The coronation of Thailand’s Crown Prince 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.
Prayuth has declared a one-year mourning period.
King Bhumibol Adulyadej ascended to the throne the same day in 1946 that his older brother, King Ananda Mahidol, died from a gunshot wound.
Bhumibol died last Thursday at the age of 88 and the Thai royal succession was expected to be immediate.
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 ex-Prime Minister Prem Tinsulanonda, who will act as regent pro tempore until the coronation.
The Crown Prince has urged people not to “worry” about his surprise decision to delay being proclaimed king following the death his beloved father.
The move, which led to the appointment of a regent, has spurred rumors and uncertainty in a nation whose recent history is studded with coups, political intrigues and street protests.
Real power lies with the country’s military, which toppled a democratically elected government to seize power after months of political upheaval in 2014.
Prayuth said the Crown Prince met 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.
“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,” said Prayuth.
Meanwhile, mourners will be allowed to pay respects to the late 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.
The 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.
Against that backdrop, King Bhumibol Adulyadej had represented stability and moral rectitude to many Thais and his death is being mourned deeply across the country.
While a coronation was not expected until after an extended funeral period for Bhumibol, Prayut did not specify whether Vajiralongkorn would formally take the throne before then.
The regent Prem is remarkably spry given his advanced years and remains a master political operator.
He has been at the center of Thailand’s treacherous politics for decades, first as general and then as a prime minister and a staunch Bhumibol ally.
Thais have donned black since Bhumibol’s death in a remarkable show of grief for the king, while nightlife and entertainment — including television shows, concerts and sports events — have been cancelled or made low-key.
Uncertainty shadows the kingdom’s future spurred in part by doubts over whether the jet-setting Crown Prince can exert the same calming moral authority as his father.
Open discussion of the issue is curtailed by the country’s draconian lese majeste law, which punishes criticism of Bhumibol and the leading royals with jail time.