RECENT events in Jordan seem to have produced a flurry of rumours about the succession
in Cambodia and while we all pray to God Almighty that He may continue to give good
health, strength and wisdom to His Majesty King Norodom Sihanouk, it is timely to
assess the question of the succession.
At the outset, it should be pointed out that His Majesty, who has been suffering
from fatigue in recent weeks, remains intellectually full of energy and troubled
by the plight of the vast majority of Cambodians, whom he affectionately refers to
as the "small citizenry", the less privileged Cambodians, who have always
been and remain so dear to the King's heart.
This is good news for a monarch that over recent years has had to struggle against
cancer, chronic diabetes and hypertension.
Both the late King Hussein of Jordan and His Majesty King Norodom Sihanouk have suffered
from the same type of cancer but the treatments have been different.
In the case of King Hussein, he was treated in the United States with continuous
cycles of chemotherapy and bone marrow transplants. The Chinese doctors treating
King Sihanouk have used a different technique. The King received initially six cycles
of chemotherapy. Each cycle is followed by a session of Chinese traditional medicine
to invigorate and strengthen all the organs of His Majesty's body that may have been
adversely affected by the chemotherapy.
Both were followed by a period of rest. It is this treatment that has forced His
Majesty to spend long periods of time in Peking, where the treatment is conducted.
The Chinese doctors have found that His Majesty's cancer is now in remission but
the King continues to take Chinese traditional medicines to strengthen his immune
As far as the succession is concerned, it should be pointed out that Jordan and Cambodia
have different systems for the selection of a successor to a deceased King.
Jordan's monarchy, which is a product of the 19th century, is hereditary, while in
Cambodia, a historical institution going back to the builders of Angkor has always
been elective. Article 13 of Cambodia's 1993 Constitution states that : "Within
a period of not more than seven days, the new King of the Kingdom of Cambodia shall
be chosen by the Royal Council of the Throne".
The Council is composed by the President of the National Assembly, the Prime Minister,
the Supreme Patriarchs of the two Buddhist Orders -Mohanikay and Thammayut, and the
First and Second Vice-Presidents of the National Assembly.
Cambodia's 1993 Constitution is less clear on who can be a candidate for the throne,
apart from stating that the next King "shall be a member of the Royal Family,
of at least 30 years old, descending from the blood line of King Ang Duong, King
Norodom or King Sisowath". The Constitution is not specific on whether the descendant
should be a male or female and it is automatically assumed that the next ruler must
be a male.
According to statistics compiled by Thiounn, Minister of the Palace in 1923, King
Ang Duong had 32 direct male descendants and 34 female. King Norodom had 119 living
direct descendants, of which 53 were males and 66 were female, while King Sisowath
had 71 males and 80 females or a total of 151 direct descendants.
These statistics are dated 31 December 1923 and they are the only ones I have so
far been able to find.
There are no current statistics of the living descendants of the previous Kings and
that is why the debate on the succession to King Sihanouk seems to center on the
better known members of the current Royal Family, while obscuring the lesser known
or those belonging to other branches of the Royal Family.
King Ang Duong was succeeded by his eldest son, Prince Norodom, who in turn should
have been succeeded by his eldest son, Prince Yukanthor, but following the intervention
of the French authorities, Norodom was succeeded by his brother Prince Sisowath.
King Sisowath was succeeded by his eldest son, Prince Sisowath Monivong.
Upon the death of King Sisowath Monivong, the French authorities once again intervened
in the process of selection of a new King, and the children of Sisowath Monivong
were bypassed for one of the King's grand-children, Prince Norodom Sihanouk.
Who are the possible candidates? Let us begin with the direct descendants of King
The eldest son of King Sihanouk, is Sdech Krom Luong Norodom Yuvaneath (1943). If
Cambodia was a hereditary monarchy, he would be the next King because he is the first
born male. His chances of being elected King remain good because so far he has avoided
He is followed by Samdech Krom Preah Norodom Ranariddh (1944). The chances of the
current President of Cambodia's National Assembly are said to be limited because
of his involvement in politics. The Prince has never been clear on whether he is
interested in the Cambodian throne or not.
For instance, in June 1998, when asked if he would accept not being king as the the
price of a life in politics, the prince retorted: "On the contrary, it will
be a big gift if I am not King. I do not believe my father is happy to be King. He
continues to blame me for making him King. I am happy also not to be King. We look
too much like each other. He was deposed and I was deposed. History will talk about
my father being deposed in 1970 in a coup d'etat. History will talk about Ranariddh
as the deposed prime minister".
