THAI POLITICS
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Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej

Appointment of regent buys Thailand time to mourn late king before deciding succession plan

Military government has appointed a temporary replacement for Bhumibol Adulyadej as crown prince asks to delay accession to throne

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 16 October, 2016, 1:11am
UPDATED : Sunday, 16 October, 2016, 1:43pm

The outpouring of national emotion and international interest gripping Thailand following the death of King Bhumibol Adulyadej has forced authorities to block tourist access to Bangkok’s Grand Palace where the body of the world’s longest reigning monarch now rests.

Days after the much revered king died, huge numbers of people – many of them still in tears and wailing – continue to throng the palace near the banks of the famous Chao Phraya River in the Thai capital.

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The Royal Household Bureau said the palace – one of Bangkok’s major attractions – would be closed to tourists for seven days. However, it has opened the Sala Sahathai Samakhom Pavilion inside the compound, where people can sign books of condolence.

Mourners will be allowed to pay their respects to the royal urn containing the remains of the king in 15 days, the bureau added on Saturday.

Curtailed access to the Grand Palace came as the military government of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha made further moves to damp down potential uncertainty over the accession to the throne by the heir apparent and son of the late king, Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn.

The country’s throne remains technically vacant because the crown prince has asked for his accession to be delayed to allow him more time to mourn with the country.

To fill the vacuum, Prayuth’s government has appointed as “acting regent” Prem Tinsulanonda, the 96-year-old president of the country’s powerful Privy Council, the body which advises the sovereign.

The crown prince – due to his chequered past and the fact that he has lived most of his life outside Thailand – commands little of the respect and affection his father built up during his more than seven-decade reign, and wants to leave the formal succession until later.

Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam told state television late on Friday that there was no uncertainty about the succession but, in the interim, Prem, a close and trusted confidant of the late monarch, would have to step in as regent.

“There must be a regent for the time being in ­order not to create a gap,” Wissanu said, without mentioning Prem – a former army chief and prime minister – by name.

The deputy prime minister was also quoted in the Bangkok Post as saying: “Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn told the prime minister he would like everything to be the same as it was when his majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej was still alive.

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“At least for now, don’t let ... it be felt that the kingdom is empty. Let’s not turn everything into the past so fast. Let’s cherish it as the present.”

The latest developments came a day after the king’s remains were taken in a convoy through Bangkok to the Grand Palace, winding past thousands of Thais dressed in black, many holding aloft portraits of the monarch.

Last night, the king and queen of Bhutan arrived in Thailand to pay their personal respects to the late king. They are expected at the Grand Palace on Sunday.

Messages of condolence for Bhumibol continued to arrive, most notably from Pope Francis who sent a telegram to Prayuth expressing how “deeply saddened” he was to learn of the monarch’s death.