Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn during a recent public relations campaign. Source: Wikimedia
Thailand’s stock exchange has plunged after the palace said ailing King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s health was “not stable”. The 88-year-old is the world’s longest-reigning monarch and hugely popular in Thailand.
But he has not been seen in public for nearly a year and has suffered from a series of ailments in a Bangkok hospital, with the authorities giving increasingly detailed reports about his medical condition without revealing his overall health or whether he is cognitive.
The infamous lese majeste laws make public discussion of the succession all but impossible with the military clearly determined to have full control of the country during the process.
In one recent high-profile incident, a Thai mother was charged with lese majeste after responding to a private Facebook message allegedly critical of the royals with the word “ja” (I see).
Businesses fear that his death could lead to economic instability, especially as there is no official discussion of how it will be organised. Thailand is a constitutional monarchy but the king’s long reign means his influence extends to almost all areas of society.
On Monday stocks closed 3.15-per-cent down, the sharpest fall in nearly a month.
The baht also declined to a two-month low at 34.99 to the dollar, a sixth consecutive day of decline, according to Bloomberg.
In recent months the palace has reported that the king was suffering from renal failure.
The stock market often dips after such announcements.
Over the last two years he has been treated for bacterial infections, breathing difficulties, heart problems and hydrocephalus, a build-up of cerebrospinal fluid or “water on the brain”.
On Sunday the Royal Household Bureau said a ventilator was deployed after his blood pressure dipped following procedures ahead of dialysis and to drain fluid from his spine.
“The medical team are watching his symptoms and giving treatments carefully because the overall symptoms of his sickness are still not stable,” it said.
An anonymous financial analyst told AFP: “News of his failing health brings another layer of uncertainty to the political situation and is weighing on investor sentiment.”
Christopher Wong of Malayan Banking in Singapore said the monarch “is typically seen to play an important role in maintaining the stability of the country so this is having a negative effect on Thai stocks and the currency”.
Use of the lese majeste laws has surged under the royalist junta that seized power in 2014 with record-breaking jail sentences handed down, effectively using it stifle any public debate and to gag the media.
The 64-year-old Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn does not enjoy his father’s popularity.