Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej, the world’s longest-serving monarch, passed away on Thursday afternoon at Bangkok’s Siriraj Hospital, according a palace statement.
The 88-year-old’s health has been ailing for several years. He had checked into the hospital on Oct. 3 for hemodialysis, the palace noted.
Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha said on television that there would be a year of mourning, during which government officials are required to wear black for a year. He also confirmed that the king’s son, Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn, would be the next king.
Widely revered and considered a father — and sometimes a demi-god — by Thais, King Bhumibol acted as a unifying figure amid a backdrop of political jockeying in Thailand. But in recent years as his health has deteriorated, he had remained silent as two bitterly divided political parties took their fight out into the streets of Bangkok in 2013, amassing hundreds of supporters into rival demonstrations that sometimes resulted in violence. In 2014, the military conducted a coup, and martial law in various cities was imposed to restore law and order.
As a result of the coup — as well as the international perception of Thailand’s perilous status as a democracy — the economy plunged. Krystal Tan, an economist from Singapore-based Capital Economics, said Wednesday that the GDP growth in 2014 was less than 1 percent.
It has since steadily recovered, but she cautioned that the uncertainty regarding royal transition due to Thailand’s strict lese majeste laws, as well as the country’s political warring in King Bhumibol’s absence, have renewed worries among investors and consumers.
“Consumer sentiment seems improved [since 2014], but if we were to see the country go back into chaos then that’s certainly going to go down again. It would be similar to what we saw in 2013, 2014,” Tan said. “This king has been around for 70 years, so most people would not have a memory of what the previous transition was like.”