BANGKOK, Thailand -- Thailand's military government is consolidating
its control and skillfully handling the country's traumatic mourning
in the aftermath of King Bhumibol Adulyadej's death on October 13 at
age 88, while a flow of hundreds of thousands of grieving people offer
Buddhist prayers in front of the golden royal coffin.
   Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, a staunch royalist who seized
power in a bloodless 2014 coup, is overseeing the elaborate funeral
arrangements and extensive public security amid the nation's
grief-stricken changes.
   The widely revered, late constitutional monarch headed an
influential institution which supported the military.
   In turn, the armed forces proudly protected Bhumibol during his
70-year reign.
   Prayuth's post-coup policies are also defending Thailand's "old
money" elite against social climbing "nouveau riche" rivals.
   Those quashed rivals are led by former Prime Minister Thaksin
Shinawatra, who Prayuth helped topple in a 2006 coup, and by Thaksin's
sister former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra who was ousted by
Prayuth's 2014 coup.
   Fortunately for Prayuth, his supporters appear to be backing him in
the aftermath of the king's death.
   They expect Prayuth to maintain Thailand's stability and investment
worthiness during the current transition after Bhumibol's only son,
former Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn, became the new king on
December 1.
   If there are no disruptions, Prayuth will be able to use the
peaceful interlude to continue consolidating his control.
   During the past two years, his regime moved supporters into top
positions within the military, police, bureaucracy, judiciary and
legislature, to ensure the military's leverage over future policies
and governments.
   Prayuth's pro-democracy opponents meanwhile have decided to
respectfully mourn the king's death and temporarily halt their public
political activity.
   As a result, Prayuth faces no immediate dangerous challenges.
   "It seems Prayuth has been able to work with the upcoming king. For
one thing, he [Prayuth] already came out to endorse the kingship of
Vajiralongkorn," said Pavin Chachavalpongpun in an interview.
   "The fact that the king will not be cremated [until one year from
now] also guarantees the position of Prayuth in the premiership,"
because of the respectful mourning period, Pavin said.
   Pavin left Thailand 13 years ago and is an associate professor at
Kyoto University's Center for Southeast Asian Studies in Japan.
   The junta issued an arrest warrant for Pavin and revoked his
passport for his anti-coup opinions, but he has applied for refugee
status in Japan.
   "The political situation remains calm, and perhaps more stable,
because most Thais are now in a mourning period," Titipol
Phakdeewanich, political science faculty dean at Ubon Ratchathani
University in eastern Thailand, said in an interview.
   "During this mourning period of King Bhumibol, I think all
political factions and parties are fully aware that making any
political movements will not be in their interests, and it is not
strategically clever to do so," Titipol said.
   "Don't try to provoke any conflict at the moment, and don't get the
monarchy involved in any conflict," government spokesman Lt. Gen.
Sansern Kaewkamnerd told the nation after the king died.
   "Now is the time for all of us to unite," Sansern said.
   The widespread adoration and emotional dependence Thais feel toward
the late king has also engulfed this Buddhist-majority country in
overwhelming sadness mixed with personal anxiety.
   The king's body is inside an ornate golden royal urn which stands
upright on a raised platform inside the Grand Palace's Throne Hall.
   Buddhist monks chant prayers while 20,000-30,000 members of the
public, dressed in black, are allowed each day to solemnly pass
through the hall.
   After about one year, a huge outdoor public royal cremation will be held.
   The new king, Vajiralongkorn, 64, was confirmed in 1972 by Bhumibol
as sole heir to the throne.
   King Vajiralongkorn's coronation would be after his father's
cremation next year.
   Prayuth meanwhile continues to strengthen his forces against his
two biggest enemies, the Shinawatra siblings.
   Former Prime Minister Yingluck is being prosecuted for her alleged
"negligence" while administering rice subsidies during 2012-14.
   She must pay $1 billion in compensation to the government for
financial "losses" due to alleged mismanagement, including shoddy
storage facilities, suspicious invoicing and other activities by
officials under her administration.
   "The legal officers confirmed this is not a violation of the law's
spirit," Prayuth said on October 25, defending his regime's
"administrative order" demanding she pay the $1 billion.
   Yingluck denied the charges and can appeal in an Administrative Court.
   Former Prime Minister Thaksin and his candidates repeatedly won
elections by attracting neglected, lower classes in the north and
northeast with populist policies including easy loans, inexpensive
health care and Thaksin's extrajudicial war on drugs which left more
than 2,000 people dead.
   But Thaksin remains in self-exile abroad, dodging a two-year prison
sentence for corruption during his administration.