Thailand’s 88-year-old king, the world’s longest-reigning monarch, is recovering from a lung infection in a Bangkok hospital, according to a statement released late Sunday by the royal palace.
King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s condition is improving following treatment with antibiotics and oxygen, according to the palace statement. The king has remained at Bangkok’s Siriraj Hospital since May 2015, when he was treated for a similar illness, and he suffered lung infections in 2009 and 2013.
The health of Bhumibol is watched closely in Thailand where he is revered by many for what they say has been his unifying presence during a seven-decade reign marked by 16 successful or attempted coups and more than two-dozen changes of prime minister. Under Thailand’s constitutional monarchy, the king is head of state while the prime minister and parliament govern. Legislation must still be approved by the king.
Though Bhumibol is officially above politics, protesters on both sides of the political divide that has beset Thailand for the past decade have frequently displayed his image or those of other members of the royal family at street demonstrations, and accused opponents of disrespect for the monarchy.
Criticism of the monarchy is curbed under Thailand’s code of lese majeste, laws that can be used against anyone accused of defaming, insulting or threatening the king, queen, heir apparent or regent. The use of the law has been criticized in recent years by activists, academics and rights groups as unjust and an impediment to public discussion. Prosecution of offenders, who face as long as 15 years in prison, has increased since the May coup.
The designated successor is the king’s son, Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn, 63, a career soldier.