Thailand: 96-year-old Prem Tinsulanonda is king regent

As head of king’s advisory council, Prem automatically becomes regent while nation in mourning awaits new monarch.

Thailand’s government has named a former prime minister as regent, who will act as caretaker of the monarchy while the country mourns the death of King Bhumibol Adulyadej.

There was no official statement on Saturday about the appointment of Prem Tinsulanonda, but as head of the advisory council to the king, he automatically becomes the caretaker until a new monarch is crowned, according to the country’s constitution. 

The 96-year-old Prem, head of the Privy Council, was one of Bhumibol’s principal confidants and has ties to Bhumibol’s popular daughter, Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn.

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In an appearance on Friday evening, Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam made the announcement explaining the temporary succession, without mentioning Prem’s name.

“There must be a regent for the time being in order not to create a gap,” Wissanu was quoted by Thai media as saying.

Prem, who has been the head of the Privy Council since 1998, has a reputation for clean governance and for favouring compromise over confrontation.

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He came up through the ranks of the powerful military and became prime minister in 1980, staying at the helm for eight years, while guiding the country through economic problems and a series of military challenges, including two coup attempts.

But Prem had been accused by supporters of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra of instigating the coup that removed the populist leader in 2006.

On Thursday, the government unexpectedly announced that Bhumibol’s heir apparent, Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn, did not want to be immediately named king to give the nation time to mourn his father’s death.

Al Jazeera’s Harry Fawcett, reporting from Bangkok, said there is no deadline set for the succession to take place. 

Thai Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn lights candles next to portrait of late Thai King Bhumibol on Saturday [EPA]
Thai Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn lights candles next to portrait of late Thai King Bhumibol on Saturday [EPA]

Days of mourning

For ordinary Thais, however, the overwhelming focus was on grieving for Bhumibol, not the succession.

“I haven’t even started to think about that; I’m still in mourning over the king,” said Rakchadaporn Unnankad, a 24-year-old Bangkok office worker.

“My tears started flowing out of me without my realising,” she said, recalling the news of Bhumibol’s death. “I didn’t even want to hear the announcement.”

Thailand bids farewell to King Bhumibol

Buddhist funeral ceremonies began on Friday night after a royal motorcade brought Bhumibol’s body from nearby Siriraj Hospital to the Grand Palace complex.

Al Jazeera’s Fawcett said more Thai mourners will be allowed into the royal palace in the coming days. 

In the Thai resort island of Phuket, police and soldiers dispersed a mob of several hundred people seeking a confrontation with a man they believed insulted the country’s king.

Video shot Friday evening shows the crowd blocking the road outside a soy milk shop and waving placards with slurs such as “buffalo,” a local slang word for stupidity. Some shouted for the man to come out.

Thai media reported that the crowd’s anger stemmed from online comments that were made by the man long before the king’s death.

Thailand has draconian lese majeste laws that impose stiff prison sentences for actions or writings regarded as derogatory towards the monarch or his family.

Bhumibol’s death after 70 years on the throne was a momentous event in Thailand, where the monarch has been glorified as an anchor for a fractious society that for decades has been turned on its head by frequent coups.

Source: Al Jazeera