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Concern Grows Over Thai King's Health

The health of King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand remains in question.

The 87-year-old has been the king of Thailand since 1946.

Last week, the king’s youngest daughter made a public request for prayers from the Thai people for her ailing father. He has spent much of the past several years in a hospital in Bangkok.

The king, also known as Rama IX, briefly appeared in public earlier this month. Since then, he has reportedly had blood infections, fever and lung problems. Thai officials say he has improved, but many in the country remain concerned.

Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn is in line to be the next king. But he is not as loved or respected in the country as his parents. In August, he led a 43-kilometer mass bicycle ride in tribute to his ill mother, Queen Sirikit. The event had more than 145,000 cyclists and 9,000 police officers. Some believe the bicycle ride demonstrates to a nation under army rule that the military backs the crown prince to succeed his father.

But the prince remains distant from the public. And his private life has been a source of concern.

His sister Princess Sirindhorn, however, is more widely respected. She is broadly admired for her charity work and her efforts in education. Some say that the princess could become a successor. But she has not been formally chosen as an heir to the throne.

Openly speaking about the royal succession is taboo, something not to be discussed. Making comments critical of or threatening to senior members of the royal family is also taboo. Doing so can result in long prison sentences under Thailand's harsh laws.

Bhumibol is the only king most Thais have ever known. His death will send Thailand into deep mourning.

Tyrell Haberkorn is an expert on Thailand. She says the respect and admiration many Thais have for King Bhumibol “is specific to him as an individual, not the institution."

"Rama X will not be able to automatically slip into the same position held by Rama IX, even if he wears the same crown," she said. "The wildcard here is not who is going to ascend to the throne, but what citizens will do in that moment.”

I’m Jonathan Evans.

VOA’s Steve Herman wrote this story from Bangkok. Jonathan Evans adapted it for Learning English. Kathleen Struck was the editor.


Words in this Story

successor – n. a person who has a job, position, or title after someone else

heir – n. a person who has the legal right to receive the property of someone who dies

throne – n. the position of king or queen

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