Thai prince names regent to manage his crown

2016-10-16 10:09
A Thai woman weeps as she holds on to a portrait of Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej in a line to offer condolences for the king at Grand Palace in Bangkok, Thailand. (AP)

A Thai woman weeps as she holds on to a portrait of Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej in a line to offer condolences for the king at Grand Palace in Bangkok, Thailand. (AP)

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Bangkok - Thailand's crown prince, unwilling to take over the crown immediately, has formally named a 96-year-old confidant of his late father the regent to manage the throne, but did not say how long the caretaker arrangement would last.

The message was conveyed late on Saturday in a speech by Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, which put to rest uncertainty about the succession following the death of King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who reigned for 70 years.

He died Thursday aged 88.

Although Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn is the heir apparent, he has said he needs more time to grieve with the rest of the nation before taking on the responsibility of the throne.

Prayuth said Vajiralongkorn has issued a royal decree to name Prem Tinsulanonda the regent. Prem heads the Privy Council, a body of advisers to the monarchy, and was the closest adviser of Bhumibol. He is also known to be close to Bhumibol's highly popular daughter Maha Chakri Sirindhorn.

"His highness's only wish is to not let the people experience confusion or worry about the service of the land or even the ascension to the throne because this issue has the constitution, the royal laws and royal traditions to dictate it," Prayuth said in his message broadcast on television.

Cremation date

The crown prince implores everyone to help each other get through the grief first before thinking of his ascension to the throne, Prayuth said.

"Once merit-making and the cremation has passed ...then it should be the right time to proceed. This procedure should not impact the work plan or any steps," he said.

No date has been set for the cremation, which in royal families is usually months if not years later. Officials have suggested it would be at least a year.

Buddhist funeral ceremonies have already begun at the Grand Palace complex in Bangkok's historic centre where Bhumibol's body is kept in an ornate hall for the royal family members to pay respects. The hall will be opened to the public on October 28.

Analysts say the question of succession is important because the late king had been the unifying glue that had held Thailand's often fractious politics together, especially during times of crises when the dominant military was pitted against the civil society.

While the institution of monarchy is revered and respected in Thailand, it is largely because of Bhumibol's popularity that no other royal member commands.

"His death means that the Thai political system must find an alternative focal point around which to unite the country's factionalised population," said Tom Pepinsky, a Southeast Asia expert at Cornell University.

For ordinary Thais, succession was not particularly top on their minds for now as they were consumed by grief at the loss of a man many saw as their father and a demigod.

Tens of thousands of people are thronging at the palace complex to pay their last respects to a beloved monarch who dominated the memories of generations of Thais. Authorities have allowed people to enter the complex for a limited time, and only to sign condolence books in another hall.

"I haven't even started to think about that; I'm still in mourning over the king," said Rakchadaporn Unnankad, a 24-year-old Bangkok office worker. "I left home at 6am to come here. We were queuing for so long before they told us that we can't go inside the palace. There were people who have been here since 4am or 5am."

"My tears started flowing out of me without my realising," she said, recalling the news of Bhumibol's death. "I didn't even want to hear the announcement."

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