Asia - Pacific

Ailing Thai king undergoes kidney dialysis

Thai baht falls 0.4 percent Monday after announcement that 88-year-old monarch’s condition had ‘not yet stabilized’

Ailing Thai king undergoes kidney dialysis

By Max Constant


Fears for the health of Thailand’s highly revered monarch are growing following overnight news that the 88-year-old king underwent dialysis in a Bangkok hospital following a kidney malfunction.

King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who is suffering from a range of ailments from regular lung infections to spinal cord problems, has been treated for several months with continued renal replacement therapy, which is usually used for patients with acute kidney problems.

He has been almost continuously hospitalized in Bangkok’s Siriraj hospital since 2009.

The brief Royal Household Bureau bulletin released late Sunday said the king will remain “under close medical supervision” as his condition “has not yet stabilized”.

The monarch’s health is a matter of deep concern for many Thais, and the latest bulletin has increased anxiety.

As of midday Monday, the Thai baht had fallen 0.4 percent following the announcement.

The benchmark index of shares for the Stock Exchange of Thailand also retreated 2.4 percent, the biggest slump on Asian markets of the day.

According to the 1924 succession law, Bhumibol's successor will be Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn, his 63-year-old only sole son.

Vajiralongkorn, whose private life has been subject to debate -- albeit in closed circles due to Thailand’s harsh lese-majeste law -- is much less popular than his father.

After the king’s passing, analysts foresee an unavoidable decline in the prestige of the monarchic institution which had been quasi-resurrected by King Bhumibol from the end of the 1950s, when military dictator Field Marshall Sarit Thanarat understood that he could use a monarchy revival for his own benefit.

In the following decades, the king -- accompanied by his queen -- crisscrossed the country's rural areas, putting himself in direct contact with the country's most deprived.

The king launched numerous projects, from helping ethnic minorities in the mountainous areas of the north, to encouraging a switch from opium growing to coffee, to medical endeavors such as sponsoring the fight to rid the world of chronic diseases, such as leprosy and polio.

Analysts say privately that the decline in the king's health is one of the reasons why military officials are trying to maintain their role at the helm of the country, after overthrowing the elected government of Yingluck Shinawatra in a May 2014 coup.

The military, they claim, is simply trying to maintain control of the country during the delicate period during which a new monarch will emerge.

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