Steeped in political turmoil for the last two years, the poor and reportedly unstable health of Thailand’s King Bhumibol Adulyadej is raising serious questions over the Southeast Asian country’s succession plans and the stability of the military-run government.
A beloved figure and currently the world’s longest serving monarch, King Bhumibol, 88, was being treated for kidney failure Sunday night, according to a statement from Thaliand’s palace and BBC News.
He has served as Thailand’s king since 1946 and is revered throughout the country. While he’s been in poor health for the last 10 years, it has been especially worse this year and for the first time doctors are asking for Bhumibol to be relieved of his official duties.
It’s a worrisome fact, and given Thailand has strict laws that ban planning for succession or discussing the current leader’s health in public, there could be potential turmoil between the military and Bhumibol’s son, Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn, and daughter, Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn.
Thailand’s government is technically a constitutional monarchy, but it ratified its newest constitution in August by a public referendum that further entrenched the military government of former general now-Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha. The referendum called for a civilian government but with strong influence from the military and for leaders to be appointed, not elected, according to The Independent.
Chan-ocha led a military coup in 2014 after the government faced accusations of corruption, and he’s been credited for curbing violence in Thailand’s streets. The coup, however, completely upended Thailand’s government and it presently doesn’t have a permanent legislative branch with no plans for elections until next year. The National Legislative Assembly, installed on an interim basis two years ago, is made of 220 members.
That legislative body, while temporary, still has major input. The interim constitution calls for the prime minister to be appointed by the monarch but the National Legislative Assembly must also pass a resolution. That gives Chan-ocha every reason to be concerned over who becomes the next monarch in the event of Bhumibol’s death.
And as of now, the princess could reportedly be a much stronger candidate for the nation's next royal leader. Unlike his father, Prince Vajiralongkorn, 64, is quite disliked in Thailand. He’s considered “spoilt and demanding, and‑to put it mildly-widely loathed,” The Economist reported earlier this year.
The sensitive nature of succession, given how loved Bhumibol is and the calm, stable presence he’s provided for seven decades, is only exacerbated as Thailand also deals with bomb plots from Muslim separatists located in the country’s far south.
Thai police upped security Tuesday around landmarks in the capital of Bangkok and at airports after a plot using car bomb attacks was discovered, The Guardian reported. The alleged plot follows an bomb attacks on Aug. 11 and 12 that saw four people killed and dozens of tourists in the major tourism destination.