Thailand has marked a year since the death of King Bhumibol Adulyadej (pictured in 1964) with formal ceremonies and acts of personal devotion ahead of a five-day funeral later this month, amid ongoing unease about his successor.
Official commemorations of Bhumibol, who was 88, were organised at Bangkok’s Siriraj Hospital, where he died, at Government House and the royal palace.
Numerous Thais showed their respects across the country, kneeling before orange-robed monks to perform Buddhist merit-making rituals.
The king’s 50-metre-high funeral pyre is a representation of Mount Meru, the heart of the universe in Hindu and Buddhist tradition. There is a sculpture of his favourite dog, Tongdaeng, meaning copper, whom he rescued as a stray and later made the subject of a best-selling book and hailed as an example for how Thais should behave.
“You see his achievements on TV sometimes, but now that he has passed we are learning about so many other things he has done for the country,” said a tearful Panicha Nuapho, 66, who travelled 330km to visit Siriraj.
More than 12 million people have visited the palace throne hall, where the king’s body has been kept during the past year.
King Maha Vajiralongkorn, 65, succeeded his father in December 2016 and his coronation is due at some point after the funeral.
Vajiralongkorn’s reign has brought anxiety, even to the military and commercial elite, who prospered in alliance with Bhumibol and are faced with an unpredictable successor.
Thai lese majeste laws and the new Computer Crime Act, which has been tightened under the military government, have silenced any debate about the monarchy. Since the May 2014 coup, more than 100 lese majeste arrests have been recorded by the International Federation for Human Rights. The law can enforce prison terms of 15 years for each offence.
A recent case has targeted a historian who questioned the accuracy of accounts of an elephant battle involving a Thai king 400 years ago. The judgements are arbitrary and mostly applied in secret.
Unflattering images of Vajiralongkorn continue to circulate. A famous video shows his third wife, Princess Srirasmi, wearing just a thong while a staff member produces a cake and the couple sing Happy Birthday to his favourite poodle Foo Foo. Wikileaks exposed a US cable saying Vajiralongkorn made Foo Foo an air marshal.