BANGKOK (AP) — A traditional birthday celebration ceremony for Thailand's King Bhumibol Adulyadej, the world's longest-reigning monarch, was canceled Friday because his doctors said he's not well enough to attend.
The king, who turned 87, has been hospitalized since early October when he had his gall bladder removed.
The cancellation, announced by the palace, will put a damper on public birthday celebrations, but will not come as a shock to most people. The monarch has been visibly ailing for the last several years.
However, his absence comes at a time of particular concern over his succession.
Next in line is Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn. In recent weeks, members of the family of his wife, Princess Srirasm, have been arrested on charges of abusing their connections for financial benefit.
Thais hold great affection for Bhumibol, who took the throne in 1946. His speeches delivered the night before his birthday were listened to as the best gauge for Thailand's direction and moral guidance. But his fading from public life and the palace's perceived role in Thailand's latest political battles that started in 2006 and culminated in a coup in May, have tarnished the institution in recent years, undermining what had previously been near-universal respect for the monarchy.
Vajiralongkorn, 62, does not command the same respect and affection as the king, who was closely and actively involved in his country's development efforts.
The birthday ceremony was also canceled in 2008. That year, Vajiralongkorn made a sudden last-minute substitution for the king at a speech he traditionally broadcasts to the nation on the eve of his birthday.
This year, Vajiralongkorn has been scheduled to fill in for the king at a small religious ceremony to be held Friday afternoon.