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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - His Majesty Preah Bat Samdech Preah Norodom Sihanouk King of Cambodia

His Majesty Preah Bat Samdech Preah Norodom Sihanouk King of Cambodia

Born October 31, 1922, Reigning Monarch from 1941-55, & 1993-present

Father of Independence

His Majesty King Norodom Sihanouk was born on 31 October 1922 in a house, which his

maternal grand father, King Sisowath Monivong, had given to his favorite daughter,

Princess Sisowath Kossamak, later to become Queen of Cambodia.

According to the chief astrologer of the court, the newly born prince would not

enjoy a long life if his parents, Their Royal Highnesses Prince Norodom Suramarit

and Princess Sisowath Kossamak, kept him with them. It was necessary, the chief astrologer

stated, to separate him from his parents to be taken care of by someone else.

Princess Kossamak asked, therefore, her maternal grandmother, Chau Khun (Lady)

Pat, to adopt and take care of her son. Chau Khun Pat adopted Norodom Sihanouk with

great pleasure and placed a commoner named Samley (Cotton) to be the nanny of the

young prince.

This commoner was influential in fostering the special rapport, which has existed

between His Majesty the King, and the common citizenry of Cambodia.

When Chau Khun Pat died, Princess Kossamak, who respected the prediction of the

chief astrologer of the court, did not dare to take her young son back and asked

the parents of Prince Suramarit, Samdech and Princess Norodom Sutharot to take care

of her son.

It was at the residence of his paternal grandparents that Princess Norodom Ket

Kanya Mom, the aunt of His Majesty, began to take care of Norodom Sihanouk for the

remainder of her life until her death in March 1993.

His Majesty completed his primary schooling at the François Baudoin Primary

School in Phnom Penh and was considered a good student, receiving his Certificate

of Studies in 1934. In 1935, His Majesty entered the Lycée Sisowath to complete

his sixth year and then continued his secondary schooling at the Chasseloup-Laubat

High School, in Saigon from 1936 until his election to the Throne of Cambodia, where

he was a "particularly distinguished student, notably in the classics, Greek

and Latin."

The King's life-long pursuit and goals were:

  • Firstly, the complete independence of Cambodia and the safeguard at any price

    of Cambodia's territorial integrity;

     

  • Secondly, peace and national stability with unity and national reconciliation

    and;

     

  • Thirdly, to encourage all Cambodians to work together in order to progressively

    develop their country.

     

  • The first achievement of these goals that the young monarch fixed for himself

    and his country came in 1947 when with the assistance of France, King Sihanouk obtained

    from Thailand the return to Cambodia of the territory it had taken during the Second

    World War: Battambang, Siem Reap, Kampong Thom and Stung Treng.

The same year, His Majesty undertook the transformation of the institutions of

the State. Holding all powers, and exercising directly most of them-in particular,

legislative powers-the young King wanted to replace the traditional absolute monarchy

by a Constitutional and Parliamentary monarchy.

On 31 May 1946, an electoral law was promulgated allowing the election, by universal

and direct suffrage, of a Consultative Assembly charged to study a Draft Constitution

to be submitted to it. Elections were held in a peaceful atmosphere in September

1946 and the new Constitution of the Kingdom of Cambodia was promulgated on 6 May

1947.

This first Constitution of Cambodia was greatly inspired by the elaborated scheme

of the provisional government of the French Republic. It had a thoroughly democratic

spirit and contained the principal and necessary stipulations to make the constitutional

monarchy a democratic institution.

Essential public liberties were acknowledged to all Cambodians and the law, the

expression of the national will, guaranteed to all citizens the practice of constitutional

liberties and rights.

All power emanated from the King, but was carried out on his behalf by the National

Assembly, the Ministers or the Courts of Justice of different degrees or jurisdictions

concerning either the legislative, executive or judicial powers.

Members of the National Assembly were to be elected by universal and direct suffrage

and were the representatives of the whole Cambodian nation. They were given parliamentary

immunity during the entire period of their electoral mandate.

The Council of the Kingdom, another assembly of a consultative nature, was established.

Their members were either appointed or elected by limited suffrage. It provided advice

on legislative matters.

The Ministers were responsible to the National Assembly and could be prosecuted by

it, for crimes, offences or mistakes in discharging their duties.

The new Constitution also made provision for the establishment of the Higher Council

of the Magistracy, which would ensure the independence and discipline of the Magistracy.

In 1949, King Sihanouk obtained from France the repeal of the 1863 Treaty and

the 1864 Convention that had established the French protectorate over the whole of

Cambodia. The country then became a State associated to the French Union.

By early 1953, His Majesty was ready to make his move and consolidate the independence

of Cambodia. As part of what he termed his 'Royal Crusade for Independence' the young

King traveled to France and demanded complete Cambodian sovereignty.

The French initially ignored his requests and the young monarch, therefore, embarked

on a trip around Europe and the United States as part of what can only be described

as a brilliant public relations campaign in which he exposed the case for Cambodian

independence to his interlocutors.

Upon his return to Cambodia, King Sihanouk took up residence not in the capital

but in Siem Reap, near the ancient city of Angkor and continued to explain his goals

to his compatriots and foreign visitors.

