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Thailand can ride out succession pain

People praying for Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej at Siriraj hospital. Thailand's King Bhumibol Adulyadej has passed away after a long illness, the palace announced on October 13, 2016.
Piti A Sahakorn | LightRocket | Getty Images

Thailand can ride out its succession pain. A difficult transition lies ahead following the death on Oct. 13 of 88-year-old King Bhumibol Adulyadej, the world's longest-serving monarch and a critical unifying force in a divided country. His son, Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn, is expected to succeed him. Yet the military has of late tightened its grip on power. That may help to avoid a repeat of the prolonged economic turmoil that came with the last big power struggle.

Growth has only just started to pick up following a military coup that ousted Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra in May 2014. The army's intervention, one of many over the decades, followed street protests that paralyzed the nation for months. The economy slumped as a result; GDP growth of 3.5 percent in the first half of 2016 was the fastest pace in three years, but still lags its main Southeast Asian neighbors.

A royal succession, however, might be less problematic than many have long feared. Citizens turned out in decent numbers in August to approve a new constitution. It was a vote for stability as much as anything else. The new charter empowers the military, which has promised elections next year, to check the power of lawmakers, take power in the event of a political crisis, and oblige civilian politicians to follow the army's ambitious 20-year economic plan.