Prem Tinsulanonda confirmed as Regent pro tempore

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Bangkok (AP) – Privy Council president Prem Tinsulanonda has been formally confirmed as the regent to manage the throne in the place of the crown prince and heir apparent, but it wasn’t clear how long the caretaker arrangement would last.

In this Dec. 5, 2012, file photo, His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej, left, is seated as Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn, second left, and Princess Sirindhorn, right, stand after he addressed the crowd from a balcony of the Ananta Samakhom Throne Hall on his 85th birthday in Bangkok. (AP Photo/Wason Wanichakorn, File)
In this Dec. 5, 2012, file photo, His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej, left, is seated as Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn, second left, and Princess Sirindhorn, right, stand after he addressed the crowd from a balcony of the Ananta Samakhom Throne Hall on his 85th birthday in Bangkok. (AP Photo/Wason Wanichakorn, File)

In a speech late Saturday, Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha said that Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn invited him and Prem Tinsulanonda for an audience to discuss the situation “as his royal highness was deeply concerned for the Thai people during this time of national bereavement.”

Gen. Prem heads the Privy Council, a body of advisers to the monarchy, and was the closest adviser of HM the King.

“His Highness’s only wish is to not let the people experience confusion or worry about the service of the land or even the ascension to the throne because this issue has the constitution, the royal laws and royal traditions to dictate it,” Prayuth said in his message broadcast on television.

The 64-year-old crown prince implores everyone to help each other get through the grief first before thinking of his ascension to the throne, Prayuth said.

“Once merit-making and the cremation has passed … then it should be the right time to proceed. This procedure should not impact the work plan or any steps,” he said.

Privy Council President Prem Tinsulanonda. (Photo via Wikipedia).
Privy Council President Prem Tinsulanonda. (Photo via Wikipedia).

No date has been set for the cremation, which in royal families is usually months if not years later. Officials have suggested it would be at least a year. Buddhist funeral ceremonies have already begun at the Grand Palace complex in Bangkok’s historic center where HM the King’s body is kept in an ornate hall for the royal family members to pay respects. The hall will be opened to the public on Oct. 28.

For ordinary Thais, succession was not particularly top on their minds for now as they were consumed by grief at the loss of a man many saw as their father and a demigod.

Tens of thousands of people are thronging to the palace complex to pay their last respects to a beloved monarch who filled the memories of generations of Thais. Authorities have allowed people to enter the complex for a limited time, and only to sign condolence books in another hall.

“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. “I left home at 6 a.m. to come here. We were queuing for so long before they told us that we can’t go inside the palace. There were people who have been here since 4 or 5 a.m.”

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

HM the King’s death after 70 years on the throne was a momentous event in Thailand.

A one-year mourning period for the government has been declared together with a 30-day moratorium on state and official events. But no substantial demands have been made of the private sector.

The government has only urged people to refrain from organizing entertainment events for a month, apparently mindful of the need to ensure that the sputtering economy, which relies heavily on tourism, does not suffer too much.