Bangkok, King Bhumibol celebrates 70 years of reign in hospital

At 88 years of age he is the longest reigning monarch in the world. Much loved by the people, he is the symbol of unity of the country and protector of all religions. Two days ago he underwent heart surgery and his health is of concern. Doubts shroud succession.

Bangkok (AsiaNews) - Thai people are celebrating King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s 70 years on the throne.  He is the longest reigning monarch in the world. Ceremonies are planned throughout the country and have kicked off in Bangkok with a religious office led by 770 Buddhist monks (the number is considered auspicious). The King, 88, will not make public appearance, since he was admitted to hospital after suffering a heart operation two days ago. For years his health has worried the entire nation.

King Bhumibol is the symbol of Thailand, guarantor of the Constitution, political arbiter and protector of all religions. The Muslims in the southern provinces, while fighting the central government, respect his figure and his being the true Thai soul. The cult of his person are protected by some of the toughest laws of lese majesty in the world. However, critics say they have been exploited in recent months by the military junta in power to repress dissent and rule with an iron grip over the country. Sentences can be up to 15 years in prison.

Analysts say it is inevitable that the celebrations for the King’s 70th anniversary should open the question of his succession, a source of tension for the Thai people. Prince Vajiralongkorn, 63, and first in line of succession, has never managed to win the trust of the people. Moreover, in recent years there has been mounting criticism of those who "hide behind the monarchy", taking advantage of an "empty" institution to keep power.