BANGKOK, Thailand (UPDATED) – Millions of Thais donned black Friday, October 14, as the grieving nation prepared to hold traditional Buddhist ceremonies for revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej, whose death leaves the country facing an uncertain new era.
Bhumibol, the world’s longest-reigning monarch, passed away at 88 on Thursday, October 13, after years of ill health, removing a stabilizing father figure from a country where political tensions remain raw two years after a military coup.
Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn, 64, is the king’s named successor, but has made a surprise request to delay formally becoming the next king, according to the junta leader who appealed for citizens to accept the decision and “not cause chaos.”
The palace said a motorcade would transport the monarch’s body – followed by the crown prince and other members of the royal family – from the hospital where he died.
His remains will be taken to the nearby Grand Palace, a complex of glittering temples and pavilions in the heart of the capital, and large crowds are expected to pour onto the streets to pay their respects as the motorcade passes.
The crown prince will then preside 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 sombre 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% higher.
“I am very sad, I was born under this king,” Arunee Sahathongthai, 49, told Agence France-Presse 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.”
Thais had expected Vajiralongkorn to be officially proclaimed king immediately.
But Thailand’s junta leader Prayut Chan-O-Cha late Thursday announced the prince had sought a delay to mourn and prepare for the crown.
‘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 is 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.
The junta overthrew the democratically elected government of Yingluck Shinawatra in 2014, saying it wanted to end a decade of political strife.
Yingluck’s brother, tycoon Thaksin Shinawatra, had previously been overthrown in a 2006 coup, and tensions have simmered between Thaksin supporters and a competing faction seen as aligned to the crown and military.
With the king ailing at the time, some analysts believe the takeover may have been prompted in part by concerns over an unstable succession in which Thaksin’s faction could seek to exert influence.
During Bhumibol’s reign, Thailand transformed from an impoverished, rural nation into one of the region’s most successful economies, avoiding the civil wars and communist takeovers of its neighbors.
He sometimes intervened to quell Thailand’s frequent political violence but also approved most of the army’s many coups during his reign.
Tributes have poured in from across the globe for the monarch, with President Barack Obama describing Bhumibol as a “close friend” of the United States and a “tireless champion” of his country’s development. – Rappler.com