On 9 November 1953, France finally decided to grant full independence to the Kingdom.

In 1954, Cambodia participated in the Geneva Conference as a country having already

achieved its full independence and could therefore avoid the partitions of which

Laos and Vietnam were the victims.

In Geneva, Cambodia signed a peace agreement with the Democratic Republic of Vietnam

by which Cambodia obtained the departure from Cambodian territory of all the Vietnamese

Communist forces remaining in the country after the independence of Cambodia from

France on 9 November 1953 and the departure of French forces.

Always ready to defend the territorial integrity of Cambodia, His Majesty did

not hesitate to take up arms against foreign invaders such as in the military operation

known as 'Samakki' when His Majesty led the biggest offensive operation of the Cambodian

Armed Forces against foreign troops in the north of Cambodia from 17 December 1953

to 2 January 1954 and again in the provinces of Kratie and Stung Treng in April 1954

against Viet-Minh (Vietnamese communist) forces.

On 2 March 1955, His Majesty announced his abdication.

His Majesty King Norodom Suramarit, father of King Sihanouk, was elected the new

King of Cambodia. HRH Prince Norodom Sihanouk was granted the rank of 'Samdech' and

the title of 'Upayuvareach of Cambodia' by his father the King.

In a letter to Prime Minister Nehru of India, His Majesty explained the reasons

behind his abdication:

"The fact is that my abdication from the throne of Cambodia has no other motive

than my own very sincere conviction that my duty as a ruling monarch had come to

an end with the attainment of the national independence of our people and that another

task is now awaiting me."

"This task is the solution of social problems and the promotion of a genuine

democratic system by putting an end to a situation in which the powers of government

had become concentrated in the hands of a small privileged class, who could in no

sense be said to represent the real interests of the people and which in fact was

exploiting them. It is my aim to ensure that these powers will be exercised by the

people themselves, and to give to them the means of removing the injustices, corruption

and exploitation from which they have suffered so long."

"It is my belief that such a task cannot be properly fulfilled by a reigning

sovereign, who finds himself imprisoned within a rigid system which cannot be easily

adjusted because that system was created by the interested persons who have since

caused our people to lose faith in those so-called democratic institutions, based

in fact on a foreign system of government, ill-suited to the nature and the needs

of our people. By renouncing the Throne, I wish therefore to serve my people in order

to achieve these aims."

Samdech Sihanouk then formed the Sangkum Reastr Niyum (People's Socialist Community)

which achieved a great victory during legislative elections [82% of the popular vote].

Samdech Sihanouk became Prime Minister and, at the helm of the Cambodian people,

began his work for the general development of Cambodia, in all the fields of her

national construction.

The Sangkum Reastr Niyum proceeded to give, in 1955, the same political rights

to all Cambodia women and established the National Congress, an institution that

granted the right to all citizens to question directly the actions and activities

of the Government, Parliament, Administration and Judiciary.

In April 1955, Sam-dech Sihanouk participated in the First Afro-Asian Conference

at Bandung (Indonesia) and proclaimed the neutrality of Cambodia.

In 1956, in Brioni (former Yugoslavia), Samdech Sihanouk signed with President

Josip Broz Tito of the Socialist Federative Republic of Yugoslavia, the Charter of

the Movement of Non-aligned Countries, becoming together with President Gamal Abdel

Nasser of the United Arab Republic, President Soekarno of Indonesia and Prime Minister

Jawaharlal Nehru of India, the 5th Co-Founder of this Movement.

On 3 April 1960, upon the death of His Majesty King Norodom Suramarit, Samdech

Sihanouk was elected unanimously by the members of the Cambodian Parliament, Head

of State of Cambodia. He continued, at the helm of the Cambodian people, his work

of national construction.

Samdech Sihanouk concentrated his personal efforts on the Cambodian economy and

managed to achieve a surplus of rice every year for export of approximately 500,000

tonnes in a good year, and 300,000 tonnes in a difficult year. The National Budget

and the Balance of Trade were kept in good order and there was no deficit while the

National Bank permanently kept substantial holdings of hard foreign currencies.

In 1961, Samdech Sihanouk participated in the First Summit Conference of the Non-Aligned

Countries, in Belgrade, Yugoslavia.

The efforts of Samdech Sihanouk to defend and keep the territorial integrity of

Cambodia intact were crowned by the decision of the International Court of The Hague

restoring to Cambodia the ancient temple of Preah Vihear, which had been claimed

and occupied by the Thai army.

On 18 March 1970, during an official visit to the Soviet Union, Samdech Sihanouk

was the victim of a coup d'etat in Phnom Penh, a military putsch whose leaders were

Lon Nol and Sirik Matak. The monarchy was abolished and the Khmer Republic of Lon

Nol was declared in October 1970 and Cambodia entered one of the most tragic periods

of its existence.

- Ambassador Julio Jeldres is the official biographer of HM the King.

The article above is an excerpt from a book on which the ambassador is currently

working with HRH the Princess Royal Norodom Arunrasmy, "The Royal House of Cambodia".

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