The Straits Times says

Storied reign of 'father to all Thais'

After a decade of poor health, His Majesty Bhumibol Adulyadej's long and worthy life has meandered to a peaceful end. As expected, his death has triggered an outpouring of grief across the land, arising from the deep affection and respect Thais felt for their fatherly head of state.

King Bhumibol ascended the throne at 18 after the unexpected and untimely death by gunshot of his older brother. Since that unsteady beginning, the saxophone- and sailboat-loving King has rebuilt the monarchy's influence and primacy, and anchored the Thai nation under his benign mentorship. For most of the King's last four decades, the palace was hugely influential as power swung frequently between Thailand's elected politicians and the military, sometimes helped by a quiet nudge from the King himself.

Much of the poise of the monarchy was on account of the personality of King Bhumibol, his tireless efforts to promote development, his scholarship and the unblemished correctness of his personal conduct. Thais responded to their austere, polyglot monarch in full measure. To have the most influential in the land literally crawl in his presence is no mean feat in an age when the influence of monarchs is not what it used to be. In Britain, the royals are still popular despite frequent scandals. But in Bhutan, the kings have stepped back from actively running the kingdom, and in Nepal, the monarchy has been abolished.

What next for Thailand after King Bhumibol? The military's firm grasp on power will make the expected succession to Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn a smooth one. Talk of an alternative for the throne was perhaps overstating the extent of palace intrigues. There have been a series of recent developments that have made it abundantly clear that the Crown Prince will take his ordained place without challenge. That said, it will be a while before the new king, who is yet to formally ascend the throne, settles down fully.

The year-long mourning announced for King Bhumibol will also probably hurt the Thai economy, which is South-east Asia's second biggest, as businesses may have to close early. Tourism, too, could be affected. But the transition also gives Thais an opportunity to ponder their future at a time when regionalism is rising and the monarchy's large shadow in some ways crimped political development.

As the meeting point of two great Asian civilisations - the Indic and the Chinese - Thailand is a pivotal spot on the map and a vital power balancer for the region. Stability in the Land of Smiles is therefore critical to not just Thailand, but the wider region. With giant shoes to fill, the 10th Chakri monarch will be called upon to display much wisdom as the nation proceeds down its troubled political path. The rest of Asia would wish it well in the journey ahead.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 15, 2016, with the headline 'Storied reign of 'father to all Thais''. Print Edition | Subscribe