BANGKOK • When exactly Thai- land's heir apparent, Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn, 64, will formally accede to the throne remained unclear yesterday, compounded by online media reports about the appointment of a Regent which were taken off the Internet soon after they appeared.
There was no government confirmation of the reports quoting Mr Peerasak Porjit, vice-president of the military-appointed National Legislative Assembly, saying General Prem Tinsulanonda, president of the Privy Council, would act as Regent until the Crown Prince formally took the title.
On Thursday, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, who as army chief had seized power in a coup in 2014, announced that the Crown Prince had asked for more time to mourn his father before being officially proclaimed king.
Under Thailand's succession laws, Gen Prem would by default act as Regent.
The 96-year-old is one of the most powerful men in Thailand, described by Paul Handley, author of the 2006 book The King Never Smiles, as the dead monarch's closest ally. A cavalry officer who has served as appointed premier, Gen Prem, like King Bhumibol Adulyadej, is musically inclined, singing and playing the piano at concerts thronged by Bangkok's high society.
He has been a mentor to generations of the army's elite. In an oft-cited speech in 2006, he pointedly compared the army to a racehorse and the government of the day to its jockey. The horse was owned by the King, he said.
Gen Prem became president of the Privy Council - an 18-member body stacked with retired senior military officers - in 1998 and has been a powerful behind-the-scenes figure ever since, with even elected prime ministers taking care to treat him with great deference.
The military junta led by Mr Prayut said it had stepped in to halt years of violent political factional fighting. But with King Bhumipol already ailing at the time, many saw the putsch as the generals ensuring they were in control during the coming royal succession, the Agence France-Presse said in a report yesterday.
The junta has promised elections by late next year.
But Dr Thitinan Pongsudhirak, a political science professor at Thammasat University, believes Mr Prayut and senior officers will wield huge influence over what happens now. "The military junta and high command will play an indispensable and instrumental role during this delicate transitional period," he told AFP yesterday.