Thailand on Sunday marked the 83rd birthday of King Bhumibol Adulyadej, the world’s longest-reigning monarch, but elaborate celebrations could not mask concern over his health and the future of the royal institution. In his annual birthday speech, the king sounded what has become a routine, general call for unity and hard work to keep the country happy and prosperous in the face of the sometimes violent political conflict it has endured in recent years. Thousands of flag-waving citizens cheered his car’s journey to the ceremonial Grand Palace from Siriraj Hospital, where he was admitted in September 2009 with a lung inflammation.
There has been no detailed explanation of his extended hospitalization. The king’s health is a matter of immense public concern, both because he is widely admired and because he is regarded as a unifying figure in times of national crisis. Shouts of “Long live the king” rang out as he entered the hospital lobby in a motorized wheelchair and headed to board a van, in which Queen Sirikit also sat. Massive ceremonies were planned later in the day, as on past occasions honoring the king. They were to include a candle-lighting show of devotion led by the prime minister, and a night-time boat procession on Bangkok’s Chao Phraya river.