Rumors of the king’s demise

15 10 2009

First post: The Nation (14 October 2009) reports that the stock market was down 2% “on profit-taking.” The Bangkok Post (14 October 2009) reports that, according to Stock Exchange of Thailand (SET) president Patareeya Benjapolchai, the “deep decline in the … SET … composite index on Wednesday was only a minor correction…”.

Normal stuff. But look further down in these very short reports. The Nations says: “There was a panic in early trading due to rumours, but the market rebounded…”, while the Post again cites Patareeya: “Investors should not be too worried about rumours. From what I’ve seen today, there was no special incident affecting the stock market…”.

So what is this about? The king and his health of course, as the Bangkok Post (14 October 2009: “King in good health”) reveals that “rumours of his deteriorating health rattled the country’s stock market.”

In one of the longer of recent reports regarding the king’s almost month-long hospitalization, the palace has had to explain that the king is “in good health” but then appears to contradict this by adding that he “must stay in hospital.” He has has a “lung infection, fever, fatigue and loss of appetite.”

Worries about succession and political stability are likely to be high on the agenda for Thailand pundits.

Update 1: Also available as: ข่าวลือว่ากษัตริย์ทรงสิ้นพระชนม์ and as อัพเดท: ข่าวลือว่ากษัตริย์ทรงสิ้นพระชนม์ and อัพเดทๆ: ข่าวลือว่ากษัตริย์ทรงสิ้นพระชนม์

Update 2: The SET index on Wednesday tumbled 15.20 points, or 2.04 per cent, to close at 731.47 points on concerns over the king’s health. On Thursday, the stock exchange has plunged further on further rumors regarding the kings health. At the close of trading, stock prices recovered some ground. The index was “off about 5.6 percent at 690.4 after touching a six-week low of 670.72, wiping away 10 percent, or $18 billion, of the market’s value in two days. The baht currency, also hit by strong selling, was trading around a two-week low of 33.59 per dollar.” (Reuters)

The Nation (15 October 2009) reports that “shares dropped 5.3 per cent in value Thursday.” It cites Chaiyudh Jiwangkul, an analyst at Country Group Securities, who says: “This is the second day the market has been hit by rumours…”. Chaiyudh adds: “This panic started abroad, not at home, but when locals saw foreign investors selling they have followed suit…”. PPT is unsure whether to believe this. We know that the rumors were circulating in Thailand and were exceptionally strong within the business community and that they are exceptionally jittery.

Update 3: The Bangkok Post (15 October 2009) reported that the SET index had fallen below 700 points as rumours spread. The SET has a “circuit breaker” is activated by a 10% decline. SET officials said: “The market would like to warn investors to closely follow announcements from relevant agencies. They should not panic about the rumours …”. They said there had been “a huge sell-off already.” The usually nearly invisible Finance Minister Korn Chatikavanij “called on investors to be careful when considering rumours and information relating to the bourse.” He added that the government had “no plans to support share prices.” Meanwhile, the “Royal Household Bureau said on Wednesday night His Majesty’s general health was good but he needed more time to fully recover from a bout of pneumonia. Another bulletin is expected tonight.”

Update 4: PPT just did a quick search via Google News and found some 220 reports on the stock market plunge and the king’s health. Included are all the major business outlets (Businessweek, Reuters, Bloomberg, Forbes, AFP and so on). The rumors are now news. Most of these reports are in the past 2-3 hours (of 1:30 p.m. GMT on 15 Oct).

Update 5: The Nation’s State has a round-up of the blogs on this topic. The Times (15 October 2009: “Thai stock market plummets amid rumours King Bhumibol has pneumonia”) has a useful account of the unfolding of this story.

AFP’s report (15 October 2009: “Thai stocks plunge on concerns over king’s health”) has some analysis. One unnamed brokerage source commented that the king’s health is a “major concern,” adding: “The king is a key institution for political stability in Thailand so the market is closely watching his health…”.

