Members of Thailand’s National Assembly stood in silence for nine minutes on Thursday to pay tribute to King Bhumibol Adulyadej who has died in a Bangkok hospital. He was 88.
On the throne for 70 years, King Bhumibol is the only monarch most Thais have ever known and his death has plunged the country into grief.
Flags will fly at half mast for thirty days. Civil servants will observe mourning for a year.
As for the succession, the head of Thailand’s military government made a shock announcement about the wishes of 64-year-old Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn.
“The heir apparent asked for a delay in proclaiming him king and for it to be postponed to an appropriate time so that he can mourn his father with the rest of the nation,” said Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha.
The Crown Prince does not command the same adoration in the kingdom of 67 million people that his father earned over a lifetime on the throne.
Prayuth, wearing a black suit and tie, urged vigilance on security in a televised address. Thailand has suffered from political violence over the past decade, as well as bomb attacks blamed on Muslim separatists from southern provinces.
The prime minister also asked businesses to keep investing and stock market traders to maintain their holdings and not “dump” shares.
The death of the world’s longest-reigning monarch, who ascended the throne in 1946, was not a surprise. King Bhumibol had been in ill health for some time.
A palace statement did not give a cause of death but the king has been sick in hospital with various ailments for much of the past year.
Thais have lost a deeply revered father figure.
More than 1,000 people gathered at the hospital where the king had been staying. Many of them started to cry as the news of his death broke.
Parichart Kaewsin, 35, who works in a bank, stood at the edge of the hospital garden, gazing up at the top floor of the building where the king was treated.
“I knew he was sick but I still can’t believe this day has come,” she said, choking back tears.
“That’s why I came here – to hear for myself.” She said it was like a member of her family has died, she said. “He was like our dad.”
“We will make him proud when he looks down,” said another tearful Thai, Wichit Supsuphan, 43.
“We have to be strong. Thailand has to be strong and move forward.”
A royal cremation is expected to take months to prepare. When the king’s sister died in 2008, a 100-day mourning period was declared. She was cremated 10 months after her death.
For many, the king was a pillar of stability through their country’s development and political upheaval. Without him, for Thailand and its people, these are uncertain times.