All eyes are on Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn, who is set to become Thailand's new monarch following the death of his father King Bhumibol Adulyadej.
Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn rushed home from Germany on Wednesday as the palace reported of his father's deteriorating health. After news of the King's death broke on Thursday, Thai junta leader Prayuth Chan-ocha announced that the Crown Prince would ascend the throne, reports the Associated Press (AP). "The government will inform the National Legislative Assembly that His Majesty the King appointed his heir on Dec. 28, 1972," said Prayuth in a televised address.
Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn inherits the throne of one of the world's richest monarchies, during a time when the country is riven by political schisms. Here is what we know about the Crown Prince:
His ascendancy to the throne to be delayed
Junta leader Prayuth said that the Crown Prince asked for a delay in his being proclaimed King so that he can mourn with the country, reports AP. Prayuth declared a one-year mourning period for the King, saying the death is a tragedy for Thais. "He was a King that was loved and adored by all. The reign of the King has ended and his kindness cannot be found anywhere else," Prayuth said.
The only male heir
Born in 1952 in Bangkok's Royal Dusit Palace, the 64-year-old is the only son and male heir of King Bhumibol and Queen Sirikit. He spent most of his teenage years in private colleges in Europe and Australia — where he graduated from Royal Military College. His career in the armed forces saw him return to Thailand as a military pilot. Channel News Asia reports that the Crown Prince developed his passion for flying after learning it in the U.S.
Concerns over scandals
The Crown Prince has been embroiled in scandals over the years, and it is thought that many Thais would prefer his younger sister Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn, 61, taking the throne — even though women are not in the line of succession for the Thai monarchy. He divorced his former consort and third wife Princess Srirasmi in 2014, after several of her relatives were arrested for abusing their royal-family status for money. Srirasmi relinquished her titles and returned to life as a commoner. Leaked U.S. diplomatic cables obtained by WikiLeaks showed Thai elites expressing concerns about Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn becoming King.
The Crown Prince's exploits have been kept out of local news through Thailand's restrictive and broadly applied lèse-majesté laws, which protect the royal family from defamation.
According to the Guardian, the ruling junta were concerned over Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn's friendship with the ousted former Prime Minister and telecommunications billionaire Thaksin Shinawatra. Some have speculated that two coup d'états that removed the now exiled tycoon and later his sister Yingluck Shinawatra were over fears that the Crown Prince would find a base among Thaksin's populist supporters.
The junta has lately attempted to shore up his appeal with efforts that include Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn taking part in a mass cycle ride that was nationally televised, reports the New York Times.