King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand, the world’s longest-reigning leader, has passed away at the age of 88 after 70 years on the throne. PM Chan-Ocha has announced that the king’s son, Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn, will succeed him. The Prince has yet to formally accept the nomination. A one-year national mourning is foreseen which could further postpone the next elections – and return to a civilian government - to early 2018. Meanwhile, PM Chan-Ocha might act as de facto regent as the Privy Council (the advisory body to the king)’s current chairman, aged 96, is too old to play any active role.   

Impact on country risk

King Bhumibol was an icon figure for the population and a symbol of unity. His death is consequently a political shock for Thailand. Still, the military-driven government had anticipated his succession by recently having its draft Constitution approved through referendum and securing an influential political function. Since the army tolerates no debate on the monarchy, succession should be smooth and internal stability preserved during the mourning period, especially given the wide popular respect for the dead king. As a result, political risk should abate in the one-year outlook. A too severe enforcement of lèse-majesté laws could generate a few tensions though. The Prince’s hesitation to become king creates uncertainty but is probably justified by the time he requests to prepare for the throne. At least, it raises doubts about his will and capacity – as he has predominantly lived so far in Germany far from power - to pursue on his respected father’s legacy as guarantor of stability. It is a source of concern in an increasingly polarised country. Moreover, the Prince enjoys low popularity, miles away from his sacred father (and his sister too), amid various scandals and his unbridled way of life. Last but not least, he is also a controversial figure due to his links to former PM Thaksin Shinawatra who was ousted from power by a military coup in 2006. This might lead the military to progressively erode the royal role in national affairs and make it become a more symbolic one over time. All in all, the new king is unlikely to contribute to reconciling “red shirts” (rural supporters of Shinawatra) and “yellow shirts” (urban royalists), thereby maintaining long-term political risks.

Analyst: Raphaël Cecchi, r.cecchi@credendogroup.com