BANGKOK, Oct. 15 (UPI) -- Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn of Thailand said he will not immediately ascend to the throne after the death of his father, King Bhumibol Adulyadej on Thursday and a caretaker head of state has been installed.
Prem Tinsulanonda, a former Thai prime minister and head of the king's advisory council, will serve as a caretaker to the throne while the nation mourns Bhumibol's death and awaits the crown prince's ascension to a majestic monarchy.
Thais have long viewed Vajiralongkorn with skepticism after three marriages ended in messy public feuds and the widespread rumors about his sequestered playboy lifestyle in Europe. That stands in contrast with his father, who was beloved by the Thai people and highly respected for his devotion to the country.
The crown prince surprised many when he said in the wake of his father's death he would not immediately ascend to the throne, instead saying he preferred to wait until the "appropriate time" to take the throne of a monarchy steeped in formality and the ancient traditions captured in the musical The King and I.
At first glance the crown prince, 64, appears an odd fit for the role. He has been photographed in Europe, where he lives, wearing low-slung jeans and a cutoff T-shirt that revealed a back and arms covered in tattoos. He has been married three times, fathered at least six children -- four of whom he has cut out of his life -- and is presently not married, though has been rumored to be in a relationship with a former flight attendant to whom he has bestowed the military title lieutenant general.
Until Vajiralongkorn claims the throne, the head of state is Prem, the leader of the king's Privy Council, a role he has held since 1998. Prem, 94, was a close adviser to Bhumibol.
A spokesman for the military junta that controls the country with the monarchy's blessing announced the caretaker head of state status, but did not single out Prem by name, though his position as leader of the king's Privy Council would make him next in line.
Al Jazeera reported Buddhist funeral ceremonies have begun for Bhumibol, whose body was transported from a Bangkok hospital where he died after a long illness, back to the royal palace. Bhumibol will lay in state and mourners will be permitted to pass through and honor the king.