Thailand's junta chief and Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha canceled all official engagements Wednesday to return to the capital in the wake of announcements about King Bhumibol's worsening condition, the South China Morning Post reported. Prayuth planned to meet with Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn to discuss the king's declining health and the possibility of the prince's imminent accession to the throne.
"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," said Prayuth Wednesday.
Prayuth is the chief of Thailand's junta, or military, who led a coup to seize power from the elected government in 2014. The junta's hope is that the crown prince will continue to bestow wealth and power to the military as the king has done in the past, according to the East Asia Forum.
Fears of the beloved king's imminent death have swept through Thailand after the royal palace made an unprecedented announcement Saturday to say the king's condition was unstable after he received hemodialysis, a procedure to purify his blood and treat kidney failure.
King Bhumibol is the world's longest reigning monarch, having ruled for 70 years. Thailand has strict laws in place to protect the monarchy from any insult or defamation, making it nearly impossible to hear anything but the most complementary discussion of the king.
A temporary constitution gives Prayuth the power to take any measures he feels are necessary to promote order and unity. Since the junta's takeover two years ago, liberties like freedom of speech have become more restricted. Critics are often detained at military bases for interrogation known as "attitude adjustments," according to the Japan Times. Anybody who insults the monarchy can face up to 15 years in prison.
Crown prince and heir to the throne Maha Vajiralongkorn is not nearly as adored as his father and many Thais fear his unpredictability and eccentricity will harm Thailand.