decade reign and plunges Thailand into a deeply uncertain future.
Most Thais have known no other monarch and Bhumibol has been portrayed as a guiding light through decades of political turmoil, coups and violent unrest.
His 64-year-old son, Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn, is his named successor.
Bhumibol’s death is a major test for the country’s generals, who seized power in 2014 vowing to restore stability after a decade of political chaos.
The military has deep links with the palace and many inside the kingdom saw the putsch as a move to ensure generals could stamp down on any instability during a succession.
Officially known as King Rama IX, he descended from the Chakri dynasty which came to power in Thailand in the late eighteenth century.
On Sunday and Wednesday the palace released two unusually grave health statements, saying the monarch was on a ventilator, battling kidney problems and that his condition was “not stable.”
Any criticism or effective republican sentiment has been erased by a draconian lese majeste law.
Vajiralongkorn is much less well known to Thais and has yet to attain his father’s widespread popularity.
He will inherit one of the world’s richest monarchies. During his reign Bhumibol, with his establishment allies, built up a multi-billion-dollar-empire spanning property, construction and banks under the banner of the Crown Property Bureau.