BANGKOK - With palms joined in prayer, a pink-shirted woman mouthed a Buddhist chant on Tuesday (Oct 11) while staring intently at a particular upper floor window in Bangkok’s Siriraj Hospital.
Like many others around her, she was willing a swift recovery for King Bhumibol Adulyadej, the subject of a recent ominous-sounding announcement.
The world’s longest reigning monarch has battled a series of ailments, including lung infection, in recent years and has not been seen in public since January. Of late, the Royal Household Bureau has increased the frequency of announcements bearing updates on his health.
These usually declare an improvement after he received a particular treatment. The statement on Sunday (Oct 9) evening, however, said his condition remained unstable after receiving dialysis.
Anxious Thais have been turning to both temples as well as the Internet to send their well-wishes for the King. On Tuesday, many turned out in pink.
The colour is considered an auspicious colour for King Bhumibol, who is considered a demigod in the country and often referred to as the father of the nation. Pictures of him adorn the walls of most households and offices, as well as billboards along the streets.
“I was disheartened (when I heard the news),” said 50-year-old seamstress Maikaew Yongcharoenchai, after she prostrated herself before a picture of the monarch at Siriraj Hospital, where King Bhumibol is being treated. “I want to seek blessings, to help him recover.”
Over at the capital’s Grand Palace, where a hall has been opened just to receive well-wishers, a regular stream of delegations turned up to make flower offerings and bow before the King’s portrait.
An official told The Straits Times that it receives more than 1,000 visitors a day.
News about the royal family is tightly controlled Asean’s second-largest economy, where insults or defamatory comments against the king, queen, heir apparent and regent earn not just social disapproval, but also a possible jail sentence of up to 15 years on each count.
Since the military took power through a 2014 coup, the number of people prosecuted for lese majeste has also soared.
Thailand’s SET Index shed 3.15 per cent on Monday (Oct 10) after the announcement on the King’s condition and fell another 1.02 per cent by the close of trading on Tuesday.
Most Thais – who have lived through a revolving door of governments regularly upended by military coups – have only known only one king all their lives. The impending transition has filled them great uncertainty.
“I hope he can live up to 100 years and beyond if possible,” says retiree Ratsamee Porntreesat. She turned 60 on Tuesday, and decided to mark the day by praying for the King.