Maybe they should also be watching out for the crown prince. He has been in Europe and if the king is seriously ill he’ll need to be in Bangkok.

While the AFP story captures some of the fear, that fear is a part of a larger royalist project. As Kevin Hewison, a Thai politics researcher at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is reported, “From school and in the media, people are told that the monarchy is central to what it means to be Thai.”… “The monarchy is a large part of the way many people believe Thailand operates at the moment…”. That’s true, but Thais have had a while to get used to the idea of the king’s passing. Massive grief will be seen and demanded but political turmoil is unlikely. Scenarios for turmoil would have to involve meddling with succession or a usurping of the throne. The military will be on alert, and may already be, but other political groups seem unlikely to make political advantage in the short-term. Longer term, though, may be another matter.

It is clear that the palace – the Royal Household Bureau – is handling the reporting of the illness very badly, allowing rumors to develop and intensify.

Update 6: Worse, the Thai News Agency (MCOT) reports (and here) on stock market declines and rumors without mentioning the obvious. They blame red shirts and Map Tha Phut and by doing so make the rumors seem more important. Meanwhile, The Nation (16 October 2009: “Baht depreciates after stock sell-offs”) seems unable to even mention the rumors on the king’s health in some of its stories. This is as much as they can say: “The baht gained in early-morning trade yesterday after dropping the most in four months on Wednesday following rumours – which were denied – that shook the stock market and the currency.” No one from outside could possibly understand its long report on the sudden decline of the baht, unless of course they had access to the nearly 300 international and local reports that mention the cause of the rumors. Terrible reporting that makes the newspaper look just plain silly.

Elsewhere, The Nation (16 October 2009) reports the latest Royal Household update, and PPT quotes the entire report in the newspaper: “His Majesty was able to take more food and had been receiving medication and rehabilitation, the 26th Royal Household Bureau statement said yesterday.” Even this short statement is confusing for previous reports had the king off medications.

Update 7: If you are tired of reading, try this video from France 24.

Update 8: Reuters (16 October 2009: “Thai King not in danger, health improving: princess”) reports that, for the first time, a member of the royal family has commented on the king’s health. Princess Chulabhorn, in Germany, said: “Physical therapy is needed to help him stand up and walk which would need a little time. That is why he needs to continue staying in hospital, but doctors say there is no danger…”. Apparently the comments in Germany were shown on Thai television. She added: “He now can eat normally and quite a lot, compared with initially, when he had to be fed intravenously.” Bangkok Pundit has some useful comments.

Final Update: Reuters (16 October 2009: “Why the Thai king’s health can panic markets”) has some comments on why the king’s health matters for investors. It seems to be about foreign investors, and yet the local business community is equally spooked by considerations about politics and succession.



5 responses

14 10 2009
ข่าวลือว่ากษัตริย์ทรงสิ้นพระชนม์ « Liberal Thai

[…] by chapter 11 Rumors of the king’s demise October 14, 2009 ที่มา – Political Prisoners in Thailand แปลและเรียบเรียง – แชพเตอร์ […]

14 10 2009
New: Reducing the power of the privy council « Political Prisoners in Thailand

[…] Take Action Updated: Rumors of the king’s demise […]

15 10 2009
New: Updating ISA and medical scam « Political Prisoners in Thailand

[…] PPT has no answers that we haven’t given before.However, this kind of mobilization is suspiciously large. If we were being really cynical and conspiratorial, we’d be tempted to link to an earlier post. […]

15 10 2009
อัพเดท: ข่าวลือว่ากษัตริย์ทรงสิ้นพระชนม์ « Liberal Thai

[…] 11 With Several Updates: Rumors of the king’s demise October 15, 2009 ที่มา – Political Prisoners in Thailand แปลและเรียบเรียง – แชพเตอร์ […]

16 10 2009
New: The king’s health rumors are part of a political plot « Political Prisoners in Thailand

[…] the stock market began to tumble, but refused to say what the rumors were (see PPT’s comments here). Such lack of transparency in reporting causes people to try to find out what the rumors […]

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