The nation of Thailand went into mourning this past Thursday after the death of King Bhumibol Adulyadej. The world’s longest-reigning monarch, King Bhumibol provided a solid foundation for his country with his long-standing reign, which spanned the past seven decades.
However, the fissures present in the deeply divided country are coming to the surface now that the king has passed, leaving the future of Thailand uncertain.
The far-reaching effects of the king’s leadership were described by Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, head of the military junta that seized control of Thailand in 2014. Lauding the king’s long rule, he stated, “His Majesty was a beloved and revered king. He unified the hearts of all Thais. It is the greatest loss and despair in the lives of all Thais nationwide.”
The role played by the king of Thailand is as head of state and the military. It was in King Bhumibol’s power to endorse the appointments of high-ranking government and military officials. After a coup two years ago, Thailand has been under the rule of a military government, which claims its authority from the endorsements given by the king.
The junta came to power in 2014 when they seized power from the elected government and suspended the majority of the Thai Constitution that had been in effect at the time. Even when General Prayuth Chan-ocha was granted the position of prime minister and chief of the junta, King Bhumibol held his country together by supporting the move.
The coup was largely regarded as a boost for the political elite. This elitist victory essentially squelched the momentum that had been building for the populist movement.
Following their ascendance to political power, the military rewrote Thailand’s Constitution. The new document granted increased authority to military powers at the head of the state, while decreasing the influence exercised by political parties.
The military gained the right to appoint members to the Senate. The junta also moved to stem opposition by restricting political assemblies and criticism of the referendum in the months before elections. This crackdown resulted in as many as 120 arrests by the ruling generals.
Amidst the political tensions, King Bhumibol kept Thailand together by keeping peace between rival political factions and the newly empowered military junta.
After ascending to the throne in 1946, King Bhumibol managed to hold his country together, even in the face of the military coup, which resulted in a loss of power for not only democratically elected government but also for himself.
King Bhumibol legacy for his country includes efforts at developing Thailand’s economy as well as stemming the tide of the communist movement, sheltering Thailand from the movement that was making inroads in many of its neighboring countries.
While acting as a protector from outside forces, King Bhumibol also maintained domestic peace. Thailand has long been divided between the largely rural north, which is populated by poor farmers, and the urbanized and wealthier south.
Additionally, Muslim forces have intermittently staged small-scale rebellion in an effort to break free from Thailand’s central government. Now, Thailand has lost King Bhumibol’s uniting power, a loss that is being felt across the country. Thailand is more vulnerable to these opposing forces.
Following the king’s death, General Prayuth announced that officials in the government and state enterprises would begin one year of mourning starting Friday. Throughout Thailand, flags with remain at half-mast for the duration of 30 days. General Prayuth is also encouraging the public to abstain from any celebrations for this month-long period of mourning.
The King Adulyadej’s loss has left a big void to fill. Although the government under the power of military junta has undermined the previous government which favored the rural poor, the current state of affairs will likely remain for at least the immediate future.
It is hoped that the military junta’s strong authority will be able to provide a smooth transition following King Bhumibol’s death. It is expected that his son, Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn, will ascend to his father’s throne.
However, its appears that no official preparations have gone underway to plan for the crown prince’s ascension to the throne. The crown prince has even asked that his succession be delayed.
Notorious as a roving playboy, it is uncertain whether he will be able to fulfill the role as Thailand’s moral authority in the same way as his father before him.