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Saturday 22 October 2016

Thai prince names regent to manage the crown

Published 16/10/2016 | 02:06

Prem Tinsulanonda, head of the Privy Council, attends a charity function in Bangkok (AP)
Prem Tinsulanonda, head of the Privy Council, attends a charity function in Bangkok (AP)
A Thai woman holds a candle outside the Grand Palace in Bangkok, as thousands of mourners paid their respects to the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej (AP)

Thailand's crown prince has formally named a 96-year-old confidant of his late father as regent to manage the throne.

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It is not known how long the caretaker arrangement will last, with crown prince Maha Vajiralongkorn unwilling to take over the crown of his late father, King Bhumibol Adulyadej, immediately.

The message was conveyed in a speech by Thai prime minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, which put to rest uncertainty about the succession following the death of 88-year-old Bhumibol, who reigned for 70 years.

Although the crown prince is the heir apparent, he said he needs more time to grieve with the rest of the nation before taking on the responsibility of the throne.

Mr Prayuth said Vajiralongkorn has issued a royal decree to name Prem Tinsulanonda the regent.

Mr Prem heads the privy council, a body of advisers to the monarchy, and was the closet 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," Mr Prayuth said.

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

"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."

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 their 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 south-east 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.

In recent years, Bhumibol had suffered from a variety of illnesses and seemed far removed from the upheavals of Thai politics, including the 2014 coup that brought current prime minister, an army general, to power.

A one-year mourning period for the government has been declared together with a 30-day moratorium on state and official events. But no substantial demands have been made of the private sector.

The government has only urged people to refrain from organising entertainment events for a month, apparently mindful of the need to ensure that the sputtering economy, which relies heavily on tourism, does not suffer too much.


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