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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Comment: The case for Queen Monineath to take the Throne

Comment: The case for Queen Monineath to take the Throne

D r Lao Mong Hay, executive director of the Khmer Institute of Democracy, believes

that it is important to continue a public debate on the Royal succession.

THE year 1996 looks like a good one for Cambodians. With one good rice crop, along

with the present dry-season crop, the nation can look to food sufficiency, with perhaps

a surplus for export. Rice farmers are earning more and will therefore spend more,

generating more robust commercial and economic activity.

Another development on Jan 2 was our Venerated King's elevation of the rank and title

of the Queen from "Royal Wife" to "Royal Supreme Wife" (Preah

Reach Akka-Mohesey) Norodom Monineath of Cambodia. This decision led some observers

to believe that the King intended to nominate the Queen his successor after his death.

They added that he intended to amend the Constitution for this purpose.

Our Venerated King has already very firmly ruled out the possibility of the present

Queen succeeding him. And, according to our Constitution, she is not eligible because

she is not descended from either King Ang Duong, King Norodom or King Sisowath. However,

we should respectfully give due consideration to her candidacy.

The elevation of the rank and title of the Queen, and the reaction it generated,

were important developments. Perhaps it was the first time Cambodians were thinking

about their future. They are now thinking ahead of events about who should be their

future leader or monarch. They want to be certain of this ahead of time so that they

can prepare themselves gradually to accept, support and respect such a leader.

This is a contrast to what has been happening so far. Much of what has been written

in newspapers, screened on television and broadcast on radio has been of the past.

Various groups have continued to claim they had done good deeds or had good intentions

in the past, and held others responsible for the nation's tragic recent history.

Such selective references to the past have invariably attracted criticisms and conflict

between those various groups. They have also sown division and have caused instability

to the nation. Those same groups have been making efforts and spending their resources

and time for the sole purpose of defending their past, and they have little else

left for planning and building their country's future.

The problem of succession to the Throne should be addressed without delay. In other

Kingdoms there is invariably a well-defined line of succession as to who is the crown

prince or princess, and which rightful Royal members hold rank in the order of succession.

This known line of succession ensures a smooth transition from one reign to another.

People in those kingdoms gradually look to the crown prince or princess and, when

the time comes, can accept the change as a matter of course and transfer their allegiance

easily to the new King or Queen. As to the crown prince or princess, they are appropriately

groomed to become a worthy king or queen. Their status, education and conduct and

their preparations to assume the Throne earn them moral authority for people to accept

their reign and pledge their allegiance. This moral authority is important in a Constitutional

monarchy as the monarch reigns but does not have power to rule the country.

The Khmer monarch is elected by the Throne Council of the chair and two vice-chairs

of the National Assembly, the two Buddhist Patriarchs (heading each of the two Buddhist

orders) and the Prime Minister(s). According to our Constitution, the actual election

can only take place within seven days after the death of the reigning monarch.

With the elective regime the achievement of a smooth transition is more a matter

of chance than a well-thought out design because of the absence of preparedness on

the part of both the people and the new monarch. This is a serious flaw that needs

to be corrected well ahead of events. The country could well face frightening instability

should the Throne Council be divided and not able to elect a new monarch within seven

days.

Can the country withstand such an eventuality on top of the numerous problems it

has now? Should we not try to face this right away? We should now look at different

aspects of our future and, if we can address issues facing us, there is no point

waiting. We know it is going to rain and we need water, why can we not start getting

jars ready, to rephrase a Khmer proverb?

Suppose the Queen was elected to reign - and this is pure supposition - what would

be the advantages and disadvantages? Would the country gain or lose anything at all?

The concern of members of the Royal family and the ruling elite seems to hold the

key to all these questions.

Among members of the Royal family, are there any suitable candidates? So far there

seems there are none who either have the qualifications or the willingness to accept

the crown with no power to rule.

The ruling circles may have identified and selected their respective candidates already

if they still support the monarchy. They may have strong reservations about some

Royals who have some real power base, and who might use it to consolidate their authority

in the future while on the Throne. This base and its possible use by a future monarch

could tilt the balance of power against the interests of some ruling elites.

The Queen's reign would have some advantages. First, the Queen is well known and

respected and, thanks to our Venerated King, she has gained substantial moral authority

compared with other Royals. She is a known quantity.

A comparison between the Queen and Evita Peron, former President of Argentina, and

Corizon Aquino, former President of the Philippines, illustrates this further.

Peron was originally an artist. Her husband, Juan Peron, had been living in exile

in Spain. He returned to Argentina and was elected president. Thanks to her husband,

Evita Peron gained enough trust and confidence from her husband's followers and supporters

to be nominated and later elected president in her own right.

In the Philippines, Corizon Aquino was originally a housewife. Her husband, Nino

Aquino, was a senator opposed to the dictatorial rule of President Ferdinand Marcos.

Aquino was shot dead, believed by Marcos's agents, at Manila airport upon his return

from exile in America. Mrs Aquino was nominated as a presidential candidate against

Marcos, and won.

The status and position of these three women are similar, but so far there are no

indications that the Queen has her own power base which could propel her to a position

of power like the Argentinean or Philippine first ladies. Nor is there any indication

that the Queen has any political ambitions.

All these qualities of the Queen are good for Cambodia and provide enough assurance

to ruling elites that she will not be an obstacle or a threat to any political schemes

these elites might have. They could well accept her accession to the Throne. She

might not be as popular and as renowned as our present King, though. Perhaps she

would be more like King Baudouin of Belgium.

Her limited political stature and obvious moral authority may contribute much to

national reconciliation, unity, peace and political stability. It is likely she would

be content with being a monarch with no powers and leave the administration of the

country entirely to the politicians. She would simply be the keeper of the Throne,

engaging herself in social development and helping to consolidate social stability,

like Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom, or the King of Thailand, or the Emperor

of Japan. All of this work is well in conformity with our Constitution.

The gains and advantages for the Queen's reign are there, but the country would have

to pay some price for her accession when she is not a descendant of the three Kings,

as provided for in the Constitution.

The national interests of unity, peace and the well-being of the people that the

Queen's reign could promote would far outweigh the inconvenience of the Constitutional

amendment that would cement her eligibility. Cambodia should consider whether the

Queen - the wife of the Venerated King - is now entitled to be a full member of the

Royal family on an equal footing with the other members and, if so, whether she can

be made an "adoptive" descendant of the three Kings. Adoption is an ordinary

matter under the civil law of every country, and adoptive members of a family have

the same rights as other members. Can the same apply to a Royal family?

If the Queen can be "adopted" and our Venerated King accepts her as a Royal

descendant, a small amendment to Article 14 of the Constitution can be made thus:

"Article 14 (as amended): Members of the Royal family, aged 30-years and over,

who are descendants of King Ang Duong, or King Norodom, or King Sisowath, shall be

eligible for the accession to the Throne. Descendants can be by blood or by adoption.

Upon enthronement, the monarch shall take the oath stipulated in Annex IV."

This amendment would not affect the "pluralist liberal democracy" guaranteeing

respect for human rights and the rule of law enshrined in our Constitution.

When the past only divides, a future under a Queen may unite.

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