Thailand just lost it’s beloved king, and the world's longest-reigning monarch. King Bhumipol Adulyadej died last week at the age of 88.
As the public mourns, crown prince Maha Vajiralongkorn readies himself for the throne. But the prince is widely disliked by the Thai public, and there are concerns about how he might rule.
While the military-led government says the transition will be stable, the country remains prone to political upheavel.
Asia Calling correspondent Kannikar Petchkaew takes a look at what’s next for Thailand.
Thailand is in deep mourning for the king.
King Bhummipol Adujadej died at the age of 88, ending seven decades on the throne.
Revered as a semi-divine figure, the king was a unifying force across the country.
In front of the grand palace in Bangkok, thousands of people dressed in black and white are paying their respects to the late monarch – praying in front of framed photos and paintings of him.
The crowd is united in grief. Sixty-five-year-old Wandee is among them.
“We love him very much. He endured for a long time for the people. This is the greatest grief of our life. I came to see him to heaven.”
Wandee drove from her town fours hours away from the capital, and has stood in line for six hours to mourn the king here.
Like all Thais, she will be in mourning for the official one-year period.
The formal coronation of the next monrach could be months or even a year away.
Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn, the late king’s eldest son, has been named as sucessor but has asked for time to grieve before he is crowned.
For now life goes on in the capital.
Chalong is a taxi driver in Bangkok. Dressed in a blue uniform with a black ribbon of mourning on his sleeve, Chalong says business is not as good as expected.
“It’s a lot of problems that have been building up,” Chalong tells me.
“There were demonstrations. The economy, which should be going forward got stuck. When there was a chance to improve, there was a coup. The country has been stuck since that moment.”
Exports have contracted each year since the military took over in a coup in 2014, while investment has slowed—a sharp turnaround from the 1980s and 1990s.
As the country prepares for a new king, Chalong recalls the old days.
Chalong says that when there was political unrest in the past, the king would intervene to fix it.
The monarchy, and the king in particular, have been seen as a rare institution of stability in a politically turbulent country.
Thailand has had 11 successful military coups since 1932.
Kengkij Kittirianglarp is a sociologist at Chiangmai University in the country’s north.
He says it is hoped the new king will reign in a more liberal environment, one where the monarch is seen as more human than semi-divine.
“Thailand has lots of problems. But all have been treated as less important because all social forces were squeezed into the argument about who is more loyal to the monarchy. We would see the late king would be often cited in that way, or the way we use lese majesty law on others,” says Kittirianglarp.
Thailand has a draconian lese majeste law that imposes harsh prison sentences for actions or writings regarded as derogatory of the monarch or his family.
The new king, he says, could create more space in Thailand for social discussion and debate.
If the law is changed, it would allow the monarchy to develop a closer relationship to democracy, says Kittirianglarp.
“Whether you love the king or not was often used as the line to divide people and even make enemies with each other. That complexity of conflict meant the connection between the individual, the institute, and democracy was not well formed. And this change could be initiated by the new monarch himself,” explained Kittirianglarp.
Journalist and social critic Teeramon Bua-ngam also says the new monarch could usher in a period of change.
“The Thai state may have strong law enforcement, but that’s not enough to bring people together. To stand as a modern monarchy, I agree with many who suggest reforms. Not just the king, but all people involved,” Terramon says.
Terramon believes that now is the right time to start putting such changes in place.
“I believe the monarchy knows the situation well, that if they don’t change they won’t be able to stand up against all the global challenges.”
Terramon concluded, “the new reign is the perfect time for them to start something new. Thai society is ready and waiting for that.”
There could be a lot of new changes ahead for the country.
King Bhumipol is seen by Thais not only as a caring but restrained king, but also a man of music and the arts.
Now that he’s gone, his music and his legacy remain.