3 Min Read
BANGKOK (Reuters) - Thailand's new king on Friday made his first public appearance since ascending the throne the previous day, ending a period of uncertainty since the death of his father, King Bhumibol Adulyadej, on Oct. 13.
King Maha Vajiralongkorn Bodindradebayavarangkun, 64, took part in a merit-making ceremony at Bangkok's Grand Palace to mark 50 days since his father's death plunged the country into grief.
Civil servants dressed in black and white, the official colours of mourning, lined the streets to the palace as the new king's convoy passed.
King Maha Vajiralongkorn, who was then the crown prince, surprised some when he asked to delay his succession following the death of his father, leaving the throne unoccupied for seven weeks.
His official taking of the throne, in a brief ceremony televised late on Thursday, ends that unprecedented interregnum while raising new questions about the palace's relationship with the generals who have been in power since a 2014 coup.
The military government has made it clear it wants to oversee economic and political developments for years to come, even after a general election it has promised to hold in 2017.
Critics say a military-backed constitution, which will need the new king's stamp of approval, will consolidate the army's power, but financial analysts were upbeat about the outlook.
"Forget about Game-of-Thrones intrigue. With a new constitution in place and the royal succession behind, the conditions for institutional stability are in place," Tim Condon, chief economist for Asia at ING in Singapore, said in a note.
"We blame its absence since 2013 for the dismal economic performance and we consider its return an important turning point."
Southeast Asia's second-largest economy has suffered over more than a decade of on-off political unrest stemming from confrontation between the old royalist establishment and new populist political forces.
Since taking power in 2014, the junta has struggled to revive an economy hobbled by weak exports and slack domestic demand.
"Thailand remains politically fragile and it remains to be seen how the new king will navigate uncertain waters," a senior Western diplomat based in Bangkok, who declined to be identified because of the sensitivity of the matter, told Reuters.
Thailand is a constitutional monarchy but the palace is one of its most influential institutions.
On a street near the Grand Palace, shops on Friday displayed gold-framed portraits of the new king alongside pictures of his father.
Criticism of the monarch, the regent or the heir, known by the French term lese majeste, is a crime that carries a jail sentence of up to 15 years in Thailand.
Additional reporting by Jutarat Skulpichetrat and Panarat Thepgumpanat; Editing by Robert Birsel