BANGKOK – Thai Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-ocha has announced that Prince Vajiralongkorn, heir to the throne of Thailand, has asked for a period of mourning before succeeding his father Bhumibol Adulyadej, who passed away on Thursday at the age of 88.
Prayut told a news conference that he had met with the prince, 64, who expressed his desire to share a period of grief with all Thai people before being crowned.
The announcement explains why the National Legislative Assembly, comprising both chambers, held an extraordinary meeting on Thursday night at 9 p.m. local time (1400 GMT) without proclaiming the next king of the country.
The Parliament merely promised to fulfill the law of royal succession, according to a state television broadcast.
The royal succession law states that the Privy Council must inform the government of the name of the heir while the Executive transmits it to the bicameral legislature to allow the proclamation.
King Bhumibol named Prince Vajiralongkorn as heir to the throne on Dec. 28, 1972.
Thousands of Thais gathered at Siriraj Hospital in Bangkok to honor the only monarch the vast majority of the population has ever known, reacting to the news of the death with crying, tears and prayers.
Mourners dressed in yellow shirts carried roses in honor of the king and brandished portraits of the sovereign, while singing the royal anthem. Many prayed disconsolately in the presence of a large number of soldiers and police deployed to maintain security.
The dean of the monarchs of the world, after seven decades of reign as Rama IX, died at 3:52 p.m. local time (0852 GMT) at the hospital that had become his habitual residence since 2009.
Bhumibol had undergone hemodialysis last Saturday to drain fluid from his brain, prompting a sharp drop in blood pressure as he struggled with a liver infection and kidney problems, according to two statements issued by the Royal Household on Sunday and Wednesday.
The prime minister has declared a year of official mourning, during which time all civil servants must wear black. Prayut also ordered government buildings to fly the Thai flag at half-mast for a month.
The Thai population has been asked to refrain from celebrations for a month, triggering a wave of holiday cancellations.
Regular Thai public television programs have been replaced by shows on the life of King Bhumibol and the royal family.
Thailand has been ruled by a military junta commanded by Gen. Prayut since he seized power in a bloodless coup in 2014.