The death of King Bhumibol Adulyadej will not affect the junta’s plans to hold elections in Thailand in September or October 2017, Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha indicated on Tuesday.
Prayuth touched on the issue as he spoke to reporters following the cabinet’s first regular scheduled weekly meeting after the king’s death on Oct. 13. Thailand has since begun a year of national mourning for Bhumibol, who had ruled over Thailand for 70 years.
Before his death, the junta headed by Prayuth had declared that general elections could be held next year and those elected could assume power by December 2017, a plan referred to as a part of the military government so-called “roadmap” for returning Thailand to democracy.
“Nothing has changed,” Prayuth said Tuesday, according to Reuters. “The policies of this government, the laws – including elections – will be according to the roadmap. Don’t ask me when or how it will occur, the roadmap is the roadmap.”
“The country cannot stop, we need to help each other, supporting the work of the government and moving forward,” added Prayuth, the retired army general who led a coup that toppled a civilian-led government in May 2014. “I ask for collaboration … be patient, think the nation first. So any policy of the government, including the laws and election, will proceed.”
While speaking to reporters the prime minister also addressed the issue of the royal succession.
On the night of the king’s death, Thai lawmakers invited Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn to take the throne, as is stipulated according to the laws of royal succession, but the prince delayed that action so he could grieve along with the Thai people, the prime minister told the nation on Thursday.
On Friday night, Prem Tinsulanonda, a 96-year-old former general who chairs the Privy Council, was appointed as the nation’s temporary regent and will serve in that role until the day when the prince ascends the throne.
“About the succession, do not worry, everybody. I've already said twice that it is clearly stated in the constitution, the Palace Law of Succession and also there is its tradition, therefore, all in country and abroad should not worry or not have any concerns,” Prayuth told reporters Tuesday.
He said a new king could take the throne after 15 days of mourning, according to Reuters.
Pursuing critics of monarchy
On Tuesday, Thais were still pouring out their grief for the passing of their king after seven decades on the throne. Apart from not having a king ruling them for the first time since 1946, Thais have not elected a prime minister since the military overthrew the government of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra two years ago.
Meanwhile, the government continued to go after on people suspected of violating Lese-Majeste, the country’s strict royal defamation law.
Justice Minister Paiboon Koomchaya told reporters that the government was tracking six high-profile suspects living abroad, but conceded that there were significant legal and diplomatic challenges around seeking their extradition, Reuters reported.
Since the king’s death, at least three people have been arrested for allegedly posting comments on social media that were deemed critical of the monarchy.
One of the cases involved a woman from Surat Thani province, identified as Umaporn who allegedly insulted the monarchy on her Facebook page. She was made to kneel in public before a portrait of Bhumibol and issue an apology as a crowd of several hundred royalists jeered her, according to reports.