Thailand in mourning

kingNews of the death of King Bhumibol Adulyadej, even if not unexpected, has sent a shock wave throughout the country. The 88-year-old monarch, who reigned for 70 years, was revered by all classes but had made few public appearances in recent years owing to failing health. Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha announced that crown prince Maha Vajiralongkorn will be the new monarch in accordance with the king’s formal statement about the succession made many years ago. His Majesty’s body will lie in state for 100 days, after which arrangements for the funeral-cremation will begin to be made. It may be a year before the final ceremony is held.

In a televised address, General Prayut said that there would be a one-year mourning period and that all entertainment functions must be toned down for a month. The crown prince ordered all government ministers to wear mourning clothes for 30 days and said that flags on government buildings and at schools would be flown at half-mast for a month, adding that there should be no public celebrations for the same period. It is not yet clear whether this will lead to the total closure of entertainment venues or whether they will merely restrict their activities. A Pattaya police spokesman said that detailed instructions would be posted after decisions had been made by the Bangkok authorities.

King Bhumibol Adulyadej was the world’s longest reigning monarch – a distinction which has now passed to Britain’s Elizabeth – and was viewed by his subjects as a stabilizing influence in a country which witnessed numerous military coups during his reign. Born in the USA in 1927, he ascended to the throne in 1946 at the age of 18, and intervened in Thai politics on a number of sensitive moments. Thus he allowed pro-democracy demonstrators to shelter in the palace precincts, when they were fired on by troops, a move which led to the collapse of the administration of then-prime minister General Thanom Kittikachorn. In 1981 His Majesty stood up to a group of army officers who were attempting a coup against then-premier General Prem Tinsulanonda and, in 1992, his intervention brought about the fall of former coup leader General Suchinda Kraprayoon.  Aside from politics, the King devoted himself to sponsoring an environmentally-friendly subsistence economy as well as being an excellent jazz enthusiast and even an artificial rainmaker.

Although news of the royal death initially hit the Thai stock market, it is expected that the downward pressure will soon be halted as the government acted promptly to dissuade any notions of political uncertainty. Market analysts say that recent events had already been built into prices and that losses will be limited. The Thai Central Bank is said to be ready to step in and smooth any knee-jerk currency disorder. It is not yet clear how His Majesty’s death will affect, if at all, the date of the next general election provisionally slated for early 2017.

When the King’s death was officially announced, many hundreds of people were gathered outside the hospital along the scenic Chao Phraya river. Social media users in the Kingdom changed their profile pictures to a template image that had the message “Love the King” with their names inscribed on it. The image featured a yellow heart on a pink background. One tweeted, “The end of King Bhumibol’s reign is the end of an era for Thailand, but it is also the start of a new one.” The world’s media have reported extensively on the royal death and tributes and obituaries dominated internet news for the first 48 hours.

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