Junta chief to meet prince as fears over king’s health grow
THAILAND’S junta chief Prayut Chano-cha said yesterday he planned to hold talks with the crown prince following days of unprecedented concern over the health of ailing King Bhumibol Adulyadej.
King Bhumibol, 88, is the world’s longest-reigning monarch and beloved by many in Thailand.
But he has not been seen in public for nearly a year as he battles a series of ailments.
An unusually pessimistic palace statement on October 9 described the king’s health as “not stable” with doctors recommending he suspend all royal duties.
That sparked market jitters inside Thailand this week as well as public prayers for his well-being.
Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn, who spends much time outside the country, is his successor.
“The Crown Prince is returning [to Thailand] and I will wait for him to grant me audience so I can brief him on the government’s work,” Mr Prayut, a former army chief who seized power in 2014, told AFP via text message.
Thai media travelling with Mr Prayut in the eastern province of Chonburi said the junta chief had abruptly cancelled all official engagements yesterday afternoon and returned to the capital.
No reason was given, according to media which reported the cancellation, including the major dailies Matichon and Thai Rath.
Security outside the hospital where King Bhumibol is being treated was increased yesterday with a hospital official saying they expected the crown prince to visit his father.
“The security has been stepped up because the crown prince is coming to the hospital,” a spokesperson at Siriraj hospital said, asking not to be named.
King Bhumibol’s health is a taboo subject and palace officials maintain tight control on news about his condition.
A draconian lese majeste law also makes public discussion of the succession all but impossible.
The October 9 statement was noticeably grim in its prognosis. Previous statements have tended to end on a positive note after successful treatment.
The king has battled a range of ailments in the last two years including regular infections, breathing difficulties, renal failure and hydrocephalus – a build-up of cerebrospinal fluid commonly referred to as “water on the brain”.
The latest announcement caused Thailand’s stock market to dip and the baht to fall against the dollar this week.
The main bourse plunged after the lunch break, dropping as much as 6.8 percent.
By mid afternoon it had recovered somewhat to 3.45pc down.
The Thai baht was headed toward its steepest weekly drop in three years, trading at 35.90.
Privately many business leaders – both domestic and foreign – fret that the king’s demise could lead to economic instability, especially as there is no official discussion on how the country will handle his passing.
Most Thais have known no other monarch and King Bhumibol is widely seen as a unifying symbol in a country rocked by decades of political turbulence and divisions.
The heir, 64, has yet to attain his father’s widespread popularity.
Many Thais have started wearing pink in the belief it will bring the king good luck. A crowd of followers gathered outside the hospital to pray.
“It feels like he is getting worse this time,” said Somchit Naravichit, 58, tears welling in her eyes.
“Millions of Thais are sending him support, praying for him and wanting him to get well soon,” she told AFP. “He is like my angel. I pray to his photo on my bedside every day.” –