Thailand’s Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn coronation delayed for a year
Bangkok, Thailand (SMH + DIPLOMAT.SO) – The coronation of Thailand’s Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn will be delayed more than a year as Thais mourn the death of their long-reigning king, Bhumibol Adulyadej.
The 64-year-old Crown Prince will ascend to the throne after funeral rites for his father have been completed, Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha has announced. Mr Prayuth has declared a one-year mourning period.
The royal succession had been expected to be immediate when the king died after a long illness on Thursday. Bhumibol ascended to the throne the same day in 1946 that his older brother, King Ananda Mahidol, died from a gunshot wound.
But Vijiralongkorn, who was designated heir by his father in 1972, asked not to be immediately declared king, saying he wanted to grieve along with the country, officials said.
For now Thailand will be formally headed by 96-year-old former military chief and prime minister Prem Tinsulanonda, who will act as regent pro tempore until the coronation.
But real power lies with the country’s military, which toppled a democratically elected government to seize power after months of political upheaval in 2014.
Mr Prayuth said the Crown Prince met Mr Prem on Saturday evening and in remarks confirmed that he would one day ascend the throne.
“One of his important remarks was that he asked the people not to be confused or concerned about government affairs, including the royal succession,” Mr Prayuth said.
“He said that at this moment, everyone and every side, including his royal highness himself, are still stricken by grief and sorrow, so every side should help get through or ease this enormous grief first,” he said.
Tens of thousands of mourners dressed in black and white have thronged to Bangkok’s Grand Palace to chant and pay their respects to Bhumibol, who died at the age of 88 after having ruled the country for 70 years.
An army of volunteers handed out free water and food and provided medical care while hundreds of soldiers and police patrolled the complex.
People were lining up for more than a kilometre to enter the complex, where the first steps of a cycle of religious rites were being taken to prepare the king’s body for cremation.
Mourners will be allowed to pay respects to the king in front of his royal urn inside the Grand Palace’s Dusit Maha Prasat Throne Hall after 15 days of royal prayers, officials said.
In the meantime, people will be able to pay homage in front of a portrait of the king in another part of the palace.
Thai authorities have cancelled concerts and beach parties and shut red-light districts in the capital but recommended that tourist attractions, businesses and transport remain open so as not to damage the tourism industry, which accounts for more than 10 per cent of the country’s spluttering economy.
No foreign countries have advised their nationals to cancel trip plans but some, including Australia, have said visitors should dress and behave appropriately at a time of intense mourning for Thais.
King Bhumibol was seen as a unifying force in the country, which has seen frequent coups and intense political turmoil pitting arch-royalists and urban elites against poor rural people allied with Thaksin Shinawatra, a populist former prime minister living in exile who was ousted in a 2006 coup.