Well-wishers weep as they pray for Thailand's King Bhumibol Adulyadej at the Siriraj hospital where he died on October 13 in Bangkok, Thailand. Reuters, Athit Perawongmetha
Well-wishers weep as they pray for Thailand's King Bhumibol Adulyadej at the Siriraj hospital where he died on October 13 in Bangkok, Thailand. Reuters, Athit Perawongmetha

Thailand’s King Bhumibol Adulyadej, the world’s longest-reigning monarch, has died after 70 years on the throne, according to a statement from the Bureau of the Royal Household.

The widely revered sovereign, 88, was seen as a stabilizing figure in a country with a long history of political turmoil and military coups. He had been in poor health in recent years and made few public appearances.

Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn, 64, will succeed his father, Thailand’s military junta chief said shortly after the announcement of the king’s death.

“The government will proceed with the succession. The government will inform the National Legislative Assembly that His Majesty the King appointed his heir on December 28, 1972,” Prime Minister Prayut Chan-O-Cha said in a statement broadcast on all Thai television channels.

The palace had warned on Sunday that the king’s health was “not stable,” and thousands of well-wishers — many of them dressed in the royal color pink — had gathered outside the hospital to pray for his recovery. After the announcement there was a mass outpouring of grief.

The king’s death throws the nation into a period of mourning as well as uncertainty about the future with the country still under military rule following the latest coup two years ago and leaders of the main political factions are in prison.

Many Thais would have preferred to see the king’s second daughter, Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhornn, 61, succeed. She is known among Thais as “Princess Angel,” because of her charitable works and compassionate nature.

However, even though the crown prince lacks the popularity his father enjoyed and his commitment to the role of monarch has been questioned over the years, he had the backing of the military junta which seized power in 2014.

“The National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) has put the crown prince front and central in an orchestrated campaign since the coup,” said a source in Bangkok.

“For example, in the 2015 ‘Bike for Dad’ event to celebrate the king’s 88 birthday as the father of the nation, the crown prince was prominently at the head of the Bangkok leg of the mass bicycle ride.”

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At the time, Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha announced that the ride was in response to Vajiralongkorn’s wishes “to encourage Thai people from all walks of life to express their gratitude and loyalty.”

“The junta’s aim is to stay in power and they see support for the prince as one of the ways of securing that,” said the Bangkok source.

“As for the other political powers, the PDRC also support the prince,” the source said in reference to the Peoples Democratic Reform Committee, known as the Yellow Shirts, who led the 2013 protests against then prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra’s caretaker government that resulted in the military coup.

“The junta has also just appointed 33 legislators, the majority of them soldiers, in preparation for any law changes that may be required.”

Wait and see

Meanwhile, the Red Shirts, formally known as the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship, who began as supporters of deposed former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra — the brother of Yingluck who was ousted by a military coup in 2006 — are taking a wait-and-see approach.

The source said everything depends on how long the mourning and succession takes. “If the succession becomes a drawn out affair, giving the junta an opportunity to delay promised elections in 2017, then the Red Shirts will react,” said the source.

In what could have been a pre-emptive tactic, the prominent Red Shirt chief Jatuporn Prompan was put back behind bars earlier this week for allegedly breaching his bail conditions by being sarcastic about the junta during a television show.

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