King Bhumibol Adulyadej passed away Oct. 13, having been on the throne for 70 years. The era of Bhumibol was magical. The king became a symbol of national unity and a force for stability. His occasional interventions in politics to stop crises from escalating were accepted as a political norm. Thais often called for their king to help fix national problems. The legacies of Bhumibol are immense. But the success of the late king may not contribute positively to the next king's reign.
His son, Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn, will shortly ascend the throne. However, the choice of the crown prince has already caused anxiety among Thais. They fear he will not be able to serve as a force for stability in a country where the monarchy has earned a special place thanks to the late King Bhumibol.
Understanding the life of Vajiralongkorn is paradoxically both easy and elusive. It is easy because, unlike his father, Vajiralongkorn has over the years demonstrated little interests in political and royal affairs. Admittedly, the crown prince's persona was eclipsed by that of King Bhumibol. After all, the king had a long reign, being crowned in 1946. The longevity of the Bhumibol era discouraged Vajiralongkorn from taking any initiative in politics. More importantly, it has also prevented him from consolidating his power and gaining the crucial support of the palace circle.