Thailand’s revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej made a rare public appearance Tuesday to mark the 65th anniversary of his coronation.
All television stations carried the event live, as the 87-year-old monarch emerged in a wheelchair from a Bangkok hospital, where he has taken up residence, and was driven through the capital’s historic district to the Grand Palace.
Buddhist monks led prayers as the king watched, before an audience of government and royal officials.
Thais lined the roads along the route, chanting “Long Live the King!” The palace had not announced if Bhumibol (poo-MEE-pohn) would appear for the ceremony, but crowds had gathered in anticipation of seeing the monarch. Tuesday was a national holiday.
Bhumibol has been hospitalized since last October when he had his gallbladder removed. It was the latest ailment and hospitalization for the king, who has faded from public life over the past several years and on the rare outings looks visibly frail and does not speak publicly.
Thais hold great affection for Bhumibol, the world’s longest-reigning monarch. He was crowned on May 5, 1950, after coming to the throne in 1946 following the death of his elder brother.
While he is constitutional monarch with no formal political role, Bhumibol is widely revered and regarded as the country’s sole unifying figure. Many regard his as a father figure, and his December birthday is also designated as Father’s Day in Thailand.
Bhumibol’s near-disappearance from public life has coincided with a decade of political instability in Thailand. Worries about the king’s health and succession have contributed to the instability.
The heir apparent, Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn, does not command the same respect and affection as the king.
Open discussion of the monarchy is constrained by a strict lese majeste law that makes criticism punishable by up to 15 years in prison.