Thailand's Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn has asked for time to mourn his father before succeeding to the throne. Reuters/Sukree Sukplang
Thailand's Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn has asked for time to mourn his father before succeeding to the throne. Reuters/Sukree Sukplang

Thailand’s heir apparent Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn has asked for an unexpected delay before being officially proclaimed the next monarch following the death of his father King Bhumibol Adulyadej on Thursday.

The prince asked for “time to prepare and express regret together with the Thai people” for the loss of his father, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-O-Cha told reporters at Government House after holding an audience with the prince late on Thursday evening. “He asked for time to prepare for legal processes in order to proclaim him on the throne at the appropriate time,” Prayut added.

A prolonged delay could fuel concerns over the succession and the political future of the country, which is still under military rule following a coup two years ago and leaders of the main political factions are in prison.

The junta has promised to hold elections next year and any delay is likely to be seen by opposition groups as an attempt by the military to hold on to power for as long as possible.

Added to this is the fact that the 64-year-old crown prince lacks the popularity his father enjoyed and his commitment to the role of monarch has been questioned over the years.

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. However, the prince has had the backing of the junta since it seized power in 2014.

The prince was named Bhumibol’s successor in 1972. In a nationally televised statement immediately after Bhumibol’s death was announced, Prayut confirmed that the crown prince was his named successor.

Thai newspapers carry the headlines of the death of King Bhumibol Adulyadej in Bangkok. Reuters

However, later in the evening, Prayut made the unexpected announcement about the delay. “When the appropriate time comes, the crown prince said he is already aware of his duty as the heir or crown prince,” Prayut said. “I hope everyone will understand and not cause chaos,” he added.

Bhumibol, who was proclaimed successor the same day his brother died in 1946, was the world’s longest-reigning monarch.

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.

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

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

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.

The government has set a mourning period of one year. Months of palace rituals will be arranged, including at least 100 days of chanting by monks.

The cabinet declared Friday a government holiday for mourning, but the Stock Exchange of Thailand said it and “other financial institutions” would operate as normal.

The stock market soared 4.6% on Friday, restoring some of the huge losses built up through the week following Sunday’s palace announcement that the king’s condition was “unstable.”