BANGKOK, Nov 29, 2016 (AFP) – Thailand’s cabinet on Tuesday submitted the name of Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn to the nation’s rubber-stamp parliament, paving the way for his endorsement as king several weeks after his father’s death.
The country has been plunged into mourning since widely revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej died on 13 October, ending a remarkable seven-decade long reign and removing a key pillar of unity in a bitterly divided nation.
Tuesday’s cabinet announcement puts to bed anxiety over succession that was sparked when the junta made a surprise announcement after Bhumibol’s death that the prince had asked to delay his official proclamation so he could mourn.
Prawit Wongsuwan, deputy prime minister and the junta’s number two, said his ascension was “proceeding step-by-step”, according to the country’s arcane succession rules.
“The prime minister’s secretary will notify the National Legislative Assembly,” he told reporters after a special cabinet meeting.
According to procedure, the assembly speaker then has to formally invite the Crown Prince to become monarch before proclaiming the new king to the public.
Prawit said the Thai parliament’s president would likely receive a royal audience “either tomorrow or the day after”.
Proclamation is expected shortly after the audience.
Vajiralongkorn, 64, has been the named successor to King Bhumibol Adulyadej for more than four decades.
He spends much of his time outside the kingdom, particularly in southern Germany where he owns property.
A military source told AFP the prince was still currently in Germany.
He will soon inherit one of the world’s richest monarchies, an institution protected by a harsh royal defamation law.
That law makes open discussion about the royal family’s role all but impossible inside the kingdom.
Officially Thailand’s monarch has limited constitutional power.
But over his seven-decade reign, Bhumibol built up a powerful network of alliances, especially within Thailand’s powerful military elite, and forged a reputation as an arbiter in times of crisis.
Yet the late king has left his son with a sharply divided country.
Thailand’s last decade has seen a cycle of political protests, coups by an arch-royalist military while inequality has deepened.
The latest coup was in 2014.
Dubbed the “lost decade”, Thailand’s most recent period of political unrest coincided with Bhumibol’s increasingly frail health and fewer public appearances.
Vajiralongkorn, a trained pilot, has yet to achieve his father’s widespread adoration.
Rumours over his private life have also trailed him. He has had three high profile divorces, while a recent police corruption scandal linked to the family of his previous wife allowed the public a rare glimpse of palace affairs.
Since Bhumibol’s death, he has attended some of the daily funerary rites for his father but has made no public statements.
He has asked his younger sister, Princess Sirindhorn to oversee the organisation for Bhumibol’s cremation, which will not take place until an official one year mourning period has ended.
Historically in Thailand, the new monarch is only crowned once the previous monarch is cremated.