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Thailand Prays for 'Miracle' for Gravely Ill Princess


Well-wishers bow in front of an image of Thailand's Princess Bajrakitiyabha Narendira Debyavati, at Chulalongkorn Hospital in Bangkok, Dec. 16, 2022.

Thai royals, celebrities and members of the public have led prayers for Princess Bajrakitiyabha Narendira Debyavati, the oldest child of King Maha Vajiralongkorn, who remains gravely ill after collapsing December 14 while training her dog for a contest.

The 44-year-old princess, better known to the Thai public as Princess Ong-Bha, is a senior member of Thailand's royal family, which sits at the top of the country's hierarchy of power.

She was hospitalized after losing consciousness early in the morning while in northeastern Nakhon Ratchasima province. The most recent update issued via the Royal Gazette, the official palace mouthpiece, described the princess' condition as of December 19 as "stable to some extent."

Officials pay their respects to Thailand's Princess Bajrakitiyabha Narendira Debyavati, as she has been hospitalized due to a heart problem, during a mass Buddhist novice monk ordination ceremony at Sukanthawat temple in Samut Prakan, Thailand, Dec. 20, 2022.
Officials pay their respects to Thailand's Princess Bajrakitiyabha Narendira Debyavati, as she has been hospitalized due to a heart problem, during a mass Buddhist novice monk ordination ceremony at Sukanthawat temple in Samut Prakan, Thailand, Dec. 20, 2022.

"Doctors have been giving her medication to help sustain the functions of [her] heart, lungs and kidneys," according to the statement. Authorities have issued warnings against speculating on her condition. In a kingdom where the monarchy is revered by many and shielded by a stringent "lèse-majesté law" — which makes it a crime to defame, insult or threaten the monarchy — rumors can be dangerous.

The princess is one of King Vajiralongkorn's three children who have formal titles, aligning her under a 1924 Palace Law of Succession — although no heir has been formally named.

A sense of shock and sadness has rippled across royalist Thais who have long lauded Princess Ong-Bha for her public work and down-to-earth image, which has included a role as a public prosecutor in some high-profile Thai criminal cases.

"I've been praying for a miracle to happen every day and I'm not alone, all of us Thai people are doing the same," Taew Supawadee told VOA. "I haven't been able to send well wishes in person at the Chulalongkorn Memorial hospital [in Bangkok] so I've been doing it online instead on a website, circling around among my group of friends for people to send the princess well wishes."

Details on health issues or the deaths of Thai royals are closely guarded by the palace, leaving local authorities to judge the best way to capture the mood of the moment.

Some — including in the Bangkok tourist hub, Khao San Road — have decided to cancel New Year's Eve countdowns, in favor of more muted celebrations.

Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-O-Cha, center, offers flowers for the health of Princess Bajrakitiyabha Narendira Debyavati, at Chulalongkorn Hospital in Bangkok, Dec. 16, 2022.
Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-O-Cha, center, offers flowers for the health of Princess Bajrakitiyabha Narendira Debyavati, at Chulalongkorn Hospital in Bangkok, Dec. 16, 2022.

Celebrities have made public their wishes for the princess' good health, including a Thai actor, Akarat Nimitchai, who was ordained as a Buddhist monk for a week.

The princess was born on Dec. 7, 1978, the first grandchild of the late King and Queen Sirikit. She attended Thai universities for her undergraduate studies of law and political science. She received masters and doctorate degrees from Cornell University, New York.

In 2012 she represented Thailand at the United Nations Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice (CCPCJ), serving in Europe before returning to Thailand as a provincial prosecutor. There, she has gained a profile as a champion of female inmates.

Her father made her chief-of-staff in the king's bodyguard command in 2021, indicating her central role in palace structures.

Kanchariya Nitchyakarnn, a stall holder in Bangkok, said her memories of the princess stretch back to childhood.

"She has always been working. She's been a main force in driving our country forward," she said, wiping away tears. "I wish her better health and that she will survive this tragedy and I believe that every Thai person agrees with me."

FILE - Thailand's Princess Bajrakitiyabha Narendira Debyavati greets royalists, at The Grand Palace in Bangkok, Thailand, Nov. 1, 2020.
FILE - Thailand's Princess Bajrakitiyabha Narendira Debyavati greets royalists, at The Grand Palace in Bangkok, Thailand, Nov. 1, 2020.

The Thai monarchy has its critics, notably among the young pro-democracy movement who accuse the palace of a pact with the army — which serves narrow elite interests — rather than the people.

Protests against the military-backed government of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha in 2020 went on to include rare open criticism of the monarchy.

In response, 225 people have been charged — including teenagers as young as 14 years old at the time of their alleged transgression — for breaching the lèse-majesté law, according to the group, Thai Lawyers for Human Rights.

That law — known as 112 for its number in the criminal code — carries a jail term of between three and 15 years per charge of defaming the royals.

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