However, in a March 17 interview with The Cambodia Daily, Prince Ranariddh appeared
to leave the door open to his own succession to the throne by stating that: "For
Samdech Hun Sen there are two posibilities. One is to select a very discreet and
nice King in order to allow the prime minister to do what he wants. The second one
is to make King the one who is the real challenger. . .as prime minister, as a competitor.
It is for Samdech Hun Sen to decide...".
Privately, sources close to the family suggest that Prince Ranar-iddh has reached
a secret deal with Hun Sen, allowing the prime minister a free reign in the political
arena, with just a semblance of opposition, in exchange for the Prince being chosen
to succeed his father when the moment comes.
King Sihanouk has counselled Prince Ranariddh several times to quit politics and
begin the process of preparation leading to the throne, but the prince seems to prefer
the political fray.
Then there is Sdech Krom Khun Norodom Chakrapong (1945), who is given little chance
by observers because of his past involvement in politics and the events surrounding
the abortive internal CPP putsch of July 1994.
The favourite candidate so far, Sdech Krom Khun Norodom Sihamoni (1953) remains high
on the list and is said to have the most support from the political elite which will
make the final decision. Prince Sihamoni, an artist at heart, has stated, particularly
in an interview with the Phnom Penh Post, in 1995, that he does not wish to be considered
a candidate to the throne, but as a member of the Royal Family he is fully aware
that there are certain unwritten royal rules that will weigh on him accepting whatever
the Council of the Throne decides.
His younger brother HRH Prince Norodom Narindrapong (1954) is given little chance
of being elected because of his poor health but, nevertheless, he is also a descendant.
Then there are the living descendants of King Norodom Suramarit (1896-1960). They
are: Sdech Krom Khun Norodom Sirivudh and HRH Prince Norodom Preya Sophon. Prince
Sirivudh is a man that also enjoys the political life and until his very recent appointment
as Privy Counsellor to His Majesty the King, he was trying to play a role within
FUNCINPEC, the royalist party. Now, following his royal appointment he will be shielded
from political involvement and his prospects as a candidate to the throne have been
From the descendants of King Sisowath Monivong there is HRH Prince Sisowath Chivan
Monirek, who was until recently a Privy Counsellor to His Majesty King Sihanouk but
has resigned to take up the vice-presidency of the Senate. Little known and reserved,
his only public appointment in recent years was as Chairman of Royal Air Cambodge,
a position from which he resigned.
There are also several descendants of King Sisowath scattered in Europe and the United
While Cambodia's Constitution does not stipulate that members of the Royal Family
should not be involved in daily political life, under PM Hun Sen it has become almost
a qualification for any potential candidate to the throne not to be involved in politics.
It is said that Hun Sen fears the popularity of King Sihanouk and rightly so. It
is not unusual to see groups of farmers and rural workers, many of whom have travelled
for days, outside the Royal Palace in Phnom Penh asking to see their "King-Father",
who always receives them, provides them with food and accommodation while they are
in the Cambodian capital, as well as with money, clothes and food to take back to
their families in the countryside, along with the assurance that he himself and Queen
Monineath are there to help and serve them.
PM Hun Sen would like the new King to be like the King of neighbouring Thailand or
the Sultan of Malaysia. Hun Sen being all powerful as he currently is, will ensure
that the next King is the symbol of the nation but stays out of politics.
Thus, while prospective candidates for the Cambodian throne, are told to shun politics,
the process to select the new King is highly politicised and the final decision will
be made in accordance with the wishes of the ruling Cambodian People's Party and,
in particular, with those of Hun Sen.
In recent weeks, there has been continuous debate among the intellectual elite in
Phnom Penh over the possible amendment of the Constitution allowing a female member
of the Royal Family to take over. It has been suggested that Queen Monineath should
become Queen in her own right. But the Queen herself has stated "urbi et orbi"
that she does not wish to become a reigning Queen. But Cambodia being Cambodia, its
political elite can always produce a new arrangement as far as the succession to
the throne is concerned.
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*JULIO A. JELDRES is the Official Biographer to His Majesty King Norodom Sihanouk
of Cambodia and is about to publish his first book: "The Royal Palace of Phnom
Penh and Cambodian Royal